I recently wrote a guest blog post for Inside 3DP looking at what radical transformation means in manufacturing and why additive manufacturing does not meet the expectations we’ve set for it.
Now shit’s constantly hot, on my block, it never fails to be gunshots
-2Pac (My Bloc)
Last week I wrote about how startups wanting to leverage 3D printing to attack existing markets need to think about the technology. This week, it seems reasonable to start talking about the ecosystem developing around the entire 3D market. The support structure for creating content and distributing content has been booming and feeds the raw material for the printers.
3D scanning is currently time-consuming and inaccurate. Scans often fail and certain items don’t scan well, compounding the problem. Small items can be scanned accurately using a $2k desktop scanner in 15 seconds to 3 minutes depending on the resolution. The larger the item the longer the scan takes and the less accurate it becomes. Adding small movements, poor lighting or reflective materials throws the technology off pretty badly. A scan I did of my foot with a detailed desktop scanner took ~15 scans. Each scan took about 3 minutes of me holding my foot still and the resulting 3D model is still not perfect.
Luckily there are some new technologies that leverage Kinects, Leap Motion Controllers and other lower cost 3D sensors to do quicker scans. Arden Reed for instance is using Kinects to do full body scans in just a few seconds.
This technology is absolutely critical to the ecosystem because it enables people with no design skills to get 3D design files (replacement parts for instance). More interesting to me, it allows us to start customizing add-on products to the world around us. You cannot customize something to work with other things unless you know what the other things look like (insoles, clothing, medical devices, jewelry are all relevant examples)
Creation (Digital design)
For years the only way to create 3D models was through cumbersome software that required specific, high-learning-curve, skills. This has limited the power of creation to those super interested in the technology and prevented the power of the crowd to directly drive content creation. This has begun to change, albeit slower than a lot of people would like. On the one hand you have new technology like Sketchup and Tinker CAD which make it easier for people to start designing in 3D. On the other hand you have educational Preston Middle School in colorado which is specifically teaching students to build 3D models and shows them how to print them. Will some future generation be considered the “3D printing natives” and truly democratize the power of creation in whole new ways? Mainstream companies are jumping on the bandwagon and offering custom solutions that leverage 3D printing, like eBay’s Exact app.
Sharing & Distribution of Content
Do any of you remember what we were using to share video and music in the 90s before Youtube and Spotify? It was the Wild West of applications, from Napster to email (and burned CDs). It’s exactly the same today for 3D models. We know that companies like Youtube are incredibly powerful because they are the intermediary by which people consume and share their content. Many companies are trying to solve this problem from a variety of angles. The manufacturing companies, and the outsourced printers, have competing services. Shapeways has a marketplace where every item can be printed and mailed to you, Makerbot has Thingiverse where any item can be downloaded for free. Then you have startups like Sketchfab which is taking a more “utility” approach to the problem by providing a place to host 3D models and rock-solid software that makes viewing the files online fast and pain-free. Previously if you want to view 3D models time-consuming plugins were needed and each file took a lot of time to load. Now you can simply upload your content to Sketchfab and then use their code to embed your file anywhere across the web. Their catalog of 3D models are browsable on their site too, and they’ve got some amazing things in there.
All of the things we just spoke about develop the content pipeline that feed the printers. We’re approaching a point where access to 3D designs and printers is widespread. The content pipeline is set to explode. Another problem that people, like 3D printing manufacturers, are running into is that workflow management software for 3D fabrication facilities blows chunks. The model where you create thousands of unique pieces at the same time is the antithesis of a traditional manufacturing facility. Managing orders, post-production, packing and quality control are all completely different. I’ve not seen a single company with creating this software for sale as their sole purpose. Josh is taking the Parts Press idea in this direction now. It’s an opportunity to be the glue that 3D fabrication facilities run on.
Hate a liar more than I hate thief.
A thief is only after my salary
a liar is after my reality.
– 50 Cent (I’m A Hustler)
One of the lessons from school that has shaped my thinking about team building is the “5 Dysfunctions Of A Team” concept. It’s a powerful lens by which to view the culture you are building and something that I’m constantly reminded about. Here is the pyramid:
This obviously doesn’t require a lot of explanation. Suffice it to say that as you are building your team, or scaling it up, think a lot about how you baseline those relationships and nurture trust, encourage dissent, promote commitment all while keeping people accountable and humble.
Culture is the most important advantage a startup can have. Sometimes it’s easy to lose track of that, something I learned the hard way. A long time ago I had this paper up in my office, when I setup my new office it’s getting its prominent spot back.
Yeah, and half them bitches sold ‘fore they off the table
Gotta look, nigga wantin’ my half, I’m gonna split it
– 50 Cent (Major Distribution)
Every few weeks I talk with someone who is thinking about leaving their corporate job, or graduating from their MBA program, and starting a company. More often than not the product idea and space are decent but their ideas around distribution are complete crap. It has been helpful to lead them down a thought process around different potential distribution models and the cost structures around each.
When you think about this, it’s not a huge surprise that they have trouble with distribution. Normally they are coming from big company environments where any product that is created gets instant users, global distribution and some press. Here are a few basic distribution models that are common in technology startups.
- Inside sales – You create a funnel to capture contact information from potential customers (usually this is through a content strategy or buying prospective customer lists). You hire a young sales team to call the customers and get them to purchase the product.
- Outside sales – You create a list of your potential customers and hire national, regional or local sales managers or contractor representatives to go “door-to-door” to their connections and sell your product.
- Freemium – You build an amazing product and give people a taste of what it does and sell a premium package to users who want the true value. Don’t get stuck giving away all the value in the free product and expect people to upgrade for piddly add-on features that you created just for monetization.
- Classic eCommerce – You have products and sell products while trying to do some fun things to differentiate yourself and your buying experience
- Advertise on your massively popular website – You’ll experience The Struggle more than most, but power to you if you can make it work
- Viral – Your product has inherent “virality” which whenever it is used gets your name and value proposition in front of new prospective clients. Think about when you sent your first email from your iPhone and it had “Sent from my iPhone” at the bottom of the message, you were part of Apple’s viral strategy.
- Arbitrage with digital advertising spend – If it costs you less to acquire a customer through search engine and/or social media marketing than each conversion then you can exploit this and grow your business by purchasing customers. In most cases where this is true, the total potential revenue from this channel isn’t huge, so you’ll likely need other channels to really gain scale.
I didn’t talk about Franchising even though it’s the subject of the introductory lyrics because it’s not that common with startups that I’ve seen, although I’m sure it’s used (and probably in some very interesting ways). In any case, let me know if there are some other models that should be covered here.
I can design an engine
64 miles to a gallon of gasoline
I can make new antibiotics
I can make computers survive aquatic, conditions
– Flobots (Handlebars)
Our Startup Weekend team has been spending a lot of time researching the capabilities of 3D printers and being absolutely amazed. Almost everyone who read my post has asked me what can and cannot be printed with our current technology. So I figured I’d elaborate a bit.
The technology has come a long way since I first heard about it years ago. It isn’t just plastics that can be printed, check out this partial list of printable materials (hint: the links are to some cool videos and pictures):