Let’s try that again.
Ok, first up, we just launched a groundbreaking new product, The MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer, that represents a major shift in our business. In the past, we created wooden 3D printers and most of these were sold as kits. The original Replicator is still probably the best value in 3D printers, but with the new MakerBot Replicator 2, we’ve set a new standard in prosumer desktop 3D printing and our focus has shifted from making 3D printers that you have to assemble, to selling 3D printers that work really really well for folks who want to make gorgeous models instead of hack on the machine. Don’t underestimate the power of the MakerBot Replicator 2’s powder coated steel frame. That rigidity translates into a rock solid platform for amazing models. This shift in focus for MakerBot means that there are a lot of things shifting in the way we do things and this is normal in business. We have to stay nimble to face the increased competition from both the bottom and the top of the 3D printing market.
MakerBot has done a LOT for the community. There are thousands of non-MakerBot 3D printers, projects, and businesses that have benefited from our sharing. We have published A LOT of source in the past and we have more to share next week when we ship our first MakerBot Replicator 2. A lot of our new software source is already out there on our github repositories and you’re welcome to look at them, but please be respectful, we are still putting the finishing touches on the stuff we want to release. We were at full throttle and then some to get this machine out there in time for the Wired magazine launch and we are still crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s on most of the software source.
For the Replicator 2, we will not share the way the physical machine is designed or our GUI because we don’t think carbon-copy cloning is acceptable and carbon-copy clones undermine our ability to pay people to do development. Will protecting the design and the GUI stop the clones? Probably not for very long, but it allows us to clearly speak one of the unspoken rules of open source hardware. Specifically the one that states that “cloning ain’t cool”. The electronics are nearly identical to our original Mighty Board electronics, the extruder is nearly identical to our original Replicator extruder with only minor tweaks to optimize manufacturing of injection molded parts. Update: What that means is that the Replicator 2 core technology is open.
The hardware of the original Replicator will continue to be fully open and we have a lot of them to continue to sell to folks who want a fully open wooden machine to hack on. We have found that most people prefer to use it as a great 3D printer rather than as a platform for hacking, but if you are one of the minority out there that wants to break and hack on an functional and awesome 3D printer that’s fully open, the original Replicator is currently the best value in 3D printing. Alternately, pick a RepRap and start working on it. The RepRap Rostock delta bot looks pretty freaking cool as a project to hack on if you ask me.
Here are two resources that many have pointed me at that I’ve found helpful as we think about how MakerBot will move forward in the world and be successful.
Tom Preston-Werner who is a co-founder of github, a well respected platform for sharing open source projects says, “Open source (almost) everything.” He then goes on to describe what’s open and what’s not in his post. His guideline for things to not open is, “Don’t open source anything that represents core business value.” Github is mostly open, but they keep some core tech closed so that they can be successful as a business. It is very important for any businesses to be able to thrive. If open companies can’t do business, they can’t keep being open.
Nathan of Sparkfun endorses open source very publicly, but in his open hardware summit talk last year, Nathan talked about the limits of what his company is willing to share. He draws lines and doesn’t share his backend system, his material sources, his detailed finances (although he does share some of them!), or customer data. I postulate that you’ll find lines drawn in the sand in every open successful open hardware business. His argument is that it doesn’t add value to the customer to open some things. Maybe he will open more of his infrastructure up and maybe he won’t. That’s up to him and his company to figure out so that they can continue to thrive.
There are some folks out there who will damn anyone who doesn’t do all their EE development in Kicad, but I think that every company that strives to share is absolutely entitled to draw the line wherever they like. I believe that a company can benefit from sharing with it’s community and despite the risks, if there is a community willing to participate, then it can be a great partnership between the community and a company that results in many wonderful benefits.
At MakerBot, we’ve transitioned from a company that made Cupcake CNC and Thing-O-Matic kits that were hard to put together for a lot of people and they were an education in assembly techniques. We’ve transitioned into a company that makes a tool, the MakerBot Replicator 2, that has set a new standard in desktop 3D printing because it just works. In comparing these two stages of the company, we’ve really shifted from a company that taught people how to make 3D printers to a company that empowers people with a working 3D printer to change the world with what they make with it. Because we’ve shifted away from the hobbyist-enabling tools like lasercutting and started using traditional manufacturing to meet scale, we’ve started creating injection molded parts, bent steel, and other CNC custom parts. It’s a paradox because all this makes the hardware much less hacker friendly, but more user friendly!
To those who are trying to use my past words against me, this is a journey down an unpaved road and we are figuring it out as we go along. Both I and my team are learning and adapting constantly or we wouldn’t survive. If we are not entirely clear, it’s because we are searching ourselves! Growing a business is complicated.
To those who are saying we are illegally hijacking open source or building something on “the backs of others,” we are not abandoning the RepRap community. In fact we believe everyone involved should be very proud of what we (the community) and Makerbot have accomplished. Now MakerBot is growing up. I would love to hear more stories about how academic projects build relationships with businesses so that we can become better at building the relationship with RepRap. MakerBot is coming of age and we need to evolve our relationship with RepRap. We hope and expect it will continue to be a strong one.
I love the way that Adrian talks about RepRap as an organism. There are so many great RepRap projects in petri dishes right now and some of them will fork and become businesses. If we banish the people who fork the projects beyond the petri dish, then they may not contribute back later.
Some members of the community needs to be taken to task. The hearsay, rumor creating, physical threats, and lack of respectful dialogue have been disappointing. If this is how the community treats a company that has shared a lot, it will be harder for other businesses and projects to choose open source as a way of sharing their work. Tom Igoe, Arduino team member, says this better than I can in his post to his blog.
Some folks have said that the changes are our investors fault. That’s not true. We took very little investment for a hardware company and the founders and employees own the majority of the company. Our investors totally get what we are doing. They provide great support and counsel but they let me and my team run the business.
Despite all the drama, we believe in the power of sharing to change the world. Please understand that our shift to become a more professional company does not decrease the amount of love and support we have for the sharers of the world.
There are two ways that I can think of for folks to help us right now. Do you have any stories, good and bad, of academic projects that have become businesses? I’d also like to hear what questions you have about what we are doing so that I can think about them and answer them at OHS later this week. What can we share about our process and shift that will help other businesses grow and share?