Creating The Micro 3D Printer. 2013-2015
In 2013, three of us were tucked away in a garage working on the most exciting challenge. Our mission was to build the first affordable, user friendly, consumer 3D printer. Our year of tireless designing, engineering, and crowdfunding prep paid off, and in April 2014 we raised $3.4 million on Kickstarter, selling nearly 12,000 units! Here is our journey.
Let’s rewind to 2011. I was beyond lucky to join the Human Centered Computing lab in Baltimore, where some of my fellow researchers left to build the first ever Makerbot. I fell headfirst into the magical early world of consumer 3D printing. Our lab received some of the first ever Makerbots - clunky, laser cut, user assembled, behemoths that made a ruckus and stank up the lab. But these 3D printers would churn out almost anything we could imagine (that was 2”x2'“x2”). I spent the next year researching practical applications for consumer 3D printing, particularly in the realm of assistive technology.
Fast forward 2 years and in 2013, I partnered with Mike Armani and David Jones to build out the product of our dreams. A smaller, user friendly, affordable 3D printer that could live on the corner of your desk. The next year was a whirlwind of designing, prototyping, traveling to trade shows, building a community of backers, and prepping for our very first Kickstarter.
We couldn’t have embarked on this mission at a better time but it was still a race against the clock. With Formlab’s recent Kickstarter success, and Makerbot paving the way for “prosumer” 3D printing, the invention of a truly affordable, user friendly printer was inevitable. Just as importantly, the Kickstarter market was still largely untapped and fresh, but being first to market in this category could make or break the company. We estimated that we’d have a year to make this a reality.
Prototyping and development went quickly underway. Thank goodness for 3D printing becoming recently accessible! Have you read Kevin Kelly’s book “What Technology Wants”? Our work felt inevitable in every way. The pace at which we were able to prototype, ideate, and iterate was unreal. Several of the first units were nearly entirely 3D printed. All the while we were tirelessly building, we were meeting with potential users - arguably the most critical component to our work. Our first appearance was at Makerfaire NYC 2013. We went with nothing more than our vision and brand, but a year prior to our campaign, were already able to start building a following of excited potential customers. Some of these lovely people would be our early adopters and the ones to fund our campaign in minutes.
The entire year of 2013 was a whirlwind. Weeks of sketching turned into months of CAD. Before we knew it there were gleaming, injection molded parts scattered across the basement. Shortly after, our very first engineering prototypes whirred to life, truly living on the corner of our desks, spewing out molten plastic. Just weeks after that, the prototype parts we were 3D printing, we being 3D printed on our own prototypes. This may have been the most chilling, mind blowing moment.
Every last ounce of remaining time and energy went towards preparation for our Kickstarter. I’d say 90% of what we did well, we did here. We found mentorship from the creators of 3Doodler and worked closely with the folks from Kickstarter. We traveled with our prototypes to the 3D Print show in NYC and debuted the printer for the very first time. We met Max from Formlabs! It was a blast meeting with and learning from excited future backers, but most importantly, we crafted a campaign that would go viral in every way possible.
Visitors to our booth grabbed stacks of coupons that promised them the first 250 printers at $199 (unreal and unheard of at the time). Months before our Kickstarter we had thousands of excited folks, waiting patiently for the second our campaign would go live. These are the amazing backers that would score us the headline “Fully funded in 11 minutes” across the web.
The final months before our launch in 2014 were spent crafting out every last detail of our campaign. We partnered with PR firm Dynamo, and connected with numerous tech blogs. As an engineer, this was my foray into the workings of marketing, press and PR. Little did I know that articles on the internet don’t simply go viral, rather they are often crafted well in advance and released on a chosen day, at the end of a press embargo!
We launched the campaign at the beginning of 2014
We raised well beyond what we were expecting. During the 30 day span of the campaign, we scale up to a team of 7. In a matter of months that number hit 70. Quickly, things spiraled into something greater than we could have imagined.
Learn more at www.themicro3d.com