Toad Murphy Corporation, now known as Social Print Studio, was founded in 2010 as a printing service for people wanting hard copies of their Instagram memories. Since its inception, the Berkeley, California-based printing studio has grown rapidly--so rapidly, in fact, that the company made it to No. 66 on this year's Inc. 5000 list of America's fastest-growing businesses. Between 2011 and 2014, Social Print Studio's sales skyrocketed by more than 4,100 percent, earning the company more than $6.4 million last year. But co-founder Benjamin Lotan explains that achieving business success wasn't exactly part of the plan.
--As told to Elaine Godfrey
I was in grad school, getting an MFA in visual arts at the University of California, San Diego, and I was doing some performance art. I was kind of exploring different cultures and different roles that I could play.
I had done a couple of performances just taking on different identities. One of them was going through the recruitment process for the Army, doing two months of recruiting and taking the tests. Then I did a trip to Jerusalem, where I enrolled in a yeshiva where you study Torah if you're trying to become Orthodox, or if you are Orthodox. So that was another two-month performance.
Social Print Studio was a continuation of that process. I wanted to play a startup founder, because it's kind of a trendy thing to start a company. I said, "OK, I'm going to do the company for three years, and this is going to be a new performance of the role of startup founder."
I was in school at the time, so I was making art alongside the business taking off. I wanted it to be a little more critical of capitalism as a whole and power relations and how power corrupts. As I developed into this role and really performed this identity, I wanted to examine how that affected me as an individual.
The corporation was founded as Toad Murphy Corporation, so that's our legal entity, though we do business as Social Print Studio. We didn't know what the company was going to be, and we imagined it like the evil name of a corporation that you see stamped on big vans driving around. You don't really know what they do, but then you find out that everything is owned by Toad Murphy Corporation. So we imagined a family of brands that are almost like subsidiary companies, and so far Social Print Studio is the main one.
The project was supposed to be three years, and I kind of told myself I would stop after that time, and it would just be done. But by that time, I had created a successful business, and it's really tempting to just keep it going. It's definitely transformed me.
Now, I'm mainly just a businessman, not an artist any more. So, in some ways, the project lives on. It might end at some point if we sold the company, or I might declare an end.
But right now, we are in a phase of just trying to build a very solid company, across the board. We're definitely focused on photo printing and being a company that customers know they can rely on. We're not necessarily trying to innovate in terms of crazy new products or crazy software systems. We're just trying to be a great photo printing company and help people make their homes beautiful, preserve their memories, and create gifts for their friends and loved ones.