He had to admit it. The board meeting had been a mild disaster. It was the first one since the hurried take over from his father. The first real one. The transition meeting before that had been soothingly smooth and boring. Surely out of deference for the sick old man, it now dawned on him.

Today, all of the sudden, the bean counters were on his case. They had confronted him with numbers that admittedly weren’t all that brilliant, but hey, he’d only been in charge for a couple weeks now. They insisted on cost-cutting to the bone into his father’s carefully crafted company. While he understood their rationale, he had somehow hoped for more creative support from his trusted advisors in these challenging times. Then again, he had to reluctantly agree that the short-term outlook for Lovely Labels, Inc. seemed pretty bleak. He needed a plan.

Right before moving out to the West Coast, one of his smart college friends had told him that in order to save the old family business, he’d better find a way to “add a pinch of cloud” to it. Easier said than done. In the meantime, there were bills to be paid. Like the final instalment on the new fast label printer – a helluva digital beast that could print anything onto rolls of labels, from pictures to QR codes. QR codes? Hmmm. They had always intrigued him. Might they be his segway to the cloud?

That evening, as he was googling the ins and outs of QR codes, he bumped into an inspiring use case on the web site of Esoptra, a lightweight cloud solutions company. The story painted an imaginary product, called CloudLabels – a roll of identical QR code labels. The idea seemed simple enough: scanning a label with a smartphone would call up a small mobile web page featuring a bit of text, a customized logo and a large round upload button. Tapping the button would take and upload a picture, typically of a document. The simplest way to get a signed agreement back, say.

He understood that all such uploaded documents would be collected and kept together in a kind of folder in the cloud, one that could easily be viewed and managed by just scanning the Master QR code on the side of the associated roll. No accounts, passwords or other hassle. Instant cloud power, laser-focused and magically practical: effortlessly collecting documents from all kinds of people and places, using any support fit to carry a label. Could this be the kind of product to put Lovely Labels on its digital track? It suddenly seemed strangely real and doable. So he decided to pick up the phone and call Esoptra.

His gut feeling was confirmed right off the bat. Yes, this was a perfectly realistic use case based on an existing prototype. One they could easily show him in a remote demonstration, if he wanted. During the demo, he got a QR code on screen which he scanned using his standard iPhone camera app. Sure enough, he got the little upload page, complete with the Lovely Labels logo already in place – a nice touch. He tried it a couple times to make sure he understood the process, then scanned the Master QR code. And indeed, all the documents were there, ready for download.

He was kind of baffled now. Never had he seen something digital that was this versatile and simple at the same time. So, he asked to set up a call with Esoptra’s business development manager to talk turkey.

A couple weeks later, as the first pre-production batch of Lovely CloudLabels was coming off the printer, he briefed his sales force on how to pitch this first step of the new “Paper Cloud” strategy to their accounts, mostly office supplies stores and chains. By talking to a couple of them, he had already detected that they too had existential questions on how to do better than just stay afloat in times of digital sea change. So he hadn’t been surprised when his message was getting their undiluted attention.

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