E317: Bre Pettis, Co-Founder and CEO, MakerBot-TWiST

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Jason travels to New York to the MakerBot store to talk with Bre Pettis before the grand opening!

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Jason: Hey, everybody. It’s, Jason Calacanis. This is, ThisWeekIn Startups. Today, we are live, from New York City, at Makerbots’ new store. As, you can see around me. Opening at 2PM, today. With me, co-founder, Bre Pettis. A genius, of a guy, who’s making 3D printing a reality. Really, pushing, what was something on the fringe. To, actually, having a store-front, that’s fascinating the world. 3D printing: Is it going to be real? Are you going to have one in your house and when? We’re going to talk about all those things. He got this company, to where it is, opening a store-front. It’s going to be an amazing interview.

TWiST title sequence.

Jason: Hey, everybody. Hey, everybody. It’s, Jason Calacanis. This interview, with Makerbot, is amazing. If, I do say so, myself. Not because I’m interviewing. I mean, that does add to it. What an amazing product. What an amazing vision. Boy, is it awesome. It’s just as awesome as, Igloosoftware. Yes. That’s the intranet, you’ll actually use and like. Built on social tools, you already use: file sharing, shared folders, shared calendars, blogs, wikis, all with a secure business contact. Igloo, is fully hosted and managed, in the cloud. So, you can focus on your work, not the IT budget. Here’s how we use it. We keep track of all of our equipment, here. Check out that nice wiki. Where, we have all the equipment and how much we spent on it. How much is, da, da, da, da. This is very good, for us. I need to have all this information at my fingertip, when I need it. Then, I can check it and I can yell at somebody, for not doing their job. No. Seriously, you ned to have an intranet. Great companies, like, IDC, Deloitte, NetApp, Kimberly-Clark, RCA. RCA? I think, RCA, went out of business, in 1947. It’s, RSA. I know those guys. Aetna Insurance. All these folks use, Igloosoftware. It’s a great intranet. Bring your team in from the cold, by getting inside the Igloo. Yes. Visit: igloosoftware.com/thisweekin and you will be entered into a drawing for an iPad mini. Yes. These guys are smart. Get a 30-day free trial and enter to win an iPad mini. Which, has become my preferred device. Let’s get on with this interview. This is an amazing interview with, of course, Makerbot. Which, is an amazing product. I hope you enjoy it. Thank you, Igloosoftware.

Jason: Hey, everybody. It’s, Jason Calacanis. This is, ThisWeekIn Startups. With me, Bre Pettis, co-founder.

Bre: Good to have you here.

Jason: Yeah. Usually, I’m like, “Great to have you at my studio.” But, we’re here, in your store. This is, kind of, mind-blowing.

Bre: We open up, in a few hours.

Jason: So, you must have some butterflies, obviously. We met, a couple of years ago. 3D printing was just getting started. Now, there’s a store. What’s happened, in the last 3 years, to take 3D printing from, let’s face it, it was not practical, highly impractical, and very speculative, to now, actually, opening a store-front?

Bre: When, we started, it was because, we wanted a 3D printer and couldn’t afford one. We just went ahead and made one. When, it almost worked, we quit our jobs and started Makerbot.

Jason: Right. The first product was, pretty, pathetic. Let’s be honest. You could make like… it was promising. It took forever. It broke.

Bre: We’ve come a long way.

Jason: No, seriously. How much did it cost to make that first prototype, three years ago?

Bre: The first prototypes that we shipped out, we made about 20 and we shipped those out. You, actually, had to get… you’ve got electronics boards, with teeny, tiny service node components and a pair of tweezers. We, actually, shipped them with magnifying goggles. You, like, tweezered these things, on there and stuck them in a toaster oven, to make your own electronics. I think, about half of the people were successful at doing that.

Jason: Of the the 20 kids you sold, probably, 3 machines were made. It was a revolution and it was eye-opening, when, you made… I think, you made the Statue of Liberty, for me. I was like, ‘Wow. You can, actually, make something.” It’s got that Star Trek, kind of, replicator appeal. A lot has changed in the last two years. What has been the change?

Bre: We’re, just now, in our fourth-generation machine. We’ve got the Makerbot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer. Instead of, being made out of laser-cut plywood, it’s made out of powder-coated steel. It’s come along way. When, we started, we kind of joked, that if we were actually engineers, we would still be working on the prototype. But, because, we’re just kind of like, we’re tinkerers and wanted to get something out there, we’re able to iterate our way into, now a fantastic machine. Engineers, industrial designers, and architects, now can get it, rely on it, enjoy it, and make cool things.

Jason: You’re, kind of, going from the bottom up. There were 3D printers that were available to… for example, I guess, car companies, making models and stuff like that. They were half a million dollars?

Bre: They were a lot of money.

Jason: $300K, $400K, $500K, just two or three years, ago? How much were they?

Bre: Anywhere from… I think, the low end, when we started, was at 60 grand. It went up to more than $1M. They were like refrigerator-size machines.

Jason: They’re not going to be in anybody’s home, anytime soon.

Bre: They were the mainframe-era of 3D printing.

Jason: Now, you have this machine. It’s about $2,000?

Bre: 2200 bucks. Yeah.

Jason: What is it capable of making? We have some things, here. Some toys, if you will. Little interesting objects. You can make this helicopter in a couple of different pieces. It’s got this working rotor, here. A working rotor, up here. I guess, these are plugged in, together. Essentially, you can make, what would be toys, that we’d normally buy in the store, then assemble them.

Bre: Sure. Then, there’s also professional users. We’ve got, G.E. and N.A.S.A. buying fleets of Makerbots, to work on next generation space travel and next generation manufacturing stuff. Then, we’ve got interesting things, like, doctors. You go and get your MRI and maybe, they need to do brain sugary. They’ll, actually, print out, maybe a brain tumor, that you have in your head. They can look at it and know what they’re going to get, when they cut into the gushy stuff.

Jason: I’m assuming, that would be really great… this is an ornament, here. If, were looking at the brain, this is a great educational moment, for the person who’s got the tumor. “Here is the tumor.” It can, actually, reduce the anxiety in that person.

Bre: Yeah. “We’re going to get this out.” Just the idea of being able to see that stuff, that you can see in 2D, but, be able to hold in your hand. Doctors get a better feel, for it.

