Today we have Tom Simon of Source3, who I met because of a LinkedIn post. I don’t think people understand the power of LinkedIn in communicating with others. I have done so many cold calls via LinkedIn where I commented on somebody’s something, and the next thing you know, we are striking up a conversation and having an interview. It’s probably one of the fastest ways people get to me to ask me about whether or not they want to be interviewed through Inc. It happens through LinkedIn most often, and it’s great because you can review somebody’s comments. I can look through their history to determine if it was someone I really wanted to have; it’s not just a straight cold call with lots of solicitation. It gives you some research opportunity.
Tom Simon was posting that he was going to be at CES, and this is what he was doing. I went through his history and looked at that. I knew we were going there, and I wanted to see if we should stop by his booth. Sure enough, he had made some interesting posts, so I knew I wanted to meet him. I actually made an appointment to meet up with him, which we did, and we had the greatest conversation, which didn’t get recorded at CES because it was so noisy there.
We didn’t go to CES with the intention to conduct interviews there. That is a difficult environment to do it in unless we were going to have a booth space and bring people into our own space. We would have had to close it off. We had such a great conversation that we wanted to invite him back to talk more about it.
Source3 is doing some cool brand licensing opportunities. They are looking at the content and the designer side of things from, How are you going to access these characters, and how are you going to manage the brands? There are so many nuances and factors to it that it’s complex. They have an interesting system they are developing for that.
Listen to the podcast here:
3D Print Brand Licensing with Tom Simon of Source 3
Tom, thank you so much for being a guest today on WTFFF.
Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be a part of it.
We are excited to talk to you as well because your business is dealing in an area that is of particular interest to us. That is about digital file rights management among other things. Could you begin by sharing with our listeners about Source3 and what your primary goal is for the 3D printing industry?
At Source3, we are looking into developing a platform for the large-scale licensing of 3D-printed as well as general user-generated content. What we want to help do is create an area and an environment where an ecosystem can not only have great content come in, but where it can also be licensed and manufactured and put in marketplaces around the world where people can get their hands on really cool customized content, things they didn’t have access to before. But it also revolves around their favorite brands or sports franchises where they have a bit of a deeper connection than a typical 3D printed product today.
What we are trying to do is build that infrastructure to provide that space for both designers and brands and consumers. So really, all three, to be able to interact in a way where everyone is happy and really cool stuff gets introduced through 3D printing.
So you’re talking about real serious, high-profile, well-known brands, right?
What would be some examples of some you could tell us about?
We have a couple examples of really high-profile stuff that we have had a chance to work with so far. Last year at Comic-Con, we were part of the event that Capcom hosts to debut the first-ever 3D printed piece of merchandise they were offering for the storied franchise. What we did was create a 3D printed cover of the new Street Fighter 5 game featuring Rayu, the most popular of all of the characters. That’s what they tell us at least. I’m sure fans have varying degrees of that. And we made a few of those at different scales. We had them on display at Comic-Con, and it was a really exciting moment because it was a brand that got it. It was a brand that wanted to be innovative and said, “Let’s try to find a way to do something together.” That kick-started a lot more conversations.
Another one that we announced last week is these 3D customizable prints for the U.S. Army, where you can go to a website with one of our partners, My Keepsake, and you can pick from any number of the approved U.S. Army logos. You can then turn the keepsake around, upload an image of someone currently in the military or a veteran, whatever it might be, and then you can add a message at the bottom of it that has also been approved. It get
s submitted and printed on a CJP printer and shipped to the customer. They get this cool 3D printed U.S. Army piece.
It’s exciting because this was also through an agency we work with, Brandgenuity, but it is an iconic type of brand. We all hear the stories today about what the U.S. Army is trying to do on the industrial side of things. This was them also wanting to license their brand out to promote it using 3D printing.
Those are a couple of great examples of ones that we have had. We have a couple more coming, which I can’t talk about quite yet, but I will be excited to talk about them soon. There are more that I could tell you about, ones that we have run into along the way, but it’s growing. The energy is there, and that is an exciting thing to see with these guys.
