Now the company employs 115 people and has established itself as a major brand among 3D printing enthusiasts while still maintaining its low-key ingenuity.
“We were always thought of as a small hacker entrepreneurial company,” says Jenny Lawton, whose job as Head of People of MakerBot is to help grow the company. “But now we’ve got almost 10,000 printers out in the world — more than most companies making this sort of product.”
The MakerBot Replicator, the company’s newest product (and third iteration of the original), is a desktop-sized 3D printer that allows users to make objects from computer designs with spools of plastic. At $1,749 for a single and about $1,999 for a nicer model, the personal printers are affordable and small enough for office use.
“We make a machine that allows you to make things — create designs and makes them in plastic,” Lawton said. “A lot of people use the machine to make fun objects — coat hanger, toilet paper holder, robot-like objects— some people make bracelets.”
Founders Bre Pettis, Zack Hoeken Smith and Adam Mayer camped out in a basement for three days to finish the first MakerBot, tinkering with the design until they got the machine to function.
That openly innovative culture continues at their Boerum Hill production facility, called the “BotCave,” where the printer is always running (“butterflies for a store display … covers for lights” said Lawton) and T-shirt clad employees constantly find new ways to implement MakerBot products.
“There is a strong culture of learning — everyone in the company has a MakerBot on their desk — and the entire company is involved in the success of the product,” Lawton said. “Some have internal projects that they work on — there’s no one saying you can’t.”
The company’s “get up and do it” attitude has earned them millions of dollars in VC funding and a community of 10,000 fans who share their designs on Thingiverse, the company blog. Since their software and hardware design is completely open-source, anyone can build upon it and add to the collective creativity.
“Any innovation does correspond to using the machine — the Q&A process — to make sure that our software and hardware is well tested by a diverse group of users,” Lawton said.
MakerBot encourages users to share new designs on Thingiverse and even crowdsources materials for production. After all, the founders simply created something cool and wanted to share it — no wonder they actively promote a culture that “disrupts the cycle of buying, [allowing] you to create instead of buy,” according to Lawton.
So what’s it like to work for a company of creators who don’t have specific time set aside for innovation (like Google’s 20 per cent time) but nonetheless constantly use the product that they are selling?
“There’s a palpable sense of intent people — a culture of people who are really proud to be at work, excited to be doing what they’re doing — [who] say they can’t believe they’re getting paid to do what they’re doing,” Lawton said.
In fact, Pettis told MAKE that many of their best employees come from Thingiverse, giving them the distinct advantage of hiring from a pool of MakerBot operators.
“One of the coolest things is we’re recruiting,” Lawton said. “And there’s a line out the door [of potential employees] — it gives you the opportunity to make sure we’re making the right fit.”
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