Jason: How did you wind up starting a 3D printer company? What were you doing, before this, that led you to… cause, there’s some string you were pulling on, that got you here. How did you get here, do you think?

Bre: I’ve, always, been hungry for what’s next. I grew up with… my folks had a software company, from 1981-1985.

Jason: Wow.

Bre: For, the Apple II, the Commodore 64, and the Acorn.

Jason: What software did they make?

Bre: It was a company, called, Software Productions. They made Micro Mother Goose and Alphabet Beast and Company. Which, were both, like, games for children.

Jason: Edutainment.

Bre: Yes. Early edutainment.

Jason: We used to call it, edutainment, in the 80s.

Bre: So, I grew up around that kind of stuff. I’ve, always, been a tinkerer. Actually, I moved to New York and I didn’t have a hacker space, here. I come from Seattle. I moved here in January of 2007. I didn’t have a place to go hangout, with tons of equipment and machines. So, I gathered a bunch of folks, together. We started NYC Resistor. A hacker space, in Brooklyn. When, you have a bunch of people, who are really smart, and a lot of tools, you can make anything. You’ve got the tools, to make it. You’ve got the know-how, to make it. It was a natural fit, once, we could make anything to make something that could make anything.

Jason: When, did you first hear about 3D printers? Do you remember that moment, when somebody said, “Here’s a 3D printer?” Or, you saw it on PBS, or something. When did you first see that? What did you think?

Bre: I think, it was 2005 or 2006. A company, called, Desktop Factory, came out. They, actually, never delivered a product, but they did a really good job of marketing the idea. That was going to be a machine that you could buy for $5,000. Which, was unheard of, in the industry. I was like, “I’m going to have to buy one of those.” Even though, I was a school teacher, at the time, making like $30K. “I’m going to have to get one of those. So, I can play with the tools.”

Jason: 20% of my yearly salary. But, I’m going to get that thing.

Bre: Yeah.

Jason: What is the state of the business? You raised some angel-funding, for it, then, a proper venture round. How is that going?

Bre: We started with some seed money. We started with $75K, in seed money.

Jason: Who invested?

Bre: Jake Lodwick and Adrian Boyer.

Jason: Jake Ludwig of…?

Bre: He’s one of the creators of Vimeo and all that kind of stuff. He was involved with that whole crew.

Jason: Yes. The college humor folks. So, you go to Jake and you say, “I want to make a 3D printer.” Or, “I’ve made the 3D printer. We can productize this.”

Bre: Yeah. We have one that, almost, works.

Jason: Ha. Almost.

Bre: Here’s the… We had some charts where we basically said, this is where we are, now. This is what we think… basically, we were playing around, we were distributing… we were doing early stuff and it looked, very, promising. He gave us $50K. Adrian, gave us $50K.

Jason: What’s the conversation like, with him? Does he, actually, think it can become a business. Or, is he taking, like, a crazy flyer on it?

Bre: I think, one of my co-founders, Zach Smith, had worked for him and helped build that back end, of Vimeo. They had a relationship.

Jason: That helps.

Bre: That was good. There’s something great about hardware startups. You can show up and you, actually, have something you can show, that exists.

Jason: It’s an advantage, in a way.

Bre: Yeah. Cause, you can say, “This exists. This is the prototype. You’re not investing in vaporware. There’s something real, here.” Then, we had charts, that looked good, and went up and to the right.

Jason: Which, was people ordering stuff. People wanting to participate. Then, a venture round, eventually?

Bre: Then, we did an angel round.

Jason: A proper angel round. So, you had the micro…

Bre: We started, in January of 2009. We did an angel round, the next year, for $1.2M.

Jason: How did those conversations go? What was the proof point, that led you to be able to raise $1M, not just $75K? $75K, you have a personal relationship. Somebody’s taking a flyer. But, to raise a million, you’re going to have to meet with what? 30 or 40 people.

Bre: Yeah. That’s about right. We were making money. We were profitable. We weren’t, actually, paying ourselves. So, we were kind of cheating.

Jason: Yeah. That’s the great entrepreneuring accounting. “We’re profitable.” Except, the two founders are taking 0.0 dollars.

Bre: It was just one of those things, where…

Jason: Profitable off of, just, the $2K or $3K kits?

Bre: At that point, we didn’t know how to price things. So, I think, our building materials were, probably, $500 or $600. We were selling them for $750.

Jason: Well done.

Bre: It was one of those things, it’s like… really, if your doing a proper product, you should have a multiplier of 2.6 or 3. To be able to make rent and those kinds of things.

Jason: You’re like, “Oh, $100. If, we sell ten thousand, we’ve made $1M.” We can do math.

Bre: Great.

Jason: Is that right? Yeah.

Bre: We went around and talked to folks. We talked to a bunch of venture capitalists. We had an idea of how we wanted it to work out. Then, we ended up working with an angel, named, Shana Fisher, out of High Line. She, basically, said, “I’ll lead the round. I see what you’re doing, here. I see where this is going.”

Jason: That’s a great, magical moment for an entrepreneur. To have somebody commit as the lead.

Bre: I think, I’d been working on it for four months, then, she committed as a lead. Then, as soon as, she committed, everybody wanted to double down. Everybody who had been like, “I might be in, for this much, if it works.” Or, if somebody else thinks, there’s something here, this is really happening. Oh yeah. We could only take so much.

Jason: It does make you wonder about angel investors. Being one, I’m invested in about 25 companies. They are lemmings. They’re just sitting there, waiting for somebody to take the lead and then, they all pile on. Why couldn’t those other ten folks, who were sitting on the fence, make their own decisions. Say, “I’ll commit $25,000.” “I’ll commit $50,000.” They’re all waiting for that lead. It’s, incredibly, frustrating.

Bre: I love my angels.

Jason: Oh. Of course.

Bre: We’ve got, Shana. We’ve got Calva Puri, who’s an amazing angel and investor. He gets into all sorts of cool stuff. We’ve got, Antonio Rodriguez, who sold his company to HP and has all that kind of experience. We’ve got True.

Jason: Oh. True Ventures?

Bre: They ended up jumping in, as angels, as well.

Jason: Right. So, they were kind of like co-leads, I’m guessing. They put in, usually, $250K each or something like that?

Bre: It was around there. Yeah.

Jason: Who, from True? Tony Conrad?