Your company is soliciting and negotiating with big brands to get permission to make those brands available to companies and consumers to make customized 3D printed content. Is that correct?
Yes. What we are doing is we have spent a good period of time building relationships with brands and spending time with them, educating them about 3D printing. We were at the Licensing Expo last year where we did a talk on 3D printing. At CES this year, Scott Sellwood, our head of partnerships, did a talk and brought the guys from White Clouds onstage to talk about that side of it and why it’s so important.
Today, we will go and talk to a brand and obtain a license from them. We will have the right fulfillment center on the other side to help us with it, whomever it might be, depending on the project. The couple I mentioned before were ZVerse, but we have other projects coming with other fulfillment centers. Then we work with marketplaces to try to place the project and get it sold out to the consumer. We are working as a middle component for now as we try to identify how this could grow bigger and better down the road and what services we can maybe offer to help both brands and manufacturers come together and do that kind of same process.
That is what we have spent a lot of time on on our end: building those relationships and licensing some of these products to go out and make some cool customizable 3D printed objects.
What we don’t do is we don’t want to simply say, “Hey, you have this character, and this company made a silicone version of it. We will do the same one as a 3D print and call it a day.” What we want to do is say, “Hey, you have this cool character that everyone loves. Maybe we could do it so they could put their name on it, or maybe they could put their face on it,” similar to what Cubify was trying to do for a while with the NBA and basketball players. We want to open up some of those variables to the brands.
That’s the key to why it makes sense for 3D printing, for the customized aspect.
Absolutely. We all know today the material costs are difficult. We know speeds of manufacturing and things like that aren’t really where they traditionally would be in a brand or toy collectibles environment. What this does provide to them is not only is this a customizable, unique experience, but it is also a no-inventory experience. Every time someone wants one, it gets manufactured, but until then, they don’t have to have a ton sitting on the shelf. That allows more flexibility if they are comfortable with about how maybe that iconic image or figure could get customized a bit without having to make thousands of them in hopes that might work.
I think a really good example of that—someone who was doing this as we were starting the company—was Hasbro when they went to Shapeways. They brought on some artists to make My Little Pony renditions. They hand-picked the artists and gave them some guidelines, and those artists came back with unique branding styles of My Little Pony that could be sold on Shapeways. Super-fans of My Little Pony could buy these knowing they couldn’t get them anywhere else, and Hasbro knew that they wouldn’t manufacture tons of these. But maybe if one was a huge hit, they would. Who knows?
But those kinds of things open up those interests and opportunities inside the brand licensing world that traditional manufacturing won’t provide.
That makes so much sense. That is the big potential future for 3D printing. The no-inventory thing is real, and I think retail will catch on to that logically in time. What they don’t necessarily realize is that this allows them to carry products that they otherwise would never carry and offer a wider variety of products at the same time.
In the beginning, you mentioned you are the hub of designers, brands, and consumers. Can you help explain if this is for only specific designers that the brand has agreed to let make customizable versions of some of their characters? Or can designers come to Source3 and say they want to make a customized version of this Marvel character? Would you manage that and get the permission? How does this work?
That’s a great question. It’s one we are currently working on today. Without taking the covers off of things too much, I always think there is an opportunity for us, and we are looking at ways to make that opportunity available for creators to be able to see. We talked a while ago about a derivative rights concept wherein a brand would provide a certain number of assets that they were okay with designers creating, and a designer could take that, mess with it, and submit it for approval. If the brand approves it, it could be distributed out.
Similarly, we were looking at other ways to stretch that out. Ultimately, how brands are comfortable with it. I’d love to say that brands would say that every designer on the planet should have access to all of our stuff and go. But that’s just not the case yet.
What the initial cases are are bringing a handful of designers in that have some experience that could provide and create great products. These great ideas and products, as they excite brands and agencies and other groups involved, there becomes a little more openness and flexibility. Now that they have seen how it works, they can get more adventurous.
