On Being “Early”

By October 9, 2015 Uncategorized

I just had to look for the exact date. 7/17/2014 — the day I started Entrescan.

At the time, it was just an idea — to build “The Shutterfly of 3D Scanning.” Had I known what was involved, I might never have started. Looking back and realizing what I have learned in the last 14 months, it terrifies me that I might NOT have gone forward with it.

Entrescan has morphed into two businesses — the Scan-to-Print business is now Scandy. Entrescan is a reseller of 3D printers and rapidly becoming the go-to service bureau for on-demand parts in south Louisiana and Mississippi. To think that in 14 months we’ve gone from being an idea to a company that has built parts for Microsoft, Ford, and Shell. Yesterday we had three engineers from NASA in our office, right after we finished a conference call with Intel. Scandy is Kickstarting a product next month, and we are currently working to expand our office space.

When I started this project, 3D printing was just beginning its hangover from the elevated-stock-price party it saw in 2013. In 2013, the vision was beyond that of a printer in every house — a printer in every room was inevitable. Both the vision and the euphoria were dramatically misplaced. The promise of world-changing technology, however, is not misplaced. I have seen it firsthand. And I am a believer.

The euphoria and the over-selling has crushed the runway for adoption. The over-promising and subsequent letdown created so much misinformation that those that are just being introduced to the technology are understandably cautious. But there is risk in being too cautious. The investment is not insignificant — not only does a firm have to buy a printer, they have to make the investment in learning how to integrate 3D printing into their design, manufacturing, and marketing processes. However, the return that the firm will generate on that investment is more than just the 3D printing capability.

Here’s the secret — it is not about the printer. It is about the expertise that a company acquires along the way. New printers will be introduced every 2-3 years. New technologies are certainly on the horizon. The firms that will win in this arena are the ones that make the early investments, but not only because they can get printing sooner. They get LEARNING sooner. It really is about the education and the learning curve. The early adopters will understand HOW to maximize the use of that printer (or any printer that they choose to bring into their business).

There is no doubt that there are additional revenue opportunities for the 3D printing haves vs. those that have not. Rapid design iteration? Check. Cost improvement opportunities? Check. Other benefits you haven’t thought of yet? No doubt. But the 3D printer is not a magic wand. It is a tool that confers immense benefits to those that know how to use it.

So should firms be cautious before making the investment? Absolutely. But don’t let an abundance of caution prevent you from acquiring a skill before your competition. Because the race is going to go to the smartest, not the slowest. Entrescan went from zero to Microsoft, Ford, and Shell in a year. What can you do with 3D printing in the next 12 months? More importantly, what is your competition going to do?

Now, how do you feel about being “early”?