Bre: Yeah. Tony.

Jason: Tony’s great. We’re on the board of a company, together.

Bre: Oh, good. My dad jumped in.

Jason: Thanks, Dad. Awesome. So, now, you’ve got a million. What is the strategy, after you get the $1M? Obviously, it’s not going to get you to store level. Did you say, “With $1M, we’re going to be able to accomplish X, Y, and Z.” What was X, Y, and Z?

Bre: Well, we needed to make a better product. Having $1M, in the bank, let us think bigger. We, actually, didn’t spend it, for a little while. Until, we realized, we needed $10M.

Jason: Ah.

Bre: What’s so interesting is, on that $75K, we did about $8M, in revenue before we spent any other money. So, that was a nice…

Jason: $8M?

Bre: Yeah.

Jason: That many people bought the kit?

Bre: Yeah.

Jason: I had no idea, it was that scale. Thats $700 into $8M. That’s 1,000 kits. No, 10,000 kits.

Bre: I think, we learned, quickly, that we’d priced it wrong. We priced it better. When, we came out, our first machine was called, The CupCake. The next one was called, Thing-O-Matic. We priced that one at $1,300.

Jason: So, you’re talking about selling low thousands, of products. That’s pretty impressive.

Bre: Oh, yeah. We were totally screwed. You buy things. Each machine needs four motors. It should work, like the internet. You just…

Jason: Order motors.

Bre: … make your order. Then, you come up on the problem, “OK. We’ve ordered them all. All of them, in the world. We ordered all of them. There’s no more.”

Jason: You took all.

Bre: We bought them all.

Jason: Right. Now, someone says, “I can fire up my factory, in China, to make more. But, you need to buy 100,000.”

Bre: And, that’s a 12-week wait time. We’re like, “Oh. You’re killing us.”

Jason: Why doesn’t manufacturing work, like the internet? Oh, yeah. It’s hardware. It’s bits.

Bre: There’s atoms, involved.

Jason: There’s not bits, it’s atoms.

Bre: Things have to be taken out of the Earth and refined.

Jason: But, in a way, that’s what the product is changing.

Bre: There’s value. Yeah.

Jason: You’re exchanging bits and atoms and making that process faster. In fact, the Makerbot, would have made the making of the Makerbot, easier.

Bre: The other thing we did, early on, is we had this… Actually, before we started Makerbot, we’d created this thing called, Thingiverse. It’s a website: thingiverse.com. The universe of things. It’s where you go to share downloadable, digital designs. All the things you see here in the store, if you have a Makerbot, you don’t have to spend $20, for this Christmas ornament.

Jason: You just print it.

Bre: You just make it.

Jason: You download a CAD drawing.

Bre: Yeah.

Jason: What software do you use?

Bre: About a month ago, we launched MakerWare. Which is, Makerbot software. It’s, so much, easier than before. Before, it was kind of like command line software. Now, we got a GUI, it’s luscious.

Jason: Drag and drop.

Bre: Drag and drop. It’s like, it’s 2003, all over again. It’s great.

Jason: It’s almost like, you’re building an entire vertical. It’s not, almost, it is.

Bre: Yeah. We are.

Jason: You’re building an entire vertical over. So, you get to watch how HP did their laser printers, or, how Apple did smart phones, or whatever.

Bre: Yeah. We’re building the guitars and amplifiers, we’re playing them, and, we’re putting music on iTunes, as well.

Jason: What does HP and Apple think, of this space? Are they, in any way, interested. Or, are they like, “We’ll come back, in five years?”

Bre: That’s going to be an interesting adventure. So far, it’s been pretty quiet, on that front. Of course, I stay up at night, thinking, what happens if one of the big players get it? How are we getting ready, for when this hits?

Jason: How do you become defensible, when, somebody at Apple says, “We should make this.” Or, somebody, at HP, says, “We should make this.”

Bre: We just keep adding value, adding verticals, adding ways, make it easy for people to do this. Make it fun, accessible.

Jason: It sounds like, the database of things, is pretty defensible, too. That’s like your app store defense.

Bre: There’s more than 25,000 things, that you can download, today. 4,000 of those things have been uploaded, in the last 3 months. It’s like, the hockey stick is happening.

Jason: This physical object is made of what type of material? That’s the question people have. They look at it, on camera. They’re like, “How does it feel?” It feels, to me, like plastic. Like, as if I bought it…

Bre: Yeah.

Jason: A little bit heavier, in all honesty. It feels like a more dense plastic. What is it exactly, technically?

Bre: We have two kinds of plastic. That, what you’re holding in your hand is, ABS. It’s what Lego is made out of. It’s what, probably… until, iPhones were made out of metal… it’s what every phone was made out of. If, you’ve touched plastic things, it’s probably, ABS. This, is a material, called, PLA. It’s got, a little bit, of a different texture. It’s not as soft. It’s actually a little more…

Jason: It feels stronger.

Bre: It is.

Jason: Actually, this feels, incredibly, strong. I don’t think, I can crush this. I’m trying, right now.

Bre: You probably could, if you stepped on it.

Jason: I can’t crush it, with my hands.

Bre: It’s just an ornament. It’s like an orb that you might find on your tree. PLA, is this lovely, renewable bioplastic. It’s made from corn, domestically.

Jason: Ooohh. I see the spools, in the background, here. You buy a spool. The printer, essentially, melts it?

Bre: Yep.

Jason: Warms it and then, you build the object.

Bre: It’s, kind of, like an automated hot glue gun. We’ll start one up, here, in a little bit, and you can see. It brings the plastic in… it’s kind of like spaghetti coming in to the extruder. It heats it up. Then, it draws a little teeny, tiny line of plastic on the build platform. Then, it lifts up and it draws another drawing, on top of that drawing. Layer by layer, it creates the object. You can, actually, feel the layers, on there.

Jason: Yeah. The ribs. What would this object, I’m holding in my hand, it’s the size of a golf ball, cost in plastic?

Bre: It’s about $50, a kilogram. Which is 2.2LB. I’m going to guess that this is…

Jason: An ounce.

Bre: Yeah. Maybe, even less. This might cost, in the realm of 50¢ or $1, in material.

Jason: So, you can make objects, like this helicopter, for $1 or $2. You would have to buy, in the store, for $10 or $20?

Bre: Let’s see. What’s the price on the helicopter? I think, it’s more than that. It’s $35.

