In essence, the company being discussed (3D Hubs) created a network of 3D printer owners, allowing them to generate revenues using their privately-owned devices through a Peer-to-Peer (P2P) network. With 10,000 different 3D printers available in more than 80 countries, 3D Hubs connects people who want to use the technology to 3D print parts, but buying a 3D printer does not make financial sense for them, to communities who have 3D printers and excess capacity to print for them their parts for a fee. After parts are made, they are shipped using the company’s logistics infrastructure to the respective party.
For communities who are significantly involved, 3D Hubs rewards them with platforms to meet with like-minded individuals to share thoughts, collide ideas, showcase printers, discuss new trends in the industry and meet with current and potential clients. As patents continue to break, many startups are going to make noise in the industry. Iterating on the existing technology and building cheaper 3D printers. This will give the ability for freelancers and hardware hackers to redo a prototype, no matter where they are in the world and have a product within hours. This allows creators to continuously work while they travel and promote their products.
The concept of a “shared economy” is a fairly recent idea. Ride-sharing services like Uber/ Lyft are disrupting the Taxi industry. Airbnb enables people with an empty home, or even a spare room, an opportunity to make extra money. This concept is optimizing the efficiency of the resources. Why not apply it to 3D printers too?
3D Hubs took advantage of the “90% downtime” – the theory that people who own 3D printers only use them 10% of the time. It transformed the desktop 3D printer to be an investment, providing access to people who want to print, developing it into a community building, resource sharing, and overall evangelization of 3D printing.
To start, the 3D Hubs team consisted of only 35 employees. Since initially, they wanted to keep overheads low, while testing the viability of the platform, the website functionality was quite limited and had little more than a simple landing page. Google sheets was used to monitor transactions. Transactions are processed by hand, while delivery was done initially by the founders.
Operating the platform without automated systems proved to be important to gain a better understanding of the user experience. Additionally, it also highlighted the weaknesses in the system and focused attention on areas of improvement to accelerate growth as they scale. Also, during this initial phase, the founders were able to meet many other like-minded individuals and got introduced to the many tightly-knit and passionate 3D printing communities in their area, who also shared common views about “democratizing” additive manufacturing.
In the near-to-medium future, 3D Hubs should start to get the industry leaders on board by communicating directly with the 3D printer manufacturers. Since the founders had already spent time in the industry working with some of these manufacturers, they have a high chance of being able to convince them to represent their brands on the 3D Hubs platform. Satisfied 3D printer owners will probably talk highly of their machines within their local community, creating good publicity for the manufacturer brands.
Also, approaching manufacturers and encouraging them to add 3D Hubs promotional flyers with their sold printers to help encourage their customers to put their new 3D printer on our platform would be a feasible approach to reach more of their target audience. If adopted, within a few months, this promotional strategy can quickly be implemented with several 3D printer manufacturers.
Since many of the customers pick up their orders locally, often watching a live demonstration of the 3D printer manufacturing their part, this will excite them to consider buying the same 3D printer for themselves. Also, since 3D Hubs publishes performance data of 3D printers on their platform, manufacturers have an incentive to get more of their 3D printers signed up to the network as it increases their visibility within their target community. This would enable manufacturers to tap into the growing 3D Hubs community, and vice versa, creating a win-win situation with minimal cost.
Moving forward, a few things that 3D Hubs needs to consider are:
- What steps does 3D Hubs need to take in order to become an industry thought leader?
- How will 3D Hubs be able to scale and have a more global presence?
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