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The Wild West Frontier: Being a Startup in the 3D Printing Industry
Posted by 3DP4E
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By Lucy Beard | Inside 3DP

Do you have a great idea? Maybe you’ve got a business in 3D printing. Then some of these observations from my experiences building Feetzmight resonate with you. If they don’t, then please share your tips for success (or faster failure)!

This is NOT an Industrial Revolution; It’s the Wild West

The 3DP industry contains the characters of FrontierVille, a game of conquest and survival from my ex-employer Zynga.

A revolution is about a sudden or extreme change in the way we live and work, and with 3D printing, in existence now for 20+ years, I like to compare it to the way the Wild West evolved through the Frontier people who emigrated to the Wild West looking for the new opportunity, the freedom, and of course the gold fever that swept them up.

It’s also the frontier movement as there are so many interesting characters out there and the stories of our conquests, survivals, and culture will be what defines us more than the technology.

In the case of Feetz, we started at the San Diego Fab Lab, a community driven maker place where the frontier people with the weird and crazy ideas or just plain curiosity come and explore. I walked in with a shoe and said, “I’d like to learn how to make 3D printed shoes” and was greeted with a smile.

The Wild West is filled with the unknown and uncharted territories.

3D What? Even Spock Doesn’t Know It All

Being part of the new frontier of 3DP means LOTS of education to about 99% of the people you talk to. It’s part of the fun of doing something that will be the future.

You’ve all heard these questions and statements before…. join in and share your top questions so we’ll look back in 5 years and be like “People REALLY used to think that you could only make plastic iPhone cases? Wow”

“It’s only for prototyping, right?” – Nope. Invisalign has been making your alignment braces for years and are the largest producers of end products at over 70M pairs a year. Smaller companies include jewelry from Nervous Systems and toys from Makie Dolls.

“It takes too long to print” – Twitter has ruined us all creating an instant expectation of everything. Compare the time it takes to buy a new iPhone case – Google it, compare reviews, buy it on Amazon, then wait for it to ship to you versus a few hours sourcing a part on Thingiverse and printing it. Even with complicated items like shoes, Feetz can print a pair of shoes in 24 hours. I call that extraordinary!

“But who makes the shoes?” – Even when seeing a 3DP making a pair of shoes in front of you, we still have people ask whilst scratching their head. We literally can see the cogs in their brain trying to grasp the technology.

When we get these questions, we feel like Spock, but we also know that even he does not have all the answers…

In the Real World, 3D printing isn’t always a Crowd Pleaser

The joy of an empty conference room, not everyone wants to know about 3D printing.

Inside our 3DP community, I talk with people and geek out all the time. I get to share and learn about the latest happenings in filament extrusion like the direct pellet method in the David printer from Scupltify3D. Brilliant!

But outside of the community, it’s not a world that are all eager to learn…an empty conference room has been a common occurrence for people like me bringing technology into an entrenched industry.

At the recent MAGIC conference, the largest trade-show and exhibition for the footwear industry there were over 500 people in the “How to get started in E-Commerce” room but only 20 people at the “What 3D Printing will bring to Footwear” showcasing a fellow footwear entrepreneur, Shoes by Bryan.

It might be a few years before our community draws big crowds outside of the 3D printing industry…just think of it at as a great head start.

What’s your experience as a start-up in the 3DP industry? Which character in the Wild West FrontierVille are you? Or maybe you can top my growing list of questions I get with Feetz? Send me an email at lucy@feetz.co

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