Jason: I’m not saying, buy it here. As, an object of art. I’m saying, if you were to buy a toy, at a store. Mass produced, in China.

Bre: This, is $35, here. If, you were going to make it yourself, it probably would be $2. There’s definitely one of the kind of things that happen, in the Makerbot store. Is that, people get to see that… they sort of get to look behind the curtain of manufacturing and say, “This is how much this plastic costs and this is how much I’m buying it for. If, I had the machine, I could make these, all day long. Instead of, buying them.”

Jason: What is the limitation, in terms of, materials. Right now, we see plastic. In the bigger units, the ones that people might buy, are they doing metal? Are they doing other alloys? Where is this going to go, eventually?

Bre: We have some friends, who have a business, called, ShapeWay, here in New York. Basically, New York, has become the 3D printing center of the universe.

Jason: Which, is interesting. It was, in the 80s and 90s, it was a printing town for magazines. There were printers in Manhattan. Where, I printed Silicon Alley Reporter, back in the day. They would print it, in New Jersey or Hoboken, drive it in. You could go to your printer and see your stuff on the press.

Bre: Shapeways has a business, where, they have those really high-end machines. Some them, actually, 3D print in metals. Others, 3D print in nylon.

Jason: Interesting.

Bre: You wouldn’t want one of these things in your home. They have dust that’s not good for you to breathe. One of the nice things about a Makerbot, you can have one in your home and not stress out about it. You can go on their site… there are these high-end machines. They go for like $1M, those machines. But, you can have access to them, using their servers.

Jason: In a mainframe, sort of way.

Bre: Yeah.

Jason: Right now, we see a lot of toys, a lot of objects of art, collectibles. Do you see a time… that’s beautiful, by the way. This house is just…

Bre: This is an architectural house.

Jason: Now, this actually starts to feel like a practical use of the technology. If, I’m an architect…

Bre: They see this and they just buy one. It’s great. They go, “I’ve made these and I’ve had these made, before. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars.” You go, “OK. This is not very much plastic.” And, they look at how much a kilogram of plastic costs. They look at how many of these they can make with it.

Jason: This is 3 or 4 ounces.

Bre: Yep.

Jason: At, whatever, it is, an ounce. A dollar or two, an ounce. Like, nothing.

Bre: Yeah.

Jason: If, you’re building your house in the Hamptons or Woodstock, New York, and you show up with this and the other architect shows up with paper, you win.

Bre: Yes, you do.

Jason: I mean, this is transformative. This is a transformative use for architects. What other transformative uses… I mean, toys and hobbyists… just like the original Apple, Apple II, was toys and hobbyists. Commodore 64, toys and hobbyists. The next application layer is, obviously, getting things done, closing sales. Architects, no-brainer. What else is a no-brainer, that’s coming in the next 5-10 years?

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Bre: I like it, when, entrepreneurs buy it. We see 3D Makerbotted things, show up on Kickstarter, all the time. People are doing their prototypes. Even, if they’re going to do a small run of things, like 100 or 1,000, it makes sense to use the Makerbot.

Jason: Interesting.

Bre: There’s all kinds of cool…

Jason: So, product design?

Bre: Product design.

Jason: Product design is just killer.

Bre: The other thing is, there’s a lot of engineers, who work at high-end industrial engineering firms and design firms. They usually have a room filled with 3D printers, that are really expensive. We see those people getting them, because, they can have them on their desks, they can do their prototypes, they can look at it. They don’t even have to show their boss. They can throw it away and buy another.

Jason: Ahh. Just like in the old days, you had the HP 2 came out. That was only $2K or $3K. Every lawyer got one. I remember, I was selling them, at the time. Every lawyer got one. As opposed to, going to the printing room, the mailroom. That was accounted for. The one on their desk, they could print what they wanted and read stuff. It’s, sort of, decentralization.

Bre: It puts the power of manufacturing in the individuals hands. We, also, see parents and teachers getting them. We ship to a lot of academic institutions. Cause, for one of the big machines, if it’s $60K or $100K, they can buy a lot of Makerbots, for that price. So, a whole class can get… instead of, having a line up or pile up, they can go, “OK. This is your 3D printer, this semester.”

Jason: Wow.

Bre: Boom. Magic happens.

Jason: Mind-blowing. So, education, architecture, product design. Let’s talk about toys.

Bre: Yeah.

Jason: Where, is Lucas and Disney, in all of this? Have they reached out to you guys? Do you have, in your database, Disney Princesses, for me to print out for my 3 year-old daughter? That, to me, sounds like the new app store. Right now, I’m buying all kinds of things from Disney Princess line. If, I could just print out, Ariel. Then, my daughter and I could paint it… this would be the most magical moment… like, I’m buying a 3D printer.

Bre: We have a user named, Makerblock, who is a dad and has a daughter. I think, his daughter is 4 or 5, now. She goes to school and says, “My dad can make anything.” She, actually, comes home and says, “I need a toothbrush holder.” Her dad, basically says, “Let’s draw it out.” He shows her how. They sort of do it, together. Then, it’s her thing. She’s got this dad, who’s got this super power.

Jason: Wow.

Bre: So, seeing that kind of stuff. I bring that up, because, she wanted a princess. They designed a princess, together, and made it.

Jason: Not, a Disney Princess. We don’t need any Disney lawyers calling. But, a princess… there’s existing prior art of princesses, before Disney started their own. I do think, that Disney has not trademarked “princess.” Are you reaching out to those? You’re reaching out to Disney and Lucas, now part of Disney, and say, “Can we make a series of characters and let people buy them. I’m sorry. Buy the CAD file… what do you call it? …for $1 or $2.

Bre: I think, we’re going to see a lot of that, happening. It’s interesting. From early video podcasting days, we had Zadi Diaz.

Jason: Sure. Is now, at Disney.

Bre: Who’s now, at Disney. So, of course, now, we’re talking.

Jason: Zadi’s great.

Bre: It’s funny how… I was, like, number 13, in video podcasting. I was at Gnomedex, in 2005. Adam Curry, was giving the keynote.

Jason: I was there. That was the famous one, when, Dave Winer and I, got into it.

Bre: Oh, yeah. I remember that.

