ZUtA Labs portable pocket printer looks to finally ship in early 2017

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ZUtA Labs made headlines nearly three years ago with its unprecedented Kickstarter campaign. Weighing only 350 grams, people jumped at the opportunity to carry around a miniature solution to the need to hurry up and print documents on the go. The initial campaign sailed past its $400,000 goal and received over $511,000 in orders. They also started allowing pre-order on their site in January 2015.

Just this past week, a marketing video featuring the printer went viral on Facebook — again —  bringing renewed attention to the little piece of technology. Interest was so high that the company’s website servers crashed from the overload of traffic.

“They took old videos from two years ago and edited them together,” ZUtA Founder and CEO Tuvia Elbaum told Geektime by email earlier this week. “We were surprised by the fact that these two videos came out — we weren’t expecting them — and thus didn’t prepare our website/servers.”

Founded in Jerusalem in 2014, Elbaum moved out to San Francisco to market the product. As evidenced by the viral nature of the company’s product, Elbaum reports there is “incredible demand” from retailers and distributors as well.

Talmudic Aramaic for “small,” the ZUtA printer connects with any device — tablets, PCs, laptops and phones — and will work on any size of paper. It’s 7.5 cm tall and 10.2 in diameter with one hour’s charge when full. It can hold enough ink for 100 pages according to ZUtA’s website. It is supported on Android, iOS, OSX, and Windows.

Is it ready yet

So all that interest begs the question, “Where’s the printer?” Hardly the first crowdfunding campaign to push back a shipping date, ZUtA has spent the better part of two years perfecting the design. In the first quarter of 2017 the company claims, the wait will finally be over — probably.

“When we ran the KS (Kickstarter) campaign, we only had a raw Proof of Concept. [Despite] what we thought at the time, we needed a lot of R&D. This is a very sophisticated robot that requires a lot of work on the sensors and navigation. This is the last main issue we’re working on — and is a known issue within robotics — basically getting the robot to move accurately enough to allow [for] a good printout.”

So how married are Elbaum and co. to the Q1 2017 shipping date? They’re engaged, but they haven’t exactly ordered a band and catering yet.

“We’ve pushed back shipping several times, due to needing more development on the product. With hardware, development cycles are longer, and until we’re done with a cycle, we can’t really tell where we are and if what we were aiming for was actually achieved.”

ZUtA Labs Founder and CEO Tuvia Elbaum (Courtesy)
ZUtA Labs Founder and CEO Tuvia Elbaum (Courtesy)

Considering the immense interest and decent price ($199) relative to classic desktop printers, the first batch to be shipped will include only 2,400 units. That includes the Kickstarter orders and pre-orders that have been received since on the company’s website.

Jerusalem: A challenger to the startup hub of Tel Aviv?

While most of the attention Israel gets revolves around Tel Aviv, the capital city of Jerusalem has been building itself and is deemed to be one of the top 30 startup ecosystems in the world in its own right by Startup Genome’s (formerly Startup Compass) 2015 analysis.

“We have a very strong R&D with brilliant and dedicated engineers. [We] couldn’t have assembled such a team anywhere else,” Elbaum tells Geektime. That being said, he considers himself lucky even in a startup rich environment like Israel. There is a common drawback both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem face in one particular space. “It’s not easy to build a consumer hardware startup in Israel in general. [There are] not many VCs that are willing to invest in the field and not much talent around when it comes to sales, marketing, etc. Therefore, like many other Israeli startups, we [are] split between offices in Israel and the Valley (where I’m based).”

ZUtA
ZUtA as modeled for Kickstarter (Photo Credit: PR Screenshot, ZUtA)

With nine employees on their R&D team and hiring, Elbaum is in no way preparing for the dreaded Kickstarter refund. The printer is coming Elbaum conveys to Geektime, and the clear excitement expressed by social media shares, heavy web traffic and apparently from retailers to get it on the shelf is a reassuring phenomenon in the face of the long delay. While he wishes the process had moved more quickly, he is motivated by the commotion this 350-gram machine has generated.

“Previous videos also went viral, so this is not the first time, although always exciting, humbling and reminds us what a great product we’re working on.”

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