Paul Orfalea: A Hyperactive Dyslexic


paul orfaleaPaul Orfalea was born in Los Angeles, California on Novemeber 28, 1947. Known to friends as Kinko due to his curly hair, Paul’Orfalea’s childhood was anything but easy. He suffered from both dyslexia and ADHD.

His inability to read or to focus in school led not only to bad grades, but to him being expelled from four out of the eight schools he attended. His condition wasn’t understood by medical doctors, teachers or even his parents.

His low reading ability was once attributed to weak eye muscles. Doing eye strengthening exercises did no good. His siblings tried to help as well, and Paul’s parents paid them to help him learn to read. Once again he was unsuccessful.

Paul Orfalea learned to fake his way through school and was able to fool his teachers until around the third grade. Once it was discovered that he was memorizing instead of reading, he was placed into special classes each year. None of them helped, and he continued to struggle. His mother finally located a remedial reading teacher who was familiar with dyslexia. She helped him learn to read, but his struggle with school continued.


After failing two grades, barely passing any of his classes and having no ability for mechanics, Paul graduated from high school with a 1.2 GPA despite his challenges. Paul applied to and was accepted into the University of Southern California. Though he didn’t believe he would succeed, he continued to make an attempt at graduating.

It was during his time at USC that he rented a small garage for $100 a month. He began selling paper, pens, notebooks and photocopying services to other students. Business was booming, and Paul quickly began making $1000 a day. He named his new business Kinko’s after himself.

Kinko’s had over 24 locations in California by 1975. By this point, Paul had begun using direct sales to draw new customers in. He sent people into dorms to sell pens and notebooks to students. Professors began to take notice of Paul Orfalea as well. They began using Kinko’s copying service to copy and sell materials for their students to read. Unfortunately, this led to a law suit by several academic publishers and Paul ended up being on the losing end of that suit.

Instead of giving up, he restructured his business to focus on corporate customers instead of college students. Offering them twenty-four-hour service for document and media services, he was able to retain a loyal business following. His services allowed businesses to function without the cost of purchasing the necessary technology themselves. It was through partnering with local businesses that Kinko’s continued to grow and was quickly spreading across California with 80 stores.

Even as his business began to expand, Paul struggled with reading and paying attention to details. He hired people who were able to balance what some might consider his weaknesses, and he learned how to successfully run a business his way as opposed to the way so many others believed it should be done. Despite his struggle to read, he built a multi-billion-dollar business that is now known as FedEx Kinko’s. At the writing of this article there are currently more than 1,000 stores in 11 countries, and while Paul Orfalea retired from the company in 2004, it continues to be one of the best-known copy, print and media businesses in the world.

With help, Paul Orfalea has written several books, works as a visiting professor at the University of California, and is a highly sought after public speaker. He enjoys speaking to college students and others who struggle with learning disabilities. With the ability to inspire those who struggle with dyslexia, ADHD or other disabilities, Paul Orfalea has become a hero for many. He shows the world that grades aren’t the most important thing; the human spirit, determination, and belief in yourself can help you achieve anything you set your mind to.

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