Jason: I think, it was Dave Winer. Yeah. Adam Curry, did his podcast. It was 2007, probably. But, Adam Curry did a live version of, The DailySourceCode. Mind-blowing.

Bre: Me and C. Garfield, were down on the front, with our video cameras, videotaping stuff. All those people… that room… I bet you it would be so interesting…

Jason: Where are they, now?

Bre: … to get the email list or the names…

Jason: We should ask, Chris Pirillo.

Bre: Yeah. We should get him, to do that. Those people have all gone on to do stuff. The night before, that Gnomedex, I went to a WordPress 1.1 meetup. With, the five other people, in Seattle, who were doing WordPress.

Jason: It was great. The special thing that Chris did at Gnomedex was, he invited people who, actually, built shit.

Bre: Yeah, and felt passionate about it and were willing to argue about it, on stage and make it interesting.

Jason: Exactly.

Bre: It wasn’t like canned stuff. It was on the edge.

Jason: So, that is a distinct future possibility, that is, to print stuff. Like, license material.

Bre: Yeah. I think, that’s going to be… Nike… they have an… like an R&D group. They swang by, to hangout. I joked, with them, “People tell me, this is all going to be fun, until, somebody uploads an Air Jordan.” Right?

Jason: Right.

Bre: I was like, “You should, all, do it.”

Jason: Totally. But, it won’t work, right? That requires canvas and other stuff, that is not… you could do the base.

Bre: You know, what I think, would be cool? If, they did scans of the old Air Jordans…

Jason: Oh, I see.

Bre: … and they were like keychains and stuff like that. I think, that would be a great place for them to start.

Jason: Absolutely.

Bre: That’s coming. It’ll be, really, interesting to see how it all plays out.

Jason: I think, then, in the store, you could have an elite collection. You can only get these Start Wars characters, these comic book, these Marvel characters. Do you see this… we have people coming in, getting a 3D scan, then, having their bust done. Which, is incredibly unique. Somewhere, there’s a bust of myself, in here. Do you see this turning into… what are those things called, when you go into a photo booth?

Bre: Yeah.

Jason: Do you see this becoming the modern-day photo booth?

Bre: This is… we call it the Makerbot 3D Photo Booth. It’s because, it’s kind of… back in the day, when there was chemistry associated with photos, you’d go in and it would do its thing. Five minutes later, it would come out. This, has hit that level. It’s an exciting moment.

Jason: What would it take to make a bust like this, double the size of a golf ball?

Bre: We’ve got $20, $40, and $60. You’re holding the $60 one. The one, that’s about the same size as a golf ball is $40. Slightly, smaller than a golf ball.

Jason: Just slightly.

Bre: $20. So, it’s accessible. You can give this to your sweetheart, when you’re going away, for a week.

Jason: Yeah. It’s like a mini version of you.

Bre: Yeah. A little portrait.

Jason: Let’s talk about the controversial stuff. Somebody… I don’t think, with your device… people are printing gun parts. Obviously, a gun can’t be made, completely, of plastic. The barrel’s got to be made out of metal. Some people are concerned about weapons being made, with the platform. What do you say, to those folks?

Bre: I’m just not worried, about that. We made Makerbots, with the intention that people are going to do creative and wonderful and positive things.

Jason: Right.

Bre: That’s, really, what we see. There’s going to be edge cases, of course.

Jason: Yeah.

Bre: Our mission is that people will do positive and creative things.

Jason: In a certain way, like, I can go to Home Depot and buy everything I need to make a huge bomb, sadly. Or, a gun. Or, whatever: pipe bomb. Whatever else you want. It’s, sort of like, whatever the new technology is, people just demonize it. Isn’t it?

Bre: I think, there’s a little bit of that.

Jason: When, I saw those stories, I was like, “Really? You can build a gun, with a 3D printer. Really?” Well, you could also build a gun, with wood. Pretty nuts.

Bre: Yeah. The things that excite me are, where people are using it and doing things, that have never been possible for ordinary people to do.

Jason: Right.

Bre: We see things, like, we got this dad, who, his daughter is 41 and a half inches tall.

Jason: OK?

Bre: Their going to the amusement park. This is not looking good. Cause, you have to be 42 inches, to ride, every single ride.

Jason: With those raised platforms.

Bre: The dad, saves the day. He made orthopedic inserts. Could be, in theory, used for, actual…

Jason: Orthopedic issues.

Bre: … orthopedic issues. In this case, it was just to save the day, for his daughter.

Jason: Nanotechnology, eventually, possible with this? How far out are we, from that, sort of, science fiction?

Bre: I’ve been so proud of my crew, because, we started out and you could make things, with a layer resolution of about a third of a millimeter.

Jason: What is a third of a millimeter? What would be an analogy? Is that a hair, two hairs? What is it?

Bre: That’s 3 layers of printer paper.

Jason: OK. Of just 8…?

Bre: 8 1/2″ X 11″ printer paper. Now, we can, actually do it, at 100 microns. Which is, one piece of printer paper.

Jason: Wow.

Bre: It starts to get pretty exciting about where we’re going.

Jason: If, you make a little circle, with that, what would it feel like, in your hands?

Bre: It would feel like a piece of paper, if you just did one layer.

Jason: Wow. Then, is it going to go smaller, then that?

Bre: We’ve got people doing experiments, at 20 and 40 microns. It’s a little bit like, when you got a Honda and you open up the hood, and you turn it into a sports car.

Jason: Yeah.

Bre: There’s, a little bit, of that going on, in the settings. You have to … We made it easy.

Jason: Yeah. You could break stuff. It’s real, serious hacking.

Bre: We’ve got some people who are pushing the limits, there. As soon as it’s stable, we roll it out for everybody.

Jason: What does that type of nanotechnology enable, in your mind? Is there some application someone has conceived of, saying, “If, we can get it down to this micron. If, we went 10X, 20X.” What would we be looking at, possible?

Bre: Well, the medical community, gets really excited, when things start going small. They start thinking, “Where can we stick this stuff?” “What can you manufacture, with this?” Just like, with the 3D photo booth, you have your head. What if you could take a 3D photo of the heart and…

Jason: … print a piece…

Bre: … make something, right there, in the operating room. That starts to get… when you start thinking about the future…

Jason: Like, print a stint or valve for your heart.

Bre: Exactly. That’s where, there’s going to be a lot of interesting things, happening, in the next 5 years.

