Lumi Inc., a downtown L.A. maker of custom printing tools

Employees: 7

Financials: $1.2 million in revenue last year

At 16, Jesse Genet had what she calls a midlife crisis. She realized high school sports and advanced placement classes weren’t going to get her anywhere in life. She needed to start a company.

Genet asked her mom for a credit card terminal and other business basics for Christmas, threw in $2,000 she’d saved from cleaning offices and started what she now considers a “terrible” T-shirt printing company.

“I knew nothing,” Genet admitted. “I just wanted to try something.”

Though that venture was admittedly humble, it was a first stab at what today has become Lumi Inc., a downtown L.A. firm that makes custom printing tools.

Lumi began percolating when Genet met co-founder Stephan Ango in 2008 while studying industrial design at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Genet had been developing a permanent dye for printing photographs on fabric and started experimenting on it with Ango, who has a background in biology and chemistry.

The duo raised $13,000 in a 2009 Kickstarter campaign to apply their process, Inkodye, to wallets and purses. They caught the eye of South L.A. furniture maker Cisco Home, which asked them to print images on restored flea-market furniture.

The results, including a baroque chair emblazoned with a typewriter, scored with customers and resulted in requests for more.

“We weren’t really set up for that,” Ango said. “But we started thinking about the idea of offering these tools to people to do it themselves.”

After graduation, Ango and Genet raised $268,000 in a 2012 Kickstarter campaign, which they consider the real beginning of their business. They also got a small investment from a childhood friend of Ango’s, hired a few employees and started selling Inkodye systems online and through retailers including Urban Outfitters and JoAnn Fabrics.

Lumi expanded its offerings to include custom-made printing tools such as rubber stamps, vinyl decals and silk screens for applying designs to everything from fabric to glass earlier this year.

The company brought in $1.2 million sales last year, but now that it’s selling more than just Inkodye, revenue has grown each month compared with the same month a year ago, Genet said.

While she might be considered a printing industry vet with nearly a decade of experience, she isn’t afraid to admit when she needs help.

She and Ango recently left their employees to operate Lumi while they spent three months in renowned Silicon Valley accelerator program Y-Combinator.

“A lot of our friends were like, ‘You’re crazy,’” Genet said. “‘You built a successful business. What could you possibly need help with?’”

But the two felt they were embarking on a very different path, more akin to that of a tech startup.

“We’re selling things on demand and our major assets now are software related,” Genet said. “You need to put yourself in environments that have more to do with where you want to be than where you are.”

– Marni Usheroff

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