Fabbaloo had a chance to sit down with Formlabs’ founder and CEO Max Lobovsky and find out what’s happening at Formlabs.
This is Part 2; Part 1 is found here.
Fabbaloo: This philosophy that you had to make the system and practically work through all these back-end processes and systems you have made, that is successful. People are buying the machine?
Max Lobovsky: Yes! Form 2 has been amazing. We are just about one full year to shipping it widely. We announced it about a year ago, and didn’t start shipping in volume until about February and it has been amazing. It has changed everything we are doing at the company. We had a lot riding on it, it was a massive development. Form 1 we set out the idea of what we thought the product should exist and people bought into that but we needed to do more to get the product all the way to really delivering on the message and Form 2 has done that. It is printing very reliably, people are constantly going on forums and saying they have counted 250 successful prints without a single failure.
And that is amazing. That is the way we know it is successful is, not just anecdotal, it is the number of prints, the material usage has gone way up. We were hoping it to grow about 50%, but it is actually two and half times more usage with Form 2. If there is any one thing that we need to look at, as a company, to tell us if we made a product that people like, that is it. The better it works, the easier it is to use, the more they are going to use it.
Fabbaloo: And you KNOW that is the case because you have the feedback?
Max Lobovsky: That is why I think this is the right business model, for this industry, because we have incentive to make your printer work well, to make it produce something that works well for you. That’s as opposed to a company that mostly sells a machine, they sell a machine and that is it. They are done and don’t care too much whether you keep using it. We find that in some of the lower end FDM companies, that is how they treat the market: To get as many machines out there as they can and they are not working. Even when we did have had problems, in the early days with Form 1 we offered upgrades, discounts and things like that to get people up to working systems. We always honored our warranties pretty much for the offer of the first-year warranty and offered extended service packages.
Fabbaloo: Now this part 1-2 years there has been this explosion of alternative resin-based machines. Are they bothering you at all? Some of them seem to have unusually unique features. How do you feel about that?
Max Lobovsky: When we got started working on this, I thought from when we launched Kickstarter it is going to be maybe a year until real competition is coming to market. And then about a year after that at CES 2014 we saw a number of resin-based machines. And we got really scared at that point. Not to say we are paranoid and paying attention to what everyone else is doing, but what we saw with these announcements was failure to ship, the machine is not really working.
We realized that we gained confidence in this sort of ecosystem; it really does matter. You can have a machine that you got working at the tradeshow, working with one material, working with some geometries that you tested with. That is a huge gap between a machine with a library of materials and customer support that you can throw any model at, software, and a “one click print” system. That is really the difference between us and hardware that looks similar. Again, it is not to say we dismiss the competition in any way, we are moving faster than ever and we have a lot of amazing stuff in the pipeline. Ultimately the only way we will stay ahead is having the machine that everyone else is copying.
Fabbaloo: Would it be fair to say that when you look at these other companies you realize that they are going to have to go through the same sequence of learning that you did.
Max Lobovsky: Yes. It is hard to bypass that, unless you are already an established 3D printing business and you are adapting to a new product line. For people who have never delivered a 3D printer, it is a big challenge to go through that tooling phase.
Fabbaloo: It is true, I see many Kickstarters recently and I don’t know how they will succeed. We had a story about one that had literally zero backers! It is one of our predictions for 2017 is that they are essentially done, so you guys got in at just the right time.
Max Lobovsky: Yes. I don’t think what we did, that the Kickstarter campaign we did, would necessary be possible now. As we are looking at new products, we need to go about it differently. We can’t ever start at Form 1 level again. We must start at least Form 2 and beyond.
Fabbaloo: You recently made a huge venture into Europe and you hired Michael Sorkin, tell me about the European adventure.
Max Lobovsky: The weird thing about Kickstarter is that it kind of makes you a global company from day one. We were selling around the world because it encourages you to do that, but we knew that we couldn’t properly serve customers in Europe and it accounts for 40% of the world market without a presence there.
We started working with partners but we knew that we needed to have our own presence there. We needed to be able to support customers directly and to better support the resellers that we work with. And so, we set out to pick a place in Europe and to find a great set of people and we have done that. Now there is about 30 people in Berlin. Now we are at the place where we can offer the same products and level of support in about 5–6 languages and serve the rest of the European market. It is going to really allow us to accelerate things in Europe going forward as we bring products we will have our own presence to bring them to market very quickly in the whole world simultaneously.
Fabbaloo: One thing I was thinking was watching Netflix, “Print the Legend”, that you are featured in, and it occurred to me that you are the “last man standing” out of all that. How does that make you feel?
Max Lobovsky: It feels good to have made it this far, to be delivering on the thing we imagined more than five years ago, now. It’s definitely tough and it is a tough business. There will be failures and successes.
We are looking past that now – we are not looking back at that. We are delivering on what we originally set out to do and the only thing new for us is that now we need to raise the bar. We realized that two years ago, and so we have had some stuff cooking for a while and we’re roughly the largest desktop 3D printing company now in terms of revenue and that is just the first step.
We think we can apply the kind of approach that we did to the Form 1 to Form 2 to a range of other products. And there is so much powerful technology out there and still to come that can be made available to anybody who has an idea. It is kind of a beautiful thing because the best part about the ones last standing is not that we are the last ones standing it is that we are delivering on that thing.
We had that idea and we made it real. It is now full scale and the awesome thing is that it is the same thing we give to people. That is what our product does to people. It is very powerful feeling. We can deliver that same effect in many more ways. We have a lot to come.