Bound to Succeed
Here's how utter frustration spurred Todd Moses to reinvent the stapler.
By Siri Schubert

(Business 2.0) – It was April 2003, and Todd Moses, then 29 years old, was running late. Having quit his job and moved with his pregnant wife back to his parents' house to save money, Moses was expected at the office of a Princeton, N.J., venture capital firm, where he hoped to fund his dream: a chain of gourmet wrap restaurants. Before heading out the door, he attempted to staple together the stacks of financial statements that explained why he needed $5 million to open his first five locations. "I wanted it to be perfect," he recalls.

It wasn't. On the first 19-page copy, the staple went only halfway through. On the next stack, the stapler jammed completely. In panic mode, Moses tried to pull out the staples that had partly penetrated his papers, only to cut his finger. "There was blood on the pages," he says. "There was no way I could bring them to the meeting." He threw the stapler against the wall in frustration and left for Princeton, where he had to apologize not only for being late but also for being short on copies of his plan.

The pitch went all right despite the difficulties, but that night Moses's mind returned to the stapler. Having once held a job in the sales department at hardware manufacturer Black & Decker, he remembered an easy-to-use staple gun for construction applications that was a big seller. He wondered if anyone had come up with a similarly powered desktop stapler. Unable to sleep, he turned on the computer in his parents' basement and began researching staplers on the websites of retailers like Staples and Office Depot. He found nothing like what he had envisioned. "There wasn't much innovation," he recalls.

The next morning Moses tracked down Joel Marks, the mechanical engineer who had designed the spring-loaded shooting mechanism in the Black & Decker stapler that Moses remembered. Impressed by the entrepreneur's enthusiasm, Marks agreed to help build a desktop prototype in exchange for the promise of equity if the idea took off. Typical office staplers require 30 pounds of force to bind a stack of 20 pages. Moses and Marks designed a compact recoil spring that could store enough energy to bind 20 pages with only 7 pounds of force. By November 2003 they were ready to go to market.

Moses incorporated under the name Accentra and contracted with a manufacturer in Taiwan to produce the new device, which he called PaperPro. After he met with 120 potential distributors in 40 days, 119 signed on to carry PaperPro, including Staples, which released it under its store brand. By the end of 2004, PaperPro was available through Office Depot, Office Max, and catalogs, and the line had sold more than a million units, according to Moses. (Three models retail for between $9.99 and $29.99.) "PaperPro was our hottest-selling new product of the past two or three years," says Dick Nichols, merchandising manager at office-products distributor S.P. Richards.

Moses says that Wal-Mart will begin carrying PaperPro in April and that Accentra's sales could top $50 million this year. He also says his company is profitable, but he's been reinvesting in growth: Accentra now distributes PaperPro in more than 60 countries, and a better hole puncher is on the way. Now 31 and living with his wife and daughter in their own place, Moses has ideas for unrelated businesses, like selling multiflavored soft ice cream. Hopefully, now that he has succeeded with PaperPro, he won't have to spill so much blood getting those ventures funded. -- SIRI SCHUBERT