It’s the classic start-up arc.

An innovator sees a void to fill and starts a successful business. A business that ultimately outgrows the visionary.

But the cool thing is, it opens doors the person might never have imagined.

Ask Jason Falls.

Yesterday, Falls ceded the CEO position of Social Media Explorer, the consultancy he founded to become vice president of Digital Strategy at CafePress, the publicly traded custom logo printing/specialty goods giant based in Louisville.

Nicole Kelly now is SME CEO.

Falls isn’t totally leaving SME. He will remain a minority shareholder, will blog for SME and will host Explorer events for clients.

At CafePress, he’ll try to figure out how companies can integrate social media marketing into the transactional experience.

“You have two worlds on-line right now,” Falls said. “You have the sites that say, ‘Here’s the stuff we’re selling’ … the e-Commerce sites like Ebay and Amazon. Then you have the consumer experience at social sites where people say, ‘We’re here for the social experience. We’re not here to buy.’ ”

The question becomes, Falls said, whether retailers such as CafePress can wrap appropriate content around e-Commerce, integrating the social experience while providing the opportunity to make purchases.

“There has yet to be, in my opinion, a compelling combination of those two concepts. That’s the nut everyone is trying to cut.”

The 300-employee CafePress, projected to have about $200 million total revenue for 2012, is a long way from Social Media Explorer, which he founded five years ago after a stint at Doe Anderson.

SME was one of the earliest national consultancies to help businesses understand the potential of social media.

Which got Falls noticed.

Joe Schmidt, CafePress chief marketing officer, called him two months ago.

“It was the typical situation,” Falls said. “He said, ‘I’d like to have a conversation.’ We started talking … ‘Here’s what we’re looking for. Here’s why we think you might be a good fit.’ ”

Fall said he realized Kelly is the right person to run SME at the same time he realized what a huge opportunity he has with a national on-line retailer.

“It’s a little weird” leaving the company he founded, Falls said. “But I think the separation is tempered by the fact CafePress is so incredible.

“I wasn’t kicked out by the board of directors. I just realized somebody can do this job better than I can” at the same time the CafePress opportunity came up, he said.

Starting SME “was exciting, and I can say I was able to build a successful company. But now, I know I’m going to learn a lot.

“In the last 36 hours, I’ve gotten a masters degree in how a big Internet retailer works.”

About CafePress: CafePress was founded in San Mateo, Calif. in 1999 by Fred Durham and Maheesh Jain. The company moved to Louisville earlier this year from San Mateo, Calif. CafePress has about 300 employees here. It trades on the NASDAQ exchange under he symbol “PRSS.”

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Terry Boyd
Terry Boyd has seven years experience as a business/finance journalist, and eight years a military reporter with European Stars and Stripes. As a banking and finance reporter at Business First, Boyd dealt directly with the most influential executives and financiers in Louisville.

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