MakerBot’s next goal: enabling 3-D printer-based businesses

MakerBot Industries was already arguably the best known name in the emerging home 3-D printer market with its Cupcake and Thing-O-Matic printers. But the launch of the Replicator printer in January at CES exceeded MakerBot’s best projections and it’s prompting CEO Bre Pettis to imagine even more possibilities with 3-D printing.

Pettis told me in an interview that Brooklyn-based MakerBot (see disclosure below) was hoping to double sales of the Thing-O-Matic, which was first introduced in Sept. 2010. But sales of Replicator have already quadrupled Thing-O-Matic in the last eight months and MakerBot has now almost doubled the total number of printers it has sold with Replicator. Prior to the latest model, MakerBot had sold about 7,500 units. Now, it’s up to more than 13,000 printers sold, Pettis said.

Much of the success boils down to Replicator’s price and ease of use. The tabletop device starts at $1,749 or $1,999 for a model that handles two colors of plastic. That’s for a bigger pre-assembled printer than the Thing-O-Matic, which required 20 to 30 hours to assemble.

Replicator 3-D printer from MakerBotWith the fast take-off of Replicator, Pettis said his big mission for the next year is to encourage entrepreneurs to build businesses on top of the 3-D printer.

“I want to find ways for people to make money and turn their cutting edge ideas into cash,” Pettis told me. “When you take Americans, who are so innovative and will fail until something works, and put a machine in their hands that make anything, it’s volatile. We will have an explosion.”

Pettis said it’s still early and he’s not saying what kind of businesses can emerge. But he mentioned one user who created an aquarium filter for jellyfish using a MakerBot 3-D printer. I expressed my own interest in creating a modern day equivalent of green army men toys.

Pettis said the economics of home 3-D printing can work for entrepreneurs. A kilogram of plastic starts at $42 dollars and can create almost 400 chess pieces. Now with Replicator, the typical buyer profile is changing. While it used to be hackers and programmers that were interested in previous printers, Replicator now attracts all kinds of customers, from industrial engineers and designers to parents, teachers and hobbyists, he said.

Many are turning to MakerBot’s Thingaverse library of open source 3-D designs. The site now gets 60 to 100 new uploads a day, up from 15 daily submissions before Replicator launched.

Pettis said users are still learning how to utilize their 3-D printers and there will be an education process as consumers understand what’s possible. But he believes that 3-D printers will eventually play a key role in people’s lives and will change the way we think about shopping and manufacturing.

“We’re not used to having infinity at our fingertips, but when people start seeing what are others are doing, it’s going to inspire them,” Pettis said.


Disclosure: True Ventures is an investor in MakerBot and the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.