Is Your Company As Disruptive As MakerBot? Unlikely.

I don’t think many people are looking at MarkerBot right now and thinking “Damn that company is disruptive!”

But they should be.

MakerBot is the Brooklyn-based startup that makes open source 3D printers. 3D printers are “printers” that you can print physical, three-dimensional objects with. Objects like plastic busts of people’s heads. MakerBot’s goal is to “bring desktop 3D printing into the home at an affordable price.”

People look at MaketBot and see a lot of things. They see a cool, if somewhat esoteric product, made by Brooklyn hipsters. They see the funny projects that they do, like sending a bust of Steven Colbert’s head into space. They don’t see disruption right away.

But I’ve always thought they were future disruptors, and then last night I read somewhere that Jeff Bezos invested in their last round, and that confirmed my suspicions.

Jeff Bezos is like a shark with disruption: he can smell it six miles away. Where disruption is, he is.

All of that investment from Bezos et al isn’t to fund cool, hipster films of busts going up into space. Well sure, it is actually, in the short term. But in the long term, people are betting that MakerBot is going to disrupt something huge. Not just an industry, but INDUSTRY itself.

As in: where do you go to get things fabricated?

Right now you go to China. That’s the cheapest place in the world to fabricate, because you don’t have to worry about pesky things like liveable wages and working conditions. (At least not to the degree you have to somewhere like Detroit).

But imagine if you didn’t have to even go to China at all – imagine if it were cheaper than that, if you could just pop something into your printer and make it in your home?

That’s what MakerBot is working on. At the moment you can only do little things, and they aren’t all that strong. And you can’t whip off 1,000 while you go down the street for coffee.

But the idea, I’m sure – and this is where the disruption comes in – is that in five or ten years, the technology will have grown enough that you can do all of the above – make big, strong things, enterprise-level things, create a huge bunch of them.

And at that point, who needs China, or Detroit for that matter? You can make close to anything out of your bedroom, for the cost of the materials. (That’s assuming you have the technical know-how).

This is the way a lot of disruptive ideas start off. Very limited in scope, to the point of being considered toys. The telephone could only make calls between people two blocks away at first. Useless, the telegraph companies thought. Then it kept getting better and better. Pretty soon it could connect everyone in a town. Then long distance came in. Within 20 years, the telegraphs were gone.

Will that happen with 3D printing? Jeff Bezos clearly thinks there’s a good chance.

But the point is: I can’t think of many companies out there that have the potential to disrupt as much as MakerBot does.

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2 Responses to Is Your Company As Disruptive As MakerBot? Unlikely.

  1. This makes me think of Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age. I think 3D printing is going to be huge.

  2. Kevin Kwok says:

    I actually think 3d printing is even more disruptive than you’re giving it credit for. You mention that what people can create will only be bounded by what they know how to make, but 3d printing actually makes this unnecessary as well. As long as somebody takes the time to upload working instructions and blueprints almost anything can be made. Though we often don’t realize it, so much value is currently stored in the knowledge of how to make things. One example of this is our patent system. Similar to how digital works can be easily shared and downloaded via the internet, 3d printing will allow physical objects to be as well. Though I expect if 3d printing ever becomes successful there will be massive amounts of regulations sought over it by existing industries (and there is actually quite a bit of regulation that ought to be created for it), it will nevertheless fundamentally change how we view physical products.