Decision MakersEditorials

How to know if your 3D printing venture is a business or a hobby: two metrics to focus on for success

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As humans, it is natural for us to seek out comfort and stability, but comfort is a trap. It makes us lazy and holds us in a spot of complacency, stagnating personal growth. 

Entrepreneurs normally start their first company with a student friend—as I didsince it is comfortable. It makes sense: we are drawn to those who are similar to us, that is why engineers like talking to other engineers and sales people like talking to other sales people. But when you start a company with your design buddy, there is a great chance you both end up as starving artists and nobody learns anything new from the venture. A business cannot thrive on similar opinions: diversity is the propeller of success. 

However, diversity is not the only factor. The common thread I see on my social media when it comes to 3D printing companies is an ongoing conversation about the features of 3D printing machines. Company A has created outstanding support structures, while company B has a machine which is fast and efficient. This dialogue has two challenges for the growth of a business. 

The first being: understanding the difference between product data and market data. It’s easy to communicate the product data. But the real power is to understand and communicate your added value from the perspective of your prospective clients rather than communicating what features you have or how romantic you have become with your own creation. 

And the second being: understanding the difference between tactics and strategy. In many cases tactics are short term actions to address day-to-day engineering problems, whilst solving business problems requires strategic, big picture thinking.   

Sometimes a splash of cold water is what you need in order to snap out of it, to look past the technology and think strategically. Just to visualize the challenge, here is an example.

60% less frame mass, 80% less components, 70% less assembly time, 10% more cost effective, 80% less maintenance costs. What could go wrong?

Let’s assume you have just become the CEO of an old packing company and your mandate is to revitalize it and make it profitable. Your initial idea is to bring the factory up to speed with 21st century technology and reduce labor costs. You invite robots to the floor in order to make production efficient. You go as far as optimizing your robot grippers with 3D in order to reduce parts, maintenance, make air pressure constant etc. 

You go as far as consolidating airflow with supporting metal structures and you discovered that by making air flow from rectangle tubes, you can further increase airflow by an additional 20%. 

20% more airflow is achieved through a rectangle pipe

This is all good. However, another CEO would have perhaps done a study on the most profitable business per square feet in your area and perhaps divided the entire factory into WeWork spaces and called it quits. Or, better yet, another CEO might have ran a competition in the community in order to find the best business opportunity for the real estate. 

Einstein said it best, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” The same applies here. I have far more respect for the CEO who has the ability to make the tough strategic decisions, potentially jeopardizing his own position, just for the sake of better business. Getting romantic with something, which fails to result in a profitable business is considered a hobby. 

There comes a moment in every business owner’s venture when it is time to zoom out from what you are doing and ask the tough question, “am I running a business or is it a hobby?” If the answer is that you are running a business, you need to take all measures into account, in order to find the most profitable business model.

[Read more of Janne Kyttanen‘s insights into the 3D printing industry here.]

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