Matthew: Hi, this is Matthew Wise, founder of FounderLY.com. We empower entrepreneurs to have a voice and share their story with the world, enabling others to learn about building products and starting companies.
I am here today with Vitaly Golomb, the founder and CEO of Keen Systems, which is a San Francisco startup that provides e-commerce and CRM solutions for printing companies. Formerly, he was a turn-around executive of commercial printing companies. Vitaly believes there is a tremendous opportunity for business model innovation in the printing space. So, with that said, Vitaly, can you give an introduction of yourself, brief bio, 60 seconds to our audience so that they can know who you are?
Vitaly: Sure. I started out in the Internet space very early. As a pre-teen, I got a chance to intern with Paragraph and we built some communication system bulletin boards between schools here and Eastern Europe when we were in middle school, a good friend of mine and myself. That was my start. I also got exposure to Apple’s Newton back then. And then, by the time I was 15, I was a professional graphic designer. I worked for Kinko’s and other companies, and later got into the Web 1.0 startups and, at a very mature age of 18, ran a front end team at an enterprise software product.
After that, I came back to the printing world and was turn-around CEO of a commercial printing company. I sold that in 2005 and started a design firm in San Francisco called Sputnik Integrated. We quickly grew to a second office in L.A. and we did development in Eastern Europe so we had a center there. After a while, having a background in print, there was a lot of activity that I was still seeing in the print space and a lot of customers there, and we embarked on building a software product to manage that print order flow and quickly grew into a product that I wanted to offer to the industry at large, which is Keen.
Matthew: What is Keen? Who is it for, and why are you so passionate about it?
Vitaly: The printing industry in America is very fragmented and, actually, in the entire world. It’s one of the oldest industries. It’s usually family businesses; 80% of the companies are 20 employees or less; and they’re under a lot of pressure right now. They’re getting squeezed from the top from these big national providers, like Vistaprint, and many others that have used e-commerce to really drive business and grow tremendously. From the bottom, customers are used to e-commerce now as a primary way of doing business.
Our intent is to help these printing companies become e-commerce driven. So, what we’ll give them through Keen is a first multi-tenant SaaS, first cloud based real solution that allows them to sign up and quickly get online to be able to communicate with the customers, from actually finding the customers all the way through shipping the product in the cloud, in the browser on a subscription level. It’s a system that’s finally really easy to use, where this has been very difficult for this industry up to this point.
Matthew: Excellent. Now, that we’ve covered your background and some high level information, as a domain expert, someone who’s been working in the printing space for a while, can you give us your views on some of the technology and market trends in your space that you’re seeing?
Vitaly: What we’re seeing, and we’re kind of riding this wave, is that this kind of concept of web to print is the number one topic in the space. What it means is that, now, printing companies are looking at better ways to reach their customers versus what’s the hottest, newest, fastest printing technology itself. They have a lot of access capacity in their equipment and they’re looking to fill that. They’re looking to be much more efficient with the way they service their customers. They’re looking to ultimately give their customers what they’re asking for, which is, give me self-service that I can access 24/7, give me all the information that I want to hold in my hands. That’s what we’re really designing for is that problem.
Matthew: What inspired you to start Keen? Was there an “ah-ha” moment, or was it a collection of experiences or was it you doing a bunch of marketing research to find opportunity? Can you share that with us?
Vitaly: The motivation comes from a couple of different directions. The most successful companies in the printing industry in the last half decade, at least, if not more, are e-commerce driven companies. We’re seeing a lot of very great craftsmen and actual printing is a craft. They are actually struggling with their businesses because they don’t have this access to these customers online, and the opportunity itself is tremendous.
It’s an industry that’s eight times bigger than the entire video game industry, and only three percent of it right now is transacted online, so that has to be fixed. We see that the other solutions out there are client server applications. They’re very difficult, expensive licenses, and it’s just too difficult and too expensive for them to get online, and it shouldn’t be that way. That’s really the motivation.
Matthew: How does Keen empower individuals and enterprises, and what makes it unique?
Vitaly: It’s a communication tool, first and foremost, so it allows them to get rid of the millions of phone calls and emails that exist today in the work flow of a print order. It frees them up to be able to communicate clearer, to not let mistakes happen and things fall through the cracks, to remove redundancies and reduce their costs and be more profitable on the print side. Also, if you look at the complete birds-eye view, it makes print more relevant in today’s marketing mix because it allows newer companies and marketers of the youngest generation. They didn’t grow up on knowing how to leverage print and more “traditional” marketing.
It allows them to leverage opportunities like direct mail much easier and be able to execute marketing campaigns that are still phenomenally effective, but in a much easier way, much closer to something like going and buying LinkedIn ads or Facebook ads or Google Pay-per-click. You can do something similar with an actual physical print product.
Matthew: In terms of time frames, when did you conceive the idea, and how long did it take you to actually launch?
Vitaly: We’re in private beta now, as of today. We’re a couple of months away from our public launch. In a space like this, where we’re supporting a very complex existing process, we’ve had to build a very deep product, and it’s taken us almost two years to actually do the full build-out. We’ve been in private beta for several months, and we have companies that are using our product on a daily basis to run their entire business on it. We’ve gotten a lot of learning from them as far as how to prioritize which features and what the flow really is with a lot of these companies that have different capabilities and slightly different work flow. So, now we’re getting closer and we’re cleaning house, like our building system, to automate those things to be able to go and bring it to the rest of the industry.