But today, I’d say it could be limited in that capacity initially for some, but we’re working on it. We think we have ways, especially from what we have learned from meeting with brands for over a year and a half now, talking to designers, just to get a concept of how we can make this work in the long run where everybody will be able to participate in an ecosystem that will create great content. It will also create an opportunity for somebody who never had the chance to make it to now make their own version of it and be really excited about it and share it with everybody. I think that will come. Right now, we are still working on it.
I think the bigger potential market in the future would be with consumers who have their favorite character or who want to get a memorial item made, if there was a marketplace for them to go where these designs exist that then can be easily customized, I could see that is probably the bigger market down the road. As that market is coming to be, I would think for those who are capable of doing 3D modeling, even for myself, I have a family member in the military, and I could see that being a really nice thing to make something that celebrates his service as a gift at some point. That would be great if individuals who had the interest would have access to be able to do that.
Today, that military example is available. If you go to mykeepsake.xyz and pick U.S. Army, you can build it in a web environment on screen. It has already been pre-dimensioned, the icons are approved, the image upload is a simple process, and those components go in.
As a company, we believe in the vision that in the next few years, as technology advances, as design software gets easier, as printers get better at manufacturing faster and smarter, as more players enter the market, you are going to have a new crop of designers and creators that will come from that. I think those designers and creators will have a much greater toolset and breadth of knowledge on how to make great stuff. As that grows, so will this concept of this marketplace that allows for that. Today, it’s the guys that really know how to use ZBrush and Autodesk who will typically do the best in trying to achieve and make something that a brand would be interested in.
But again, as a company, as we continue to develop relationships and open up opportunities and the breadth of who can participate in that, that will grow tremendously.
I can imagine brands would be very particular in the integrity of how their brands are visible in the world. Maybe designers would have to apply to be approved, having gone through some screening or at least they know they have capability and they understand the guidelines that the brand cares about.
To be fair, that is also true on the other side of the coin. We have the fulfillment centers. We have profiled plenty of fulfillment companies, and all of them are great in many different ways. Some are just great for prototyping. Some are great because they have a few different types of machines they are really good at, but those are the machines they are good at. We have looked for fulfillment companies that are great at what they do in terms of 3D printing today, what kind of flexibility they have in terms of volume, but the most important part there is also the accuracy of what they can produce and have come out of the machine that meets the brand guidelines. You can’t have a University of Alabama logo come out and look like Tennessee burnt orange. The SEC would be in an outrage. There would be total hysteria everywhere; it would not be good.
So it’s both sides. It’s creators and fulfillment. That’s the exciting part. Both sides get better and better and have more value. They will make cooler stuff. These guys will be able to fulfill and print cooler stuff. All of that will come together in some confluence over time.
Okay, that makes sense. You’re talking about quality control and brand integrity.
Tom, do you see any of this content being exclusive to any of the fulfillment centers? Are any of those companies angling to be the only source with this certain type of content? Or are you purposely not allowing that and just qualifying fulfillment centers that are capable of what is required by the brand?
I think it’s the latter. It’s the ones that are capable of fulfilling the pitch and the idea of what the brand wanted, whether it’s a metal piece or something else. We are agnostic in that aspect at the end of the day. What we look for is the ability to produce great content with as few goings back and forth if possible, if we can minimize that. Also, the ability to have the volume to say if something took off and all of a sudden you had an order for 80 models one day, could you do 80 because we say you could get them in ten days because that is what 3D printing is? Those are elements we look at.
The world of fulfillment partners is ever-changing. There are always new guys coming up that are offering new things. We have used everything from CJP to Voodoo in FDM because that fits a project that makes sense at the time. We are doing something with Seedy Baby so artists can sell additional little things to go along with when people buy their albums, cool tchotchkes and memorabilia that can go along with that. FDM makes more sense there because it is not as expensive as other materials, but those guys are really good at what they do and they also make really great looking smooth objects. It Is what fits the tenor of the project and who can help us the best in reaching that goal of keeping the brand happy.
