July 15th, 2013 Business Development and 3D Printing

On Monday, July 15, 2013, OLC attended Business Development and 3D Printing’s event held at AppNexus featuring three knowledgeable panelists about the 3D printing world. It was moderated by Eric Batscha, Business Development Director at AppNexus. The panelists were Charlie Maddock, Director of Business Development at Shapeways; Kegan Fischer, founder at Sols; and Nancy Liang, co-founder of Mixee Labs.
Eric Batscha: How did you get into this world?
Nancy Liang: My path is somewhat off—after college, I worked in finance for a few years. 3D printing was a nice intersection of that industry. Shapeways was hiring and I knew Shapeways had a booth and I talked to the CEO and I became their first New York hire. I managed to get some tech product at the finance firm, but I think some designs and my entrepreneurial spirit caught his eyes.
Kegan Fischer: There’s so few people that actually know about 3D printing. My personal story—I come from an industrial design background. I founded a company after college and one of the things I realized was that traditional manufacturing is broken. Very similar to Nancy, I “harassed” Shapeways into hiring me. 
NL: 3D printing is helping to bridge the gap between software and hardware.
Charlie Maddock: I ended up at Shapeways too. I was a history major and worked in finance. I was getting bored with finance, became interested in 3D printing.... The most interesting thing was that the company wasn’t hiring for business development. I showed Shapeways five slides on attacking their verticals—I was hoping that it would catch the CEO’s eyes. It was six months of hassling and every time, going back with a new idea. 
EB: What are some other abstract things that people need to be part of 3D printing?
NL: I think you have to be comfortable with the unknown. A lot of it is that people are still trying to figure it out. I had no product management background and I think it applies to all tech startups—the industry isn’t new, but there’s still a lot to be discovered. You should just focus on learning. 
EB: 3D printing is so new, how do you guys keep up with it? How do you stay on top of the trends?
KF: I think mutual channels help. I find myself stumped sometimes. It definitely does move fast. You’re also directing it yourself. There’s definitely some trends that are moving right now. There’s such a wealth of knowledge spread across the US—a lot of people aren’t connected to the big picture. It’s digging and finding people that are part of this.
NL: When I first started, I had t o do a lot of Googling. It’s not a secret. It was a lot of trial and error.
EB: Was there a criteria to spot that?
AM: Over time, you get to know your company’s strategy map and your own map. You want to keep as many conversations as warm as possible. 
EB: How do you identify investors—what makes an appropriate partner?
KF: I try and talk to everybody. We also try and solidify—the things we focus on most are angel investors. Finding people that have that background get much easier once you set up a network of people.
NL: It’s also finding people that are excited about your vision. That’s the most important thing.
AM: It’s someone that not only gets the technology, but wants to utilize it and wants to work with you. It’s been around for two decades [3D printing], but brand new on the consumer side.
EB: What’s the criteria you use to vet partners?
AM: Certain things are content creation platforms, but we don’t want to be a white-label manufacturer. If something turns to be more nebulous—well, we want to know why other companies are interested in 3D printing. At the end of the day, no one has enough time—startups anyway.
EB: So how does a VC conversation look like? 
AM: You look at the introduction, then after that, you explore opportunities and documents like NDAs. You look at launch and try to scope it in.
KF: It all starts with introductions. If you can find someone that’s a great fit, then cold calling might actually work. If interest is strong, the conversations will be strong. I’ve had people that’s turned me down fast and I appreciate that. They’re not wasting your time or dragging their feet. Raising funds is quite labor intensive. 
EB: Is it important to have revenue? An MVP? What’s the litmus test?
KF: The biggest question we get is, “What is our distribution strategy?” People want to see traction in the verticals. You have to be able to answer that question. 
EB: Are there specific KPIs or ROIs that VCs want to see?
KF: We have internal metrics set up and we’re implementing scores to see and measure how much people want the product.
EB: Are people using sales as a key indicator?
AM: It’s certainly about community and growth, but in the end, sales is what matters. There’s so many metrics that we look at, though and it’s hard to say otherwise.
EB: And what does the cycle look like?
AM: It depends from anywhere from two months to six or eight. A big partnership we did took 14 months, because the CEO of both companies were talking for about eight and to get their ink on paper took another six. You know, the bigger the company, the more red tape and bureaucracy you’re going to have to deal with.
KF: 3D Printing is revolutionary compared to traditional manufacturing. We’re going through product partnerships and we’re making and expecting turnaround to be faster. Since I started working on this product, I’ve bootstrapped this and I found that people want to work with you. That’s pretty awesome. We formed unconventional partnerships to expedite development. It’s that people are excited about this.
NL: I think excitement and passion are important to have when working on this, because otherwise, there’s no drive.
EB: How do you think the industry is evolving?
NL: I think the app space is very interesting. I think the thing that will make a big difference is addressing what’s relevant—brand appeal or something else.
EB: Has the acquisition of Makerbot changed your lives?
AM: I think it’s phenomenal that they got acquired. The biggest misconception we get at Shapeways is that we’re competing against them. That’s simply not true.