There are two kinds of 3D printer companies these days: privately held or publicly traded. We believe the company type affects how they interact with the rest of the industry.
Most small firms are privately held by the founders or a small group of investors. The largest companies, most notably Stratasys and 3D Systems, are publicly traded on stock markets. If you like, you could actually own a piece of either or both. Over the past few years you would have made quite a return on your money.
But what does it mean to be publicly traded? It means that the company must follow a fairly rigid set of financial reporting rules set down by relevant governments and regulatory agencies. Essentially, their actions must be transparent to the shareholders; they cannot misrepresent any financial data or they might be guilty of attempting to manipulate their stock prices.
In practice, it means they must report to their shareholders and the public (who are all potential shareholders) on a regular basis. Quarterly reports are issued with statistics on what’s happening.
Should anything negative happen, public reaction could be to sell their shares, thus driving down the price of the stock. This would be a bad thing, so publicly traded companies do everything they can to maintain consistent growth. No surprises.
In a sense it does tie their hands. Should a company need to make a major transition to a new technology that requires significant investment (and therefore temporary losses or reductions in income), publicly companies are at a disadvantage. They can’t really do that without blowing out their stock price.
On the other hand, privately held companies can do more or less what they wish, so long as they convince their small set of private shareholders they’re doing the right thing.
Privately held companies can be more nimble than public ones because of this.
Ironically, however, the two largest companies in 3D printing, 3D Systems and Stratasys, are going gangbusters developing new products and acquiring new talent and companies.
It just demonstrates how intensely competitive the 3D printing market is these days.