Jason: So, you raised a venture round, for the company, too? After that $1M round angel round.

Bre: Oh, yeah. We raised $75K, then the $1.2M, then raised $10M.

Jason: Who is the $10M investor?

Bre: Most of it was Foundry. We, also, had True, come in.

Jason: Foundry is, Brad Feld?

Bre: Brad Feld, is on our board.

Jason: He’s a visionary guy. He gets it.

Bre: He got it, instantly. It was one of those things, where, he was one of the first people I talked to. It was like, “This feels really good.” Then, I went and talked to everybody. It was like, “OK. Let’s go back, to where we started.”

Jason: Did you have your choice? Were there multiple term sheets, coming in?

Bre: (Nodding)

Jason: So, how did you pick? What was your decision making process, as an entrepreneur?

Bre: think, as an entrepreneur, when you have options, that’s the best. Then, you can say, “OK. I’m going to make some choices.”

Jason: You have a little leverage, I suppose, on terms?

Bre: Yeah. Which, is also a good place to be. We went for a cultural fit. I probably could have gone out and spent anther month and got a higher valuation, but, the right fit, for an entrepreneur, is worth… it’s actually worth money. Because, you’re going to be working, with this person. If, you’re going to be able to get stuff done, or, that person has connections… in this case, Foundry invests in a lot of hardware companies. They get it. Brad, is like…

Jason: He’s a ball of enthusiasm.

Bre: Yeah. He is just a machine of stuff.

Jason: He’ll be on the show, in December, I think.

Bre: He’s good.

Jason: You optimize for culture?

Bre: We optimize for culture and…

Jason: And, personal fit. What you and your co-founder… who you wanted to hang with, in a way.

Bre: We’ve never accepted any money from anybody we wouldn’t go out and have a drink with. That’s, kind of been…

Jason: This, is sort of like, who you wouldn’t go away for a weekend with.

Bre: Who I’d be willing to leave my keys with and walk away.

Jason: Who can watch my kids, while I’m using the bathroom.

Bre: It was Foundry, for $6M. Bezos, for $2M, True, for $1M, then all of the angels followed along.

Jason: How did you wind up meeting, Jeff Bezos? How did you get to, Jeff Bezos?

Bre: I was at a conference. I was demoing the machine. He was at the conference. He came up and grilled me, for about a half an hour.

Jason: He does that. He did that to me, with Weblogs, Inc. and Blogs.

Bre: Awesome.

Jason: He’s got great questions.

Bre: At the end, he was like, “Give me your card.” I had, already, given them all out. I said, “Let me email you. What’s your email?”

Jason: jeff@amazon.com

Bre: He was like, “jeff@amazon.com.”

Jason: Yeah. firstname@companyname. Of course. You think, someone else, has jeff@amazon.com? People are always like, “Can you give me, Jeff Bezos’, or Mark Cuban, or Larry Page’s email address?” It’s like, “You’re dumb. You’re too dumb, for me to give you the email address, if you can’t guess, Larry Page’s email address. If, he has a secret one, I’m not giving you that.” He does. So, he grills you and grills you. He did it through his investment vehicle, not Amazon, itself, proper?

Bre: Right.

Jason: Once, you have Jeff Bezos involved, that opens a lot of doors, doesn’t it? People hear that and it’s like, you got a massive halo, around the company.

Bre: Yeah. Now, we’re just, one foot in front of the other. It’ll be interesting. We’ve got enough excitement, in the world. We were on the cover of Wired, in October.

Jason: Yeah. Congratulations, on that.

Bre: That was a real thrill. That was very surreal, walking through the airport.

Jason: Do you remember the first time you read Wired? When, was the first time you read Wired, as an entrepreneur?

Bre: It was a long time ago. I subscribed to it when it came out.

Jason: In ’95?

Bre: Must have been ’95.

Jason: Do you remember the first cover? Who was the first cover you remember?

Bre: I just remember that first year. All the colors were on the cover.

Jason: Yes. Red on black.

Bre: Bam!

Jason: This, is going to hurt your eyes. Did you ever…

Bre: What was the first cover? Do you remember?

Jason: I do. It’s going to come to me. It wasn’t Laurie Anderson. It’s either Laurie Anderson or… Not, Negroponte. I don’t know, you tell me. Do you remember?

Bre: I don’t remember, either. We’re going to have to check it out.

Jason: Anyway. I remember, the Laurie Anderson cover. Back then, when Wired came out, that’s what we would talk about at parties, for the next thirty days, was, the last episode of Wired. Because, there was no real web, going on. Wired didn’t exist. They didn’t have a website.

Bre: Back in those days, it was like, “I have a computer that has a gigabyte.”

Jason: And, a CD-Rom.

Bre: Oh, my gosh. And, I can copy CDs. Look out.

Jason: As an entrepreneur, you’ve always dreamed about being on the cover of Wired?

Bre: I think, every entrepreneur does.

Jason: When, you get the call, from Chris Anderson, that he wants to do a story on you… I’m assuming, Chris, called you?

Bre: Yep.

Jason: Do you, immediately, in your mind, go, “I wonder, if I’m going to get the cover?”

Bre: Maybe, two years ago, we were mentioned in a cover article. It was like, “OK. Here we go.”

Jason: Like, the Maker/Hacker one.

Bre: Yeah. I was like, “Oooh!”

Jason: So close.

Bre: “Have we gotten so close that we’ve ruined the possibility of getting on the cover?

Jason: Yeah.

Bre: Oooh! When, I talked to Chris, he was like, “How would you feel about being on the cover of the October issue?” When does that hit the stands? September 17th. OK. Cause, we’d actually planned to launch this machine, in November or December.

Jason: When, he said, how did you feel? Did you have this surreal moment, like, I’ve arrived as an entrepreneur? Which, is more important? When you get the $10M investment, or you get the cover of Wired? In all honesty, as an entrepreneur? Which one was the more mind-blowing experience?

Bre: They were very different.

Jason: Take me through it.

Bre: For the $10M, I actually raised that from the hospital. I had a baby and she was in the NICU. I was raising money and was camped out.

Jason: In the NICU?

Bre: In the NICU.

Jason: With like, a four pound baby or five pound baby?

Bre: Two and a half pound baby.

Jason: Wow. Talk about getting a dose of reality. Reality check. Everything turned out well, obviously?

