Executive Q&A: Memjet CEO Len Lauer

QP: Tell us a little about your company, the segment of the market it serves, and what you consider to be your "core" users.

LL: Memjet is a privately held, technology company focused on developing breakthrough page-wide printheads and related components to provide low-cost, high-speed color digital printing for the industry. Through collaboration with our OEM partners, we address a number of commercial printing markets including wide-format graphics, CAD and packaging markets, desktop and industrial labels presses, B size digital presses, and the office workgroup market.

QP: How did you get involved with the company? What is your background before that?

LL: I’ve been involved in the telecommunications and technology industries for over 30 years, with executive positions leading technology innovators, developers, and providers. Most recently, I served as COO at Qualcomm, Inc. and Sprint. Similar to Memjet, Qualcomm is a components business. When I joined Memjet, I was inspired by how the company’s pagewide array technology is disrupting the printing market with low-cost, high-speed color digital printing.

QP: What do you consider your greatest achievement in this market to be?

LL: The Memjet technology is being commercialized with more than 30 OEMs, which has resulted in industry-wide acceptance of pagewide, inkjet digital printing. The breadth of product and end customer value that we achieve through our partnering model is truly amazing. This success has allowed us to invest in our future. Multiple new generations of printheads, inks, and controller technologies are under development today at Memjet. 

QP: If there was anything you could change, either about your career in regards to the print industry, your company, or the market as a whole, what would it be and why?

LL: In mature markets such as the print industry, there is not as much experience creating markets for new technology. People get excited about the benefits of new technology, but it is easy to underestimate the attention that is needed to drive new value out into the industry. This requires new thinking and focus not only from product and engineering teams, but also from the sales, marketing, and operational teams of the companies we work with. This is something we are paying much more attention to now than we did in the beginning and it is paying off in terms of business growth.

QP: What do you consider the greatest challenge to be for the industry right now? Why?

LL: For the office printing space, the biggest challenge is to change our thinking of the printing infrastructure solely as a set of assets to be trimmed and
cost-reduced. Cost has been too dominant of a theme for the managed print services space. We need to look at printing and imaging infrastructure as a way to print to increase organization efficiency and top-line outcomes, to increase pages and profits. We can do this by increasing color usage and better integrating into business processes and mobile on-demand solutions.

QP: What do you consider the greatest asset to be for the industry right now? Why?

LL: Printing has expanded well beyond dots on paper, and new digital ink-based applications are multiplying rapidly. As an industry we print on foils and plastics and wrap buildings and print latex decals for automobiles. We are transitioning to functional printing applications such as 3D. Printing is becoming less of an end product and more of a flexible and integrated part of the manufacturing process itself. It is exciting to see investment, innovation, and value increasing. 

QP: In your opinion, what have been the biggest changes to the way we communicate with one another in the past few years? How would you recommend this industry take advantage of that?                            

LL: The most disruptive change in the communication landscape is our ability to turn ever-increasing amounts of data into immediate and relevant personalized communication. For printing to remain relevant, we must provide flexible on-demand and increasingly personalized outcomes as well. The market will decide the best instances for electronic versus paper communication, but to be relevant, digital print needs to align with individuals’ real-time needs. The printing industry can take advantage of this by advancing technology to match on demand print needs. For example, color solutions will need to print runs of one to 5,000 cost-effectively. Eliminating the waste of preprint and transport/store processes will also add value for real-time needs by enabling better environmental footing with electronic alternatives. The ability to add localized QR codes to printed media will support the integration of digital print and the digital web.

QP: Looking ahead, what major innovations or technologies do you believe will shape the future of the industry? Why?

LL: The pace of invention is quickening and one of the primary trends that will be fueling this innovation is in-house printing. End-users, be they utility companies, magazine publishers, or consumer brands, increasingly need specialized labels and packaging. Furthermore, they are looking for new ways to use print material and packaging to extend their brand value and create new business opportunities. In-house printing enables them to do this while also gaining control and reducing waste.

Imagine you had a food producer with different flavors and expiration dates. In an ideal world, the manufacturer would be able to store blank labels and then print specific details, based on demand, for the product in real time. If one flavor increased in popularity or a large order came in, the brand would need to be able to have its precise printing needs met without hassle or extra cost. This real-time demand is becoming status quo for business operations. For the printing market, innovations that allow smaller, customized print jobs will disrupt the industry and shape where we are headed.

QP: What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to printers and others involved in this industry?

LL: Technology is changing rapidly. We have to think about print as an increasingly decentralized process. That means print providers need to think about shifting back and forth from printing as a service to managing commercial print infrastructure on behalf of others. There will be opportunities to increase profits for those willing to understand the short run market and use that knowledge to offer new value and new ways to print for their customers. 

QP: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

LL: Memjet’s strategy is based on partnering; combining our focus on the best technology with the creativity and vision of our OEM partners. We’re at the beginning of an exciting growth stage of our business. The OEM partners enabled by Memjet are disrupting the print market with low-cost, high-speed, color digital printing that is unmatched in the industry. We welcome providers in the commercial print space to take a look at what our 'Powered by Memjet' partners are offering and expand their short-run offerings. Join us!