Something’s not right at Makerbot. More than likely, it’s Stratasys screwing up by the numbers. I think that they have a mindset that soaked in the short term quarterly stock report mindset and don’t understand that these layoffs can fatal in a new market. Look, Makerbot is less than ten years old. The 3D printer market for small users is also less than ten years old and is evolving. In an evolving market you need continuity because you learn by experience. You have to expect lots of failure and not be afraid to experiment. In order for that to work people need to know that if they fail their jobs are not at risk just because of one failure. there also needs to be climate where everybody has skin in the game, where the risks are shared. In a layoff, everybody but the csuite is under the guillotine environment people aren’t going to take the kinds of risks that a new industry needs to have.
This is the downside of the current sell to a big company environment for new startups. It should not be the goal of a startup to sell out as fast as possible. Unfortunately the way the financial markets are regulated and set up right now create that environment. Unfortunately what happens more often than is that the purchasing company is looking for instant returns and in the process of trying to find out how make the golden eggs, kills the goose. I’ve seen it from both sides all too often. This does not end well.
If you look closely you can understand why. 3D printing is a great way to create models from your cad files of things like the underground parts of a complicated railway station and it’s environment and SEE how things relate.
The fact is that far too many companies are focused on their own bureaucracies rather than growing their business. They are trapped in Pournelle’s Iron Law. When that happens a business will keep acquiring smaller companies, hoping to grow their business by acquisition, but when the companies and their former owners try to deal with the bureaucracy they quickly low the spark and drive that made the acquisition valuable in the first place. That’s because, by and large, large companies don’t really innovate very much. There may have been a time in the past that they did, but all too frequently now companies seem to be run by people that come from finance rather than engineering or are graduates of some fancy school and have very little, if any experience actually making things or selling things.
In my experience, having been through the circumstances more than once and seen many from the outside once a company makes an acquisition, the acquisition loses 25% of it’s value immediately due to talent loss and by the end of five years or so, no longer makes any positive innovative contribution to the company and has succumb to bureaucratic inertia. As much as the people in the small company want to create and innovate their efforts are absorbed in busywork, forced to drive all their ideas through a skeptical bureaucracy and waste their valuable time dealing with “corporate stuff.” In the end people from the acquisition are never able to have the freedom that they had in the smaller company to actually do their jobs.
Look at it this, way, do the people working in the TV show, “The Office” actually seem to do any real work or are they spending far, far too much time in meetings and such. This may be comforting to the “A student” types who have moved themselves to the top, but it creates corporate cultures that look inward, rather than outward. When trying to deal with that, the people like Bre, who are innovaters can’t really deal with that. They want to continue to grow and no longer can. Frankly, I think that the Makerbot people should have just taken the money and run. But that was something they had to learn.
I wish that we had had one when I worked there. In fact the lab needs a metal printer as well as that Makerbot. Being able to make single parts and very small runs is important in a physics lab environment. As often as not you are designing stuff that will only be used once, or not at all. A good portion of what you do doesn’t even exist in the commercial world and your low volumes and custom requirements mean that you pay through the nose. You are also constantly improvising and hacking stuff together. In that kind of environment having something like a Makerbot is perfect. You can design a mockup, print it and have it on the machine in hours. Even if you don’t have the final part made you can avoid the kinds of mistakes that can get very costly in time and money.
While fabric manufacture has been heavily automated since the late 19th Century, the manufacture of clothing from that fabric has by and large, been mostly a manual task. with this 3D printing technology that may be changing. Eliminate the sewing and you eliminate most of the labor.
I’ve been following Danny’s blog since about 2004 or 2005. He’s more philosophical than I am. But he’s more willing to take risks. I like his stuff. I’ve watched his ups and his downs as he went from web design to TV to now making dolls. It’s been an interesting ride. This post is a good read on starting a business. I also agree with his design philosophy. I don’t think that chasing business size is the best way to do what should be a primary business focus, making better products to serve people better.