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How one printer’s overflowing recycling bin founded a global tech company

How one printer’s overflowing recycling bin founded a global tech company

When most people think “global tech company”, Windows, Apple, and Google are the first words out of their mouths. Printers probably, and print management software definitely, won’t immediately spring to mind.

Those of us in the print industry know of the significance of software for print enablement (making the printing happen) and print management (tracking and monitoring the printing). But we’re very aware that we’re in a niche field.

As our CEO says, “I like to think we’re one of the coolest companies in one of the most boring parts of IT.” Despite being somewhat unheard of by the common public, our industry-leading print management software is used across 195 countries, translated into 30 languages, to manage 139 million users using 7 million printers, installed on 1.2 million Multi-Function Devices (MFDs). Plus more fun printer stats… 

And we’re just the tip of the iceberg! Print is an overlooked but rich subgenre of technology.

But our print management is specifically driven by a passion for waste reduction… You see it now, right? “PaperCut” – software to “cut” down on “paper” waste… Aren’t we clever? 

But in all seriousness, environmental action is fundamental to our work. In fact, our entire global software company started with one overflowing recycling bin in a high school computer lab…

How PaperCut software was founded by a single paper wastebasket…

In 1998, a humble part-time system administrator (sysadmin) Chris Dance was in his early days as a working IT professional. At 23 years of age, like many of us, he got his start at his very own high school, Parkdale Secondary College, in Melbourne’s beachside suburb of Mordialloc. 

It was the late 90’s. Like many IT workers back then, Chris spent a lot of time gluing trackballs back into computer mice. And changing desktop backgrounds with a Group Policy rule. As tedious as that was, there was one end-user behavior in particular that bothered Chris…

Every visit to the school’s computer lab, Chris was greeted by the sight of an overflowing recycling bin next to the printer. Stacks and stacks of uncollected print jobs. 

This bothered Chris for a few reasons. Sysadmins perform many tasks that don’t fall within their job description. Having to empty the paper wastebasket definitely wasn’t one of them. It was also a costly misuse of resources. Hundreds of dollars on paper, ink, and toner, thrown away. 

As an environmentally conscious person, the waste was the biggest reason it bothered Chris. The simplest problems are usually the hardest to solve. But as a dabbling coder, Chris saw an opportunity to do something…

“A bit of software” for waste reduction: the garage days

At that time, when Chris wasn’t working at Parkdale, he was finishing his studies in mechanical engineering and physics at Monash University. With his high school’s printing problem firmly in mind, he quickly calculated how many wasted print jobs were most likely being produced by his uni’s 27,000 students and 3,500 staff members. 

In steps PaperCut’s other co-founder, Matt Doran. Chris’s university chum and a fellow budding coder/entrepreneur. Now, you’ve heard of the romanticized origin story of Apple? How Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs formed the future tech giant company in a garage? Well, that’s a myth. But, Chris and Matt did actually get started coding what would become PaperCut software in Chris’s garage. 

So it went for a time. After finishing their studies, Chris and Matt juggled their two lives. Working by day, and coding by night. Tinkering away at what they called “a bit of software” to help Chris’s school with its print waste problem.

Like a lot of startups, that software began as a side-hustle in garages, spare rooms, and basements. It then picked up momentum and led to hiring employees, renting office spaces, and becoming a full-time pursuit. 

Hop skip and a jump, 11 years later they’d opened their first international office in Portland, Oregon. Four years after that, they expanded into Europe with an office in Bracknell, UK.

Flash forward to today. That humble bit of software went from a bit of code to help one school, to a global tech company with representation in Germany, Singapore, and New Zealand. And we continue to grow across the APAC, Americas, and EMEA regions.

The 100-year vision: growing our founding drive for sustainability 

Parkdale Secondary College still uses PaperCut to this day. Chris and Matt’s first handful of employees, they’re still with the company. From a garage to a global tech company, lots has changed, and lots hasn’t.

It’s been 24+ years since Chris and Matt started coding. We haven’t lost that original entrepreneurial, “100-year-start-up” energy. But more importantly, we haven’t lost that founding drive for sustainability. 

It’s more than a company value, it’s a motivation. Our mission to reduce paper waste and save trees is a pillar of why many PaperCutters join the company. 

As our business grew so too did our dedication to sustainability. Our Portland, London, and Melbourne office environmental action groups, coordinated through our Environmental Guild, ensure we practice sustainable waste management and recycling practices. In 2019, our Portland office reached the City of Portland Sustainability at Work Silver Certification.

While we’re passionate about reducing waste, we know that’s only one part of the environmental equation. We’re constantly evolving our approach to sustainability. Specifically, driving towards ecological net gain, beyond neutralizing printing’s environmental impact.

One logical step, given our love of trees, was to get involved with tree planting. Since early 2020, for every PaperCut license sold, a tree is planted in an Australian reforestation project thanks to our partnership with Carbon Positive Australia.

That planted the seed (pun unintended but pleasantly welcome) for us to do more. It took some doing, but 2022 sees the launch of Forest Positive printing with PaperCut Grows. A tool for customers worldwide to plant more trees than used by their printing when managing print with PaperCut MF and PaperCut Hive

Beyond these improvements to our software, behind the scenes, we’ve been working on our journey towards achieving B Corp Certification. We’re also constantly expanding our sustainability focus to truly live by the triple bottom line. Most recently through our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging initiatives across all three offices. 

From little things, big things grow. We’ve come a long way from Chris and Matt coding in the garage, and that one recycling bin in the corner of the computer lab. Here’s to the next 20-something years, as we strive towards helping to forge a better future for our planet, its people, and its prosperity.

Take a deep dive into how our print management solutions reduce waste.

Read more about sustainability at PaperCut:

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