Brook Drumm says he was embarrassed to ask for $25,000 on Kickstarter to get his 3D printing company started.He ended up receiving over $830,000.
His company, Printrbot, now sells three models of super-straightforward, easy-to-assemble 3D printers.
These are machines that build physical objects bit by bit, layer by layer—sort of like how inkjet printers lay down colours on a piece of paper, but in three dimensions.
Commercial 3D printers cost on the order of tens of thousands of dollars. Then a company called Makerbot notably offered a scaled-down printer for hobbyists for less than $2,000. But Printrbot blows this away–its most affordable printer is only $400.
Printrbot recently won two Editor’s Choice awards at the New York Maker Faire—one for the Printrbot Jr., the highly portable $400 printer, and one for the Printrbot Go, a larger one that folds up into a briefcase.
With Printrbot’s unrivalled price points and ease of assembly, it’s poised to shake up the world of 3D printing in a big way.
As Drumm explained to us via email, his printers are “cheaper, smaller, higher resolution, more open-sourced, and way more expandable than anyone else’s. And arguably, cuter.”
We got the chance to catch up with Drumm and his wife Margie in person following the hustle and bustle of Maker Faire.
BUSINESS INSIDER: How did this all start?
BROOK DRUMM: Margie got me Make Magazine for Christmas one year. I started reading that and the issue with Bre Pettis of Makerbot on the cover came out and I was like, “Man, this is going to be big.” I read a lot about it and I started saving up my birthday cash and my Christmas cash, and saved up for the Makerbot Cupcake.
I got it in January 2011 and I put it together with my kids. My son was six and he actually helped solder. I thought it was awesome but then I thought, “Wait a minute, I don’t know if every family is going to hand their six-year-old a soldering iron.” I thought it was all too hard and noticed the design was overly complicated. And then I thought, “There’s a market for 3D printing kits that are simple.” I became literally obsessed with it.
BI: Where’d you take it from there?
BD: I started a meetup group with the goal of building such a printer. The Cupcake was just too hard and complicated, so I thought we’d try try a RepRap model. Two guys showed up to the meetup the first week. The next week a few more showed up. The next week, a few more.
Unlike the RepRap community, I was extremely clear about our goals. I said, “I am here to start a business. If that’s a problem for you then you may not want to come next week because I’m here to research and work on a project that will end up in a business that I’m going to make money on.” If they were into it, I’d help them get a printer and we’d learn together. Those who were into it stuck around and it grew to about 40 people in Sacramento. And some incredibly smart people who worked for Intel and HP showed up.
BI: And then you took it to Kickstarter?
BD: Yeah, with solid feedback from 40 people I knew I had something that was viable. I figured it was 90% there. We started looking at Kickstarter and were intrigued by some very simple projects that were very successful. I asked my wife if I should take out a loan and go into business with a friend of mine who has money. Margie was adamant and said, “No. Kickstarter, Kickstarter, Kickstarter.”
So I did a video and about a day later we were funded. It changed our lives. I was a little embarrassed to set the goal at $25,000. It seemed like a lot of money. But we ended up raising over $830,000.
BI: How did you grow your business to support filling all those orders?
BD: I always believe that what you’re doing should hurt before you expand. I’m not a guy who went out and hired 10 guys so I could sit back in my office smoking a cigar. I had to work as hard as anyone because it was overwhelming from the beginning. Growth happened organically. “Let’s buy another shelf. Let’s hire another guy. Maybe we’ll go from 20 bots to 30 bots. Let’s get an overnight guy. That didn’t work out? Let’s hire a high-school kid. Let’s buy a laser cutter. I’m superstressed, let’s hire someone else.”
BI: So it was about getting from Monday to Tuesday instead of getting from Monday to Maker Faire?
BD: Absolutely, yes.
BI: What’s down the road for Printrbot?
BD: The goal is to maintain our focus on keeping everything cheap and portable. We’re going to do another Kickstarter to get the Printrbot Jr. injection-moulded, which makes it easier and more affordable to produce. You’ll get two kits for one price, the idea being that you build one for yourself and give the other one to your school. That’s the seed of a community in that school for 3D printing—they don’t have to find the money and go through the red tape to buy it. It’s going to be a gift. We’re targeting maybe $600 or $700 for two printers.
We are also developing an iPhone app to save and share 3D printing files. It’s a response to sites like Shapeways and Thingiverse. This app will come in two or three phases and we intend to allow people to print from their phones eventually.