High Hopes

Ahead Of The Game

Although not all high-tech companies offer new and innovative products and services, those that do need a market that's ready and willing to buy. With the flood of products and services available today, market demand remains another chief concern among today's tech entrepreneurs.

Rudy Prince, president and CEO of JetFax Inc., a Menlo Park, California, document communication company, knows firsthand what it's like to be ahead of the technology curve. In 1988, Prince started JetFax to build multifunctional laser printer/fax machines, long before Hewlett-Packard's OfficeJet was a household name.

With an initial $1.7 million investment, JetFax introduced the first fax interface for laser printers in 1988. But the concept was too new and sales weren't what Prince had hoped they'd be. "Being on the front end [of the multifunctional-product market] definitely had its problems," admits Prince, 41. "You want to hit the ramp, but not too early."

For JetFax, market education proved to be the best course of action. The company spent a lot of its resources acquainting copier dealers with laser-printer technology and software installation. Then, in 1994, the multifunctional-product market started to pick up with the release of the OfficeJet from Hewlett-Packard. Xerox entered the market shortly thereafter, driving prices down and further familiarizing consumers with the concept.

Because of its solid core technology and early experience in the market, JetFax was able to capitalize on the growing trend. During the following years, it developed strategic alliances with Hewlett-Packard, Samsung Electronics and Xerox to jointly build multifunctional products. "There was a certain amount of market confusion," Prince says. "So rather than doing it on our own, we partnered with companies that had the marketing power we needed."

Today, JetFax is a leading developer and provider of multifunctional system technology; its M900 product line has garnered many industry awards. The company has grown to 125 employees and three locations, and Prince projects $40 million in sales this year.

And Prince is at it again. Last December, his company released the JetFax M900e series of multifunctional products, which merge e-mail capabilities with fax machines. He knows that, once again, he's slightly ahead of his time. But, for Prince, it's a matter of patience, perseverance and trust.

"Even though we're in the market early, it's moving quickly," Prince says. "So many people are sending documents via e-mail. There's definitely a market. It can't turn overnight, but when it does, it can turn fast."

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This article was originally published in the March 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: High Hopes.

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