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As a member of the Captain Planet and “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” generation, I have no problem going out of my way to get the cardboard in the right bin or take a pair of scissors to the six pack rings to keep them from entangling those dirty landfill birds (do I still need to do that? I’m doing it anyway). I’m always happy to get behind anything that will save waste, so when a startup comes along that helps people save paper with little effort, you bet I’m interested.

Chicago-based startup PrintEco has developed some truly smart software that can automatically reformat printed documents to eliminate empty space and unwanted images from websites, cutting printed pages down by as much as 50 percent. Best of all it integrates into the Microsoft Office suite and popular web browsers to allow anyone to optimize their document’s formatting for print in a single click.

We chatted with PrintEco co-founder Arpan Shah, who talked with us about the origins of PrintEco, the oft-overlooked upside of failure, and the startup’s lofty goal of reducing print waste by a billion pages before the end of the decade.

What is the backstory behind PrintEco?

PrintEco was started when my partner, Tom Patterson, and I were seniors in college. One of the things we noticed when we were at U of I was the amount of wasteful printing that went on in schools, internships, and whatnot.

One of the things that the U of I stressed in the business plan competition was finding a big problem and developing a solution around that. I thought, Wasteful printing is a big problem so let’s see if we can create something using simple, easy-to-use technology to help reduce that.

From there the idea continued to iterate. I brought on Tom and we started building the prototype. Now we’ve got a fully functioning product that consumers and businesses are using to help them save paper and reduce their carbon footprint. It also saves time reformatting documents.

When did you know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

I think way back—you have the proverbial lemonade stand. I was in seventh grade and was interested in getting involved in web design and things like that.

It was really junior year of high school I started doing that more, and in college I went on to more startup-oriented ideas, something bigger that I could do. After a few ideas, working around here and there, I came across PrintEco.

So far we’ve just been taking it to bigger and bigger lengths. I’m looking forward to see if I can complete that vision as well.

Who are some people that inspire you?

I think my grandfather, who came here in 1970 and had to work his way up from nothing has been a big inspiration. Other people in the tech industry like Bill Gates have also been very inspirational.

What keeps you motivated throughout the workday?

One of the things that I’ve learned is that it really has to be this overarching mission, that you have to believe in what you have, and I do. We’ve seen it in action and know that if this was preinstalled in every machine we could save billions and billions of pages  -- tens of billions of pages a year, which has a huge environmental impact and cost-saving standpoint as well.

Our mission statement is to reach one billion pages by 2020. I think having this overall mission has us working toward something bigger than ourselves.

I find that pretty exciting and that’s what keeps me motivated. I know that this is something, if executed properly, that can make a big impact. It’s pretty exciting to know that a handful of people have the potential to make that big of an impact. That’s really the main driving point.

If you sold your company for $1 billion today, what’s the first thing you would do with the money?

Take a vacation; take a little bit of a break first and foremost. I’d probably get back into giving back. I’ve heard Bill Gates talk about having a lot of money and how you can either consume or you can produce. I think the best thing is to put it right back to work and to make an even bigger impact in whatever area interests me at that time. That’s probably what I would do.

If you could have one super power, which would you choose and why?

The ability to teleport. I always find myself running around. I always think, If I could just transport myself to this location instantly, that would be awesome.

What advice would you give to any beginning entrepreneurs out there?

I think the main takeaway that I’ve had is that you need to fail fast often. That’s not a bad thing because you can always pick yourself back up and learn from it.

If some pricing model or something’s not clicking, the product feature in the beginning stages of our company -- it was more about making sure that we had a good product idea. You have to learn that, and the only way you’re going to do that is by talking to people, talking to potential users and customers -- getting out there and testing your assumption.

If you have an idea of what your company might look like, what the product might look like, what the business model itself might even look like -- we’ve changed the whole business model itself, from a consumer standpoint. I think just testing those assumptions and continuing to encourage and embrace the fact that you’re not going to have the right answer right away and you just need to get out there and fail as much as possible to get that right answer.

What does 2013 have in store for PrintEco?

We’re working on several branding partners -- well-known companies that are interested in advertising and promoting their own brands within our consumer product. We’re gearing up to launch that campaign and continue to bring on more clients. They also see the vision that we have and they like what we’re doing and it helps them promote their own brands as well within the product.

I think now that we have the resources from these partners we can take that and we can funnel that and expand our consumer base. Just going to market even more so and just getting consumers. Eventually from that we hope to get more schools, universities, and businesses as well through all those different campaigns.

Our goal for the year is to get 100,000 users.

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