Ultimaker quietly announced a rather major event in their history this week that could affect many things.
The event was an investment, but it’s a very different kind from what we normally see. Typically we see a company sell a small fraction of their stocks at an exorbitant rate, which legitimizes a higher stock price. In other words, if you sell one percent of your $1 shares for $10, you’ve just made 10X your money on 99% of the remaining stocks.
In such situations, the founders tend to try to keep the amount of sold stocks relatively low so that they remain in control of the company, or more practically, hold more then 50% of the shares. Eventually when a sufficiently large offer comes along, they founders do “check out”, however.
So what’s happened in this case? Here’s the announcement outline:
Ultimaker, the global leader in desktop 3D printing today announced that it has come to an agreement with NPM Capital, a leading private equity firm. NPM Capital invests a significant undisclosed amount to provide Ultimaker with growth capital. This will allow Ultimaker to accelerate product development and invest in additional sales, marketing and R&D resources, which will help Ultimaker to expand on their already leading global market position.
While they specifically do not mention the amount of the investment, it appears to be a typical investment round as described above. Maybe Ultimaker picked up a few millions to expand their sales force, perhaps?
There are some very nice quotes from Ultimaker and the investor, NPM Capital, about how terrific things will be when working together in the future, and they’re likely correct .
But wait, there’s a lot more to this.
This ominous statement appears below in the announcement text:
Ultimaker's three founders Martijn Elserman, Erik de Bruijn and Siert Wijnia will remain as shareholders alongside NPM Capital, which is part of a family-owned multinational SHV, who will become a majority shareholder.
Aha. This means the following has occurred:
- NPM Capital has likely acquired more than 50% of the company shares
- NPM Capital becomes the defacto controller of Ultimaker
- The original founders are no longer in control of Ultimaker
- The original founders most likely have staggering sums in their bank accounts
Why is this a big deal? It’s simply because the three founders (and their hand=picked, highly capable CEOs) have been running Ultimaker for its entire existence. You know, that period from 2011 to the present when they were among the leaders in the desktop 3D printing industry, and their actions set precedents and influenced many other companies?
Now that influence will pass to another party, in this case NPM Capital. Sure, the existing crew at Ultimaker will continue to run the ship on a day to day basis, but in future years strategic decisions will be made by, or at least approved by NPM Capital - or whoever they sell their shares to.
Let me put it a different way: the three founders were very strong supporters of open source principles, from which their company was grown. The new owner, NPM Capital, more than likely does not have the same degree of sentiment for such principles.
I do not know how the future will unfold, but I can say that in this situation there are now different forces driving Ultimaker. This may result, either soon or in the distant future, in strategies, products, pricing, and other aspects you might not have expected to see from Ultimaker as we;ve known it. It’s possible they may pursue the same course, but with different ownership, you can never know for certain.
In the meantime, expect the massive windfall of cash at Ultimaker to fuel a number of developments. We should see a huge expansion in their sales and marketing efforts, and I would not be surprised to see entirely new machines emerging.