The Stork Brings a Bright Idea

Ed Han and his wife went looking for birth announcements. They ended up with part of a $333 million payday.Back in 2005, Mr. Han, a new Stanford M.B.A., and his wife, Polly Liu, were expecting a daughter and were scouring the Web for just the right notices to celebrate the event. "Going back and forth with store clerks to review endless, illegible faxed proofs of baby announcements just weeks after having a baby and likely sleep deprived seemed quite unfun," Mr. Han says.But they couldn't find anything affordable and well designed. Mr. Han—who had already been thinking about starting a business with a couple of friends—saw an opportunity. He joined with Laura Ching and Kelly Berger to start an online company that would design personalized baby announcements, and then go after more of the U.S. card market.In addition to designs not found anywhere else, the founders emphasized customer support—what Ms. Ching calls "the Zappos model," after the online shoe retailer known for its ultraresponsive service. Each order went through three to four human "touches," with staffers reviewing the customer's wording and making sure it looked right before printing the cards.The three friends pooled $10,000 of their savings so they wouldn't have to take funding and give up a piece of the company. At first, Ms. Ching remembers, they worked out of the second bedroom in her Menlo Park, Calif., apartment. When they hired their first employee a year later, she, too, came to work in the apartment.Over the years, Tiny Prints grew, attracting several million dollars in late-stage venture funding and moving into photo cards for celebrations ranging from Christmas to Diwali, plus wedding invitations and greeting cards.The company also attracted acquisition offers, but turned them down until 2011—when it was big enough to need the resources and infrastructure of a bigger company to help it keep growing. The company accepted a deal from Shutterfly Inc. worth $333 million.Mr. Han, who left Shutterfly last year and is now working with a mobile video-sharing startup, says Tiny Prints' success came as something of a surprise."In some ways, we woke up one day and it was bigger than we imagined it would be, given the everyday mind-set," says Mr. Han.

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