Bre: Oh, yeah. She’s happy. She’s all caught up.

Jason: How old now?

Bre: She’s now 16 months. She’s talking, as if, she knows what’s she’s saying. It’s great.

Jason: Fantastic. 16 months is when it starts to get really good for dad.

Bre: Oh, yeah.

Jason: They start to become little people. Wait, till they’re 3 years old, 2 and a half years old, and you start taking them to Disney World and Disney Land. Then, it’s lots of fun.

Bre: I’m loving every minute of it. So, it was one of those things, that was, I’d worked on it for a couple of months. Then, all this drama happened. I’m in the hospital… I was like, “I pulled this off, from…”

Jason: The most emotionally tense experience.

Bre: “… the most intense experience. On top of all of that, we just hit this milestone, of raising $10M.” That was one of those feelings of like, “OK. Bring it on. I can do anything. You want to throw stuff at me, I’ll take it. We can handle. You throw me, anything, my team and I, will handle it.” That was an awesome feeling. The cover of Wired was more like an achievement, unlocked.

Jason: Resiliency.

Bre: Yeah.

Jason: We’re unstoppable.

Bre: Yes. Whereas, the cover of Wired was an absolute celebration.

Jason: Yeah.

Bre: It’s very surreal. There’s photography involved. There’s makeup.

Jason: The full day.

Bre: The full day. All these different setups. You have no idea, which one they’re going to use. You want to make sure, you don’t look stupid, on the front of it. Up until I saw it, I was convinced, that something else could have happened in the world, that would…

Jason: Be more important.

Bre: Be more important.

Jason: Elon Musk, reaches the space station, or something.

Bre: Right. AAaaaH.

Jason: Then, Elon Musk, is like, “You made a 3D printer? How quaint. I’ve reached the space station. I’ve created super chargers and you could drive forever for free. Your 3D printer is interesting. Well done.” Elon musk, makes a tube, that goes from New York to L.A., in seven seconds. He, sort of, makes it hard, for all of us. Doesn’t he?

Bre: I’d had all this tension. Cause, we’d shot it all. It was all happening. At some moment, it goes to the printers, then, there’s no stopping it. Until, I actually saw it, I was like, “Has this actually happen? Is this actually happening?” Then, when it happened, it was like this surreal new world, of like, “OK. This is an arriving moment and a celebration.

Jason: But, you have to move on and get back to work. So, you decide to do a store.

Bre: Right. But, before, we get there, though. I will say, “I have to give massive kudos, to my team.”

Jason: Of course.

Bre: We’d, originally, planned to launch this thing, in November, December, maybe even CES. Then, we got the September 17the cover. We took the Replicator 2, from initiating the project to being on the cover, in 5 months. The hardware…

Jason: That means working 6 or 7 days, a week?

Bre: The team’s at full throttle, all the time, making it happen.

Jason: It’s tough, sometimes, because the media just wants to make you the hero. You’re the one who’s going to get all the kudos. Then, you gotta go back to your team. You 25, 50 people, whatever it is. I don’t know how many that is… how many do you have?

Bre: Oh, no. I made them take pictures of the team and all that kind of stuff.

Jason: Still, the media’s going to put one person on the cover. We all know that. They’re going to make one person, into king. Steve Jobs, obviously, had an army behind him. But, the media’s going to focus on one person. How do you take that energy… that the media’s, naturally, going to crown you king. Even your co-founder might not get as much press. How do you smooth that out, as a founder? In terms of, like you just did, on the program, giving kudos to your team. How do you do that, institutionally? You know that’s going to happen. How do you make them feel like it’s their victory, as well?

Bre: As we were building the machine, I said, “Your machine is going to be on the cover.” That’s what I told everybody who worked at Makerbot. “You’re going to be able to look at that cover and say, “That is mine.”

Jason: So, the product. Focusing in on the product. That is great advice.

Bre: That worked. Just, celebrating the moments, when they happen. That was a big one.

Jason: I have that moment, all the time, on the show. Where, I’m talking about all these great victories, but really, it’s not your victory. It’s 100 little victories, by 25 people, having a victory every six weeks. It’s a, very, collaborative thing, building a startup.

Bre: I have to say, we’re actually now, at 150 people.

Jason: 150 people? My God.

Bre: I know, man. It’s intense.

Jason: That’s kind of mind-blowing.

Bre: Yeah.

Jason: Considering, when I met you, it was two dudes in a loft.

Bre: I actually have two co-founders: Zach Smith and Adam Mayer. Now, we’re more than 150. I actually couldn’t give you an exact number, this second, we’ve hired a few people. We’re about to move into an actual office, that’s 32,000 SQ FT.

Jason: In Brooklyn, still?

Bre: In Brooklyn. In Metro Tech One.

Jason: I know where Metro Tech One is. It’s where Chase used to be.

Bre: Yeah.

Jason: So, you’re in an office tower.

Bre: We’re going to be… we’ve got a view of everything. We got the whole floor. So, we literally see everything.

Jason: Another surreal moment: to have an actual real office.

Bre: Yep. Right now, we’re literally in a warehouse. We, literally, made our own desks, from 2X4s and plywood.

Jason: Genius.

Bre: That’s going to be another… that’s going to be the next shift. We’re going to make that move early, in December.

Jason: Let’s talk about the store.

Bre: Yes.

Jason: Did you make the store, because, people don’t get it? You need them to see it, for them to get it? That’s what I thought. When, I walked in here, today, I said, “It’s such a magical moment, to see those machines working. You showed me the machine working. I guess, it was the Tech Meetup. You had it there. It was sort of, kind of, working. You need for them to see it, don’t you?

Bre: I think, we’re getting to the place… Up until now, yes. Absolutely. I think, even… yeah. People need to see it. They walk in here, either they’ve seen it and they’re verifying it’s not just science fiction. It’s actually real. There’s a verification, kind of process, for people who already know about it. Then, literally, you’ll see people walk by, then, they’ll go in reverse. They’ll do like the walking double take. What’s going on there? You go walking by the Gap and you know, you can go in there and buy jeans. You know what the Gap is and you know what jeans are. People walk by here and they literally don’t know what they’re seeing.

Jason: You, literally, created a store-front with the future.

Bre: Yeah.

Jason: Here, is Star Trek.

Bre: It’s a portal.

Jason: It’s a portal into 20 years, from now.

