International expansion is a very challenging prospect for most companies, but Formlabs seems to have succeeded.
US-based 3D printer companies grow from startups to major businesses and at some point wish to expand overseas into different markets where they believe their products may be well received.
It turns out that such ventures are enormously difficult to pull off properly, and there have been multiple failures by many companies.
I recall one story I was told of a major unnamed US-based 3D printer manufacturer who attempted to launch operations in Russia some years ago. The story was that their team was confronted by gangsters demanding part of their business in a rather delicate situation. The team fortunately escaped and left Russia, never to return.
Gangsters may be a rare roadblock, but there are others, the most important of which is culture.
In Europe particularly there are dozens of languages, cultures and business practices, in spite of the EU presiding over all. Clients expect to be provided pre- and post-sales service in certain ways that differ from place to place.
Thus the smart path to take is to set up a European-based operation that specifically understands how to deal with the local markets.
Formlabs took this step a few years ago when they set up their European operations. The intent was to provide a more seamless and accommodating portal through which they could sell their equipment and materials to Europeans.
That happened in 2015, when Formlabs convinced long-time 3D print maven Michael Sorkin to depart from his role at iGo3D and take on Formlabs Europe.
At the time it was only a skeleton operation with just a few on board.
That’s changed quite a bit. This week Sorkin announced Formlabs has moved into a new 2000sm (21,500sf) office to hold their staff of 120. They’ve gone from zero to 120 in less than three years!
Expansion such as this is only possible when success is being achieved, and it’s likely due to the powerful combination of Formlabs’ incredibly easy to use equipment and their local presence through Formlabs Europe.
This success prompts the question: will Formlabs expand elsewhere using the same approach? Would we see, for example, a Latin American unit? Australian? Chinese?
I’m not sure about that, but I’m sure that Formlabs is considering all options.