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From A-minus at CSUN to $20 million

It all started a decade ago at Cal State Northridge with a marketing-class project for which student Mike Zaya got an A-minus. Not an A. An A-minus.

The assignment: Create a business plan and marketing strategy for a start-up company.

Zaya's plan: Sell ink cartridges and other printer peripherals through the Internet, permitting deep discounts and creating a wide customer base.

The professor was not thoroughly impressed with the kid's e-commerce concept.

"(He said) the idea was too aggressive," Zaya said. "He told me to be realistic."

Undaunted, Zaya put his plan into action, spending an initial $500 to found a company called 123Inkjets.com and running it out of his parents' garage and spare bedroom in Simi Valley.

Six years later, after Zaya teamed with his friend Seth Staszower to build 123Inkjets.com into 18 related on-line retailers of computer-printer products, he sold them to Westlake Village-based ValueClick, Inc., for nearly $20 million.

Mike Zaya, left, Seth Staszower are former Cal State Northridge students from Simi Valley who teamed up to write a term paper laying out the business model for an online company.

Mike Zaya, left, Seth Staszower are former Cal State Northridge students from Simi Valley who teamed up to write a term paper laying out the business model for an online company. They followed their plan and built 123injets.com into a company they wound up selling for nearly $20 million. Then they bought an online printing business in Chatsworth and have multiplied its value. (David Crane/Staff Photographer)

In a winning parlay, Zaya and Staszower then purchased the on-line printing service PrintRunner.com, and Zaya said they've grown the company's annual revenue from $3 million in 2006 to more than $12 million now.