Bartosz Bos is a long-time maker with extensive hands-on experience of 3D printing. After working at Figureprints and Shapeways, he now works as an independent 3D printing consultant in Vancouver. Bartosz is known for being bluntly honest about his opinions and is kind of a maverick in the polished 3D printing landscape.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines Hubris as “a great or foolish amount of pride or confidence.” And while the state of 3D Printing as an industry will ultimately persevere in the face of endless lawsuits, corporate restructurings and a general loss of consumer confidence, there remains a distinct sense of self inflatedness emanating from a great many companies and individuals, who remain bullish at the prospect of their position or business idea beating odds less favorable than the lottery. I would like to take this opportunity to relay to you, my personal account of hubris. The foolish pride which helped me learn some valuable lessons about the difference between what is considered a “good” idea and a well executed one.
STEP ONE: MAKE LAZY ASSUMPTIONS.
Start with a premise that sounds good to the uninitiated. A term or phrase brimming with common sense, but based completely on anecdotal evidence or personal opinion and having absolutely no basis in reality. “Sex Sells” comes to mind. It’s broad enough for a large number of people to instinctively agree with it whether it has merit or not. Sure, we read a lot of headlines trumpeting the reliability of vice based industries such as booze or sex, and no one in the movies ever went broke making a porno or developing a new type of “Sexual Wellness Device” intended to disrupt the 12 billion dollar per year sextoy industry by offering a mass customizable cloud enabled soft robot with the ability to measure and respond to your body’s state of arousal in real time. And not just a single device for one gender, an entire “product ecosystem” designed to revolutionize how we understand sexuality by sampling the data gathered from intimate activities of millions of users and by analyzing and identifying trends which emerge over time.
Delude yourself further by learning everything you can about a given additive manufacturing technology. It’s important to select one which is so prohibitively expensive, you require a minimum of seven figures worth of seed funding just to get started. About 1.5 to 2 million should be a nice round figure to aim for, since anything less won’t pique the interest of a certain class of investor. Forget about approaching friends and family, hat in hand, with yet “another harebrained scheme”. They’ve been down that road before and after all is said and done, don’t have the money anyway.
Spend as much time as possible reading white papers, industry reports, marketing copy and call every sales rep in the region to see if there’s any way you can finance a suitable machine with your meagre severance from the hot shit startup which threw you overboard for insubordination three months prior. Get in touch with, but don’t actually hire the engineers and experts who can help you put together a minimum viable product. All the while look for gainful, full time employment in an unrelated sector because you live in an area where “Manufacturing” is a dirty word and the so called “Maker Movement” is still 18 months out. And remember: No Testing!
STEP TWO: SPREAD IT AROUND.
Since you’re well on the road to nowhere, it’s time to find a suitable venue to announce your intentions. In a world where the word “entrepreneurship” is loaded with imagery of overnight success and riches beyond the dream of avarice, it’s easy to find those who aspire to “do more” in their spare time. Say, over a weekend, or perhaps even a Startup Weekend. These events pride themselves on celebrating good ideas poorly executed, so go boldly with your hastily written one minute pitch and throw yourself onto the coals of other people’s opinion. You’re bound to make it past the first round of elimination based on the sheer audacity of your idea and of course the convenient truths and counter-arguments you’ve cobbled together in advance to deal with the inevitable opposition from those who are wise to your particular brand of snakeoil. People like a bit of craziness with their group activities, so a surprising amount of them will gravitate towards your now fledgeling startup, but rest assured, this is only temporary as all but one will kindly retract their offers to join your team after about an hour of thinking about what they’re getting into.
The Weekend will come and go without a win. The honour of incorporation and a couple grand in lawyer’s fees goes to the Adderall fueled startup bros with their dubious subscription based “airBnB for ESL students” service who bought their 3 thousand twitter followers for $20 off a sketchy Russian website. It doesn’t matter if they fold like sheets within three months. What matters is the thunderous applause after your asskicking pitch,(with sweet graphics), and the way you cleverly dress down the judges after they dare question the validity of your concept. And of course, what Startup Weekend sales pitch would be complete without a few business cards from “forward thinking” VCs who thought your idea “has legs”? With your newly minted Co-Founder in tow, spend the next several weekends cobbling together a pitch deck and wishlist. And because you’re not a complete wastrel, you are able to come up with a reasonable semblance of a financial plan which doesn’t fall completely apart under scrutiny. After about a month, get some publicity on industry blogs and make good on the promise to get in touch with the VCs but brush aside your partner’s last minute redo of the deck and hangover as pre pitch jitters.
Argue the case passionately and articulately, outline the immense opportunity afforded by the mass customizable “wearable” made exclusively using additive technologies and don’t skimp on throwing shade at Shenzhen sweatshops with their cheap, Chinese silicone.
Emphasize the job creation and living wages for all staff, but forget you live in one of the world’s most expensive cities in a resource based economy and that you’ve effectively doubled the ask, just to get off the ground. After hearing the inevitable “Great Idea, But we’re too polite to tell you and your co-founder to get stuffed.” speech, stay positive and relish in the next 6 months of fruitless churning.
STEP THREE: DON’T GIVE UP.
Even though “Failure” has become a buzzword and point of pride among the startup set. it’s still rare to come across stories revealing the causes of why an idea which for all intents and purposes can seem absolutely unbeatably disruptive and revolutionary, can arrive stillborn, with only harried nerves and a lighter wallet to show for it.
I consider myself lucky, since I didn’t end up bankrupt and destitute thanks to another pipe-dream. While I was able to convince myself of having a good idea, and others too polite to tell me otherwise, I refused to acknowledge that perhaps it was half baked, or at the very least required a better roadmap of how I needed to get where I wanted to go. It’s only in retrospect that people’s confused looks after hearing my pitch, made perfect sense. The problem wasn’t my ability to select the right manufacturing process or conceptualize new hardware. My problem was a lack of organization and inability to delegate effectively. This led to the obligatory crisis in self confidence, which in turn led to a better awareness of my strengths and weaknesses and perhaps even a new idea or two to foist upon an unsuspecting populace.
Here, dear reader is where you get to feel the delicious schadenfreude of seeing an idiot fall flat on their face. But my misadventure is a cautionary tale. Just think of all those other 3d printing startups who managed to be more convincing than I was. Ideas which look astounding on paper or via cleverly shot youtube videos. Ideas which have managed to score tens of millions of dollars in funding, only to lay off a fifth or more of their staff, 18 to 24 months into the game. Ideas which cost the consumer too much money, or even worse, too much time (I’m looking at you, Autodesk and Mattel).
Ideas which shouldn’t exist save for the hubris of bright, driven but arrogant founders and their short sighted VC counterparts. Think about how quickly a Kickstarter project obliterates their funding goal, only to topple like an aging tenement when it comes time to actually build the product.
Think about how in a world of desktop factories, we remain mired in a drought of things to make. (Contrary to what we may see coming down the feeds). Think about the anxiety and stress people must feel when they need to deliver on their promises, but for whatever reason, can’t.
So if you’ve got an idea for a 3d Printing startup, run it past me, and if I can’t smell the bullshit, you’ve probably got a winner. If I can, you’re probably already funded.
– Bartosz Bos