Manufacturing was one of the biggest industries to be impacted by the invention of 3D printers. People were worried they would lose their jobs to this sophisticated machinery, and enterprises were wide-eyed at the opportunity to create less expensive prototypes in much shorter amounts of time.
While we have not seen the complete redirection of manufacturing that was expected by industry experts, we have seen the applications for 3D printing become more diversified, easier to use, and more accessible. Industries like healthcare, architecture, higher education, and commercial printing are all reaping the benefits.
Transforming an idea into a physical object captures the imagination of creatives and engineers alike. Recently I was introduced to John Carrington, co-founder and CEO of ZVerse, a 3D printing software solution that helps companies bridge the content creation gap. “We make 2D 3D,” says Carrington. Here is what he had to say about building a 3D enterprise and successfully growing it past the hype-cycle:
Q: Years ago the 3D printer industry seemed to have a promising future, but we’ve seen a lull in the hype. Based on your experience, what caused the slowing of momentum?
Carrington: The hype was created by the introduction of desktop 3D printers. Many people were saying that every home will have one so you can make your own kitchen utensils. That was crazy talk and hype.
People quickly realized that making a 3D printable file is really hard and without quality 3D printable content, a printing machine is not useful. There are some tools that allow you to do some basic 3D design, but the average person doesn’t have the time to learn even basic 3D design.
Businesses continue to adopt 3D printing, but the growth could be even greater with automated content creation solutions like LAYR. Users of LAYR don’t need to know a thing about 3D. They simply upload their existing file and LAYR takes care of the rest to deliver 3D printed models that can be produced on any machine.
Q: Most entrepreneurs have a distinct mission. Is it accurate to say yours is to solve the content creation gap that lies between having an idea and bringing it to fruition?
Carrington: Absolutely. These machines can build parts with the most complex geometry and do it in low runs. They can literally produce almost anything you imagine, so it is obvious that 3D printing will be the go to method of manufacturing for the future. However, crossing the chasm of idea conception to that physical object is super inefficient today. We recognized that solving the problem of 3D content creation would be very valuable to companies buying and selling 3D printers. So far, we have been correct.
Q: What was one of the most difficult lessons you learned building ZVerse? One of the best / most valuable?
Carrington: While it’s difficult to choose one lesson since there have been so many, I’ll outline a few:
One lesson I learned was to move fast with reversible decisions and be more thoughtful with irreversible decisions. That is one of the mantras that we live by. People often agonize over decisions that can be changed quickly. Time is a precious resource for a venture-funded startup, so you have to be efficient with decision making.
Another valuable lesson I’ve learned is to focus on your team. Find those rare individuals who are truly committed to the vision and build around them. Don’t waste time on people who are not committed. We have an incredible team of super talented people who believe we are making an impact with our technology. I’m hurting the team if I recruit someone who isn’t committed like they are.
One of my most difficult lessons was learning when to let go of certain roles so you can scale. What gets a company to $1M in revenue doesn’t get you to $20M. You have to be super reflective about what the company needs from you at different stages of growth.
Q: Who is the target audience for ZVerse?
Carrington: Our primary target audience are businesses in the healthcare, manufacturing, architecture, education and commercial printing industries. Our LAYR platform is used in the medical field to convert MRI and CT scan data into 3D printed models while a commercial printing business can use the same platform to convert graphic art into unique 3D printed products.
Q: What’s your background and how did it lead you to create ZVerse?
Carrington: I’ve always been interested in technology that creates efficiency. While in college, I co-founded a software company that enabled businesses to create their own professional website in minutes. This was in 2000 when a simple website would cost you thousands of dollars and take months to build because the process was terribly inefficient, requiring a graphic designer, a programmer and usually a system administrator to get your website created and domain setup with domain-based email to your site. (There was a time when people used @aol.com for their business email.) We raised about $1M, which I was pretty proud to have done at a young age. Unfortunately, that business wasn’t as successful as WordPress.
Before starting ZVerse, I was EVP of business development for a $20M per year e-commerce startup. I enjoyed my 8 years there, but I was ready to start my own company again having learned a lot since my first startup.
So, several years ago, I began playing around with a desktop 3D printer at home. The machine was awesome, but creating quality files was a major pain. It was obvious that better software was needed to make 3D content creation painless. I became obsessed with ideas of how to improve the that bottleneck and decided to pursue those theories by starting ZVerse.
Q: Where do you think the 3D printing industry will be in the next 3-5 years?
Carrington: The biggest areas of growth for ZVerse are in healthcare, manufacturing, architecture, and education. I think that is indicative of the market as a whole as more businesses discover how additive manufacturing can help them. I think you will see more finished parts being 3D printed.