Bre: What’s next.

Jason: Why is there not a printer, in the window?

Bre: There is. Right over there.

Jason: Oh, OK. Thank God.

Bre: We’ve got two windows. The printer’s running in that one.

Jason: The printer’s running in that one.

Bre: Then, we’ve got this one. We’ve just put up this holiday display.

Jason: Gorgeous. I see them. We’ll put them in the B-roll. You basically have a cathedral. Something like a castle.

Bre: A castle, decked out with all this great furniture. Interesting story about the furniture. Side note. This Thing-A-Verse user, Casey Holgrin, she goes by her handle, prettysmallthings. She is a set designer, who designs sets for Broadway shows. Her sets are on Broadway, right now. She used to have to use exacto knives and paper and cardboard, to design the things. Then, she shows it to the director. Director says, “Move these things around.” However that goes. Now, she does it all with a Makerbot.

Jason: So genius.

Bre: Now, she just comes up with the design. She doesn’t have to cut her fingers, bleed over everything.

Jason: Yeah. Genius.

Bre: She makes all of these amazing period furniture, for her sets. Then, she shares them. So, if you’re into like, Queen Elizabeth chairs, guess what? There’s a whole set of them and you can print them out.

Jason: How sure were you, that this would work 3 years ago, 2 years ago and today?

Bre: When, we decided to do it, it was definitely like, “OK. Let’s dip our toes in the water.”

Jason: What percent, 3 years ago, when you started?

Bre: January 2009, we started.

Jason: Like, would become a real business, like, what we see today.

Bre: Right.

Jason: Tens of millions, in sales.

Bre: Yup. When we started we were so focused on the next step, we didn’t see that. But, when we shipped the first 20 machines out… we planned to make 20 and sell 10 this month and 10 the next month. They all sold in week or week and a half. We were like, “Oh, crap.” We spent literally the next year, just packing and shipping. We didn’t get to be creative, at all. We were putting things in boxes, figuring out how to generate labels, putting labels on boxes and making them go out the door. That was kind of a reality moment. Then, when we came out with the new machine, the second machine, it was better. We were like, “OK. We can… This is…”

Jason: So, very quick. I guess, one of the great things about a hardware company is, when you actually have…

Bre: When, you have a product.

Jason: … a sale, you know the market has validated it.

Bre: Yes.

Jason: This has been an amazing interview. It’s really great to see somebody take something so speculative and turn it from speculation to a hobbyist, now, to a store. I wish you great success. Congratulations, to the Makerbot team.

Bre: Jason, it’s great to talk to you.

Jason: Awesome.

Bre: Always, a great conversation.

Jason: I want to do it again, in a year, and see where you’re at.

Bre: Deal.

Jason: We’ll see you next time, on ThisWeekIn Startups.

Follow On Twitter

Jason: @jason
Bre: @bre
MakerBot: @makerbot
Igloo: @igloosoftware
eMinutes: @eminutes

Special thanks to the members of the TWiST Backchannel Program!

Executive Producers

Producers

Associate Producers

  • Brad Pineau
  • Kat Ganesan
  • Nicholas Christian
  • Mau Frontier
  • Kyle Braatz
  • Serena Ehrlich
  • JD
  • Alex Lotoczko
  • James Kennedy
  • Benoit Curdy
  • Asher Nevins
  • Mike Kaltschnee
  • William Doom
  • David Lee
  • Jake Kerber
  • Sarp Coskun
  • Giuseppe Taibi
  • Tyrone Rubin
  • Keno Vigil
  • Paul Peters
  • Jamal Waring
  • Nick Ostroff
  • Alex Binkley
  • John MP Knox
  • Bryan McCormick
  • Marcos Trinidad
  • Allen Cordrey
  • Daniel Mich
  • Joshua Rosen
  • Grant Carlile
  • James Smith
  • Christopher Rill
  • Elliot Myhre
  • Nihon Giga
  • Nathan Gielis
  • Greg Meadows
  • Rick Cartwright
  • Jacques Struwig
  • Robert Ward
  • Adam Gering
  • Shelley Gaskin
  • Jim Shute

Supporters

  • Ryan Hoover
  • Michael Cranston
  • Josiah Thomas
  • João Fernandes
  • Petrus Theron
  • Michael Wild
  • Dale Emmons
  • Tim de Jardine
  • Alejandro Vasquez
  • Milan Babuskov
  • Chris Rowe
  • Nelson Melo
  • James Dawson
  • Toddy Mladenov
  • Daniel Torres
  • Chris Macke
  • Piotr Zuralski
  • Armand Konan
  • Brian Vogel
  • Paul D
  • Jennifer Sun
  • David Kolb
  • Sue Marrone
  • Eugene Granovksy
  • Will Blackton
  • Ryan Dodds
  • Brett Arp
  • Jason Cresswell
  • Edwin Orange
  • Daniel Bradley
  • Shawn Daniel
  • Priidu Kull
  • Patrick Desroches
  • Alex Lam
  • Paul Secor
  • Ryan Urabe
  • Madhu R.
  • Paul Ardeleanu
  • Ian Thomas
  • Manny Alarcon
  • Charlie Osmond
  • Christopher Smitley
  • Roshan H.
  • Barcy Cordrey
  • Matt Beaubien
  • Matthew Smith
  • Oscar Bueno
  • Tim Hoyt
  • Ian Gerstel
  • Taphon Maddison
  • John Bradley
  • Luigi Armogida
  • Dave Ferrara
  • Janus Lindau
  • Chris Mancil
  • TR Ludwig
  • Giles Thomas
  • Jason Cartwright
  • Michael Del Borrello
  • Joshua Rosen
  • David Karlberg
  • Marcus Schappi
  • Justin Furniss
  • Mike Hauck
  • Jess Bachman
  • Isaac Hill
  • Robert Haydock
  • Dan Sfera
  • Flaviu Simihaian
  • Kiko Cherman
  • Chandra Siva
  • Kasper Andkjaer
  • Zach Woodward
  • Chris Galasso
  • Chad Olsen
  • Michael Grabham
  • John Shiple
  • Gregory Hoffman
  • Chris Rickard
  • Eskil Steenberg
  • Jay Moran
  • Karim Sarkis
  • Michael Davidovich
  • Petru Marchidan
  • Sam Drzymala

 

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