Our Kickstarter campaign was hailed by Guinness World Records as being one of the most successful 3D printing crowdfunding campaigns in history - something we’re extremely grateful to our thousands of backers for helping us accomplish. This achievement served as a proof of concept, an affirmation that M3D had something unique to offer – the first truly consumer 3D printer.
But once all was said and done, we were faced with a new challenge: how do we scale this success into a sustainable business model that would allow us to continue making accessible 3D printers for everyday people. Thankfully, I’d like to think we solved the puzzle (at least for now), and while running a business is a constantly shifting process, we’ve figured out a way to deliver, all the while becoming a profitable venture in the process.
How was it done? Well, that’s the purpose of this post – to give fledgling businesses a direct inside view into some of the business decisions that helped us to scale crowdfunding into a sustainable realization.
1. Plan Ahead
Yes, the Micro 3D was a runaway hit and a Kickstarter success story that’s still unprecedented to this day. But one of our first challenges – especially upon seeing how many people we resonated with when we launched our Kickstarter – was figuring out how to go from manufacturing 0 units to assembling a whole lot more. The keys to putting in place a viable model of product creation was to devise a way to build a great 3D printer that would be affordable to manufacture, as well as sell. We spent more than two years working on the design of the Micro 3D printer, with an equal time devoted to perfecting assembly through simplicity. The final design resulted in a product that only has one screw, and required the rest of the parts to be able to be snapped together in a matter of minutes. This meant less time on the assembly line and fewer components that could lead to product failure.
2. Source Smart, Build Locally
Another core component of our business practice revolved around carefully crafting an infrastructure that involved outsourcing bulk elements and parts of our 3D printer from overseas distributors to keep costs low, but maintaining a local labor workforce to keep manufacturing centralized and under our direct supervision. This way, we were not only able to provide jobs for a local pool of talent, but we were also given the opportunity to keep a close eye on the building process to ensure optimal workflow and minimize the potential for error.
3. Fulfill Your Responsibilities to Your Backers
After figuring the out the manufacturing conundrum, we made sure to take heed of the cardinal rule of successful crowdfunding: to make good on our promise to the very people that helped elevate our product into existence. As a good rule-of- thumb, until this obligation is fulfilled, prospective entrepreneurs have no place even thinking ahead toward reaching new audiences or users. It’s imperative to stay in touch with your backers, address those who have donated in exchange for product, and be completely transparent about potential delays.
These are the people that will make up the core of your community—so take care of them. Without them you wouldn’t have made it as far as you did – so acknowledge it!
4. Get the Word Out
After putting the pieces together to create a smooth manufacturing infrastructure and fulfilling the main obligation to backers, this is the time to harness the power of the press. You need to leverage the advantages of the media to help the public understand the capabilities of your product and its use. In the case of a consumer product like the Micro 3D printer, we did this by commissioning reviews of the device and offering out demo units for journalists to test drive and write about. These written testimonials act as a digital bookmark and third party declaration of the product’s benefits and advantages. Ultimately, it helps to provide an unbiased point-of-view to consumers who are looking for a confident reinforcement of their decision to purchase in the first place.
5. Seek out Retailer Partnerships
One of the main cornerstones of scaling a business toward new heights is seeking out and establishing partnerships with wide reaching distribution partners. This is a piece of business development that’s equally, if not more important, than getting the manufacturing of a product down to a science. After all, if you don’t have an effective channel for reaching potential consumers in a diversified method of retail expansion, then how can you effectively make a profit with the product you’ve created? As an example, we’ve successfully created a distribution network with household names such as Staples, Amazon, and Brookstone – all of which allow us the opportunity to circulate the Micro 3D printer throughout a variety of different audiences, both domestically and internationally.
While there are many potential ways to create a sustainable and scalable business model post-crowdfunding campaign in this day and age, the above steps are the ones we at M3D took to ensure our position within the consumer 3D printing marketplace. These are the components of a model that has helped us find success among our peers and bring forth a new consumer 3D printing solution to a collection of makers, DIYers, and casual consumers simply looking for an easy way to dive into the wondrous world of 3D printing. It’s not the end all, be all of methods by any means, but it’s the one that worked for us.