And suddenly you know.

This is the first part of a series about the start-up Peecho. The chapters are:

  1. Starting up
  2. Business model
  3. Execution
  4. Community
  5. Investor game (part I)

The cast

Running a start-up doesn’t sound great. I couldn’t tell you what will happen in the next couple of months, the hours are ridiculous and the salary sucks. Still, I love it. Let me tell you about Peecho, so you might see why.

The company is run by Martijn and me. Martijn is a tall blond guy, fast-talking and typically very nice to most people that he knows - and he knows everybody. I guess that is what commercial people do. It gets worse, though: unlike me, he is also the kind of guy that celebrates even the smallest victories with the team, sends supportive postcards and text messages at the right times, and inevitably calls you at those occasions of which a subtle protocol requires personal contact. Anyway, I am smaller and arguably less friendly, although I have my moments. The contrast is most striking at sports. Martijn plays soccer in a team of friends, I practice mixed martial arts and kung fu.

Peecho does not go back a long way. Martijn and I have not even known each other for very long. We met only a few years ago at Albumprinter, where I was chief architect and he was commercial director. We didn’t speak with each other often. I don’t know why. Techies don’t necessarily get along with people with “commercial” in their job title, but I am not really like that. I get along with many people. It was just coincidence, I guess.

Albumprinter

Albumprinter was an instant success. To resellers, the company offers consumer software to let anybody create photo books. This includes everything from creating the book to production and shipping from a dedicated factory, a fascinating building near The Hague. It’s like Willy Wonka’s factory, but without the chocolate. Some of you might argue that the chocolate is essential here, but I really don’t think so. What counts is the machinery, the noise, the smell and the magic when a product emerges out of the turmoil. I love it. However, I am not really a print guy. Years ago, I graduated as a geophysicist. These are the kind of scientists that research the earth first and then end up working in a completely different business instead. My different business is the internet. I am a software architect.

My own consulting firm, Centrical, was doing pretty well, but I longed to do something substantial for a company with a cool product. A product that real people would use and like. Joris Keijzer, the Albumprinter CEO, managed to lure me into an assignment as chief architect to do just that. His new company was growing at the speed of light, creating a huge technical mess at about the same velocity. He thought I could help - and so I did. For years, I fiercely tried to innovate and keep everything running at the same time. Mostly, it worked. I had a great time.

Martijn came in somewhat later, with a specific task. Next to the reseller business, Albumprinter used its own name to test new software directly with consumers. To our great surprise, the brand became rather successful. Now, there was a problem. To our business customers, he company was supplier and competitor at the same time. So, it was decided to launch a new consumer brand instead. It was named Albelli. To launch a new brand like that, you need Martijn.

In the years after that, Albumprinter’s revenue skyrocketed. We won every prize in the galaxy for our unearthly growth. You can Google it if you don’t believe it. We were doing well. Extremely well. So, if you have seen a lot of movies, you could have seen this one coming: in every scary movie, there is an opening shot that shows an unlikely happy family. You just know it will all go wrong. The same thing happened to Albumprinter - except for the serial killer.

Skyrocketing

Although it sounds weird, the problem was the growth. If you produce physical stuff, you need supplies first. Especially around Christmas - the peak season - you really need a lot of paper, ink, people and machines. So, we had to borrow lots of money to buy stuff before we could even start selling books. Then, the economic crisis hit the world. Banks got scared. The result: despite the unprecedented revenue growth, Albumprinter had to cut costs dramatically and consolidate, at least for a while.

With expansion and innovation out of the window, both Martijn and I were nothing but a vastly overpaid pain-in-the-ass to the company. It made sense for us to leave. So we did. It wasn’t easy, though. We put a lot of time and energy into the company and many of our friends still work there. Therefore, we wish Albumprinter all the best.

On the roof

When the smoke cleared, we found ourselves on the roof terrace of the public library. You should go there - it boasts a great view over Amsterdam. We were drinking coffee in the sun, discussing new opportunities. Martijn was just about to become the Big Kahuna at a well-known electronics empire, while I prepared to move to San Francisco - the Valhalla of the internet industry. Then, quite naturally, something beautiful happened.

While sipping our coffee, a new idea formed. We decided that we were not done with the printing business. In fact, we were just beginning. On top of that, we realized that we would make excellent partners - our respective traits were practically complementary. Right there, on the roof of the library, Peecho was born. I can’t tell you what will happen in the next couple of months, the hours are ridiculous and the salary sucks. Still, I love it.