Today, I can tell you that honestly there are so many times where the brand is impressed with how quickly we can turn around a prototype. When we are clear with them, these are the same guys that will do the fulfillment at the end as well. They are used to waiting and waiting, where we have someone on our team that is super brand-focused. She is really great at it, and she can get the ideas out of the brand about what they want and the designers able to help us lock that together, and we can go and get a prototype turned around and manufactured and sent back to them in a week’s time. This is just a foreign concept to brands. How did I get it that fast? Wow, that looks good. You benefit a little from that. We can wiggle that way.
We are very agnostic in the process. I think that as long as the right quality and content is pulled together, whether it’s that guy here or this guy there, we are open. We just want to make great stuff.
I would agree with your assessment that it depends on what the particular product is and what the right requirements are. We have some experience with Voodoo Manufacturing. We had them make some things for us, and they did a fantastic job. It is FFF printing. You have those limitations, mostly of a single material or color. But there are lots of people designing end-use product that is perfectly appropriate for that. If you do need something with full-color, that will limit your options of who can do it. It’s just about what the right fit is for that particular job.
What is your biggest goal for Source3 to move the whole industry forward?
When we talk 3D printing, we talk about bringing this premium content to market and to marketplaces worldwide. Our goal is really twofold: 1) to educate the brands on why 3D printing is exciting, what they can achieve from it, and what the kinds of new opportunities and new revenue opportunities it might introduce to them in their portfolio; 2) For the creative community, it’s about educating them on why licensing is important and why it is exciting to be a part of it and how it will open them up to new creative opportunities without the worry or concern about whether or not they are violating someone’s intellectual property. We want to be able to educate them on why it’s exciting to be a part of licensing and what it can bring to them. If we can bring those two confluences together, you’re bringing together a great opportunity for the market.
Wow that’s great. I’m glad someone is working really hard on the bigger picture of the economy within 3D printing and the future consumer economy of it in particular. Thank you so much for spending some time with me today and sharing your vision and helping me and our listeners learn more about what Source3 is all about.
Thank you, Tom. I have listened to many podcasts, and it was great meeting at CES. You guys are doing great things as well. That is really what is going to build the economy in general: everybody pulling it all together to make great stuff work. Kudos to you as well.
Thank you very much.
3D Print Brand Licensing with Tom Simon of Source 3 – Final Thoughts
Tracy, I am really impressed with what Tom Simon is doing because he is really building a company that is in this undefined middle space. You’re between all these big companies with these big brands that have value, and there is so much potential to do a lot more with them through 3D printing, but they don’t know how to do it. Then you have content creators out there wanting to do things with brands. If an individual is trying to contact Marvel or Nike or the military, are they going to talk to them? They won’t.
We know how difficult it is because we have been in this space before. We don’t really do licensed products that have characters on them. We are our own licensed product, but it’s licensed with non-characters. It’s not big brands like that. Instead of being a no-name brand, we are in the sub-brands. It’s an interesting space. What we have learned is you can’t have Disney on everything. You can’t have Marvel on everything. Someone has to design the other stuff, and the last thing you want is the factory to do it. So that’s our space, which is that middle space.
We totally understand how difficult it is in that middle space because not only are you in between these two major companies, but you are also still vying for your piece of it, too, because you are adding value. They all don’t want to see that, so it’s really hard. This is a hard space to be in, but it’s so critically important. It’s really needed. What Source3 is doing is going to help advance the entire 3D printing industry through content that is so desperately needed.
The other thing is if a big brand thinks they are going to be able to generate good content. For instance, Martha Stewart. Martha Stewart has had 3D printers in their facilities for quite some time. They have one on everybody’s desktops, yet the stuff they come out with is cutesy little placecards and pencil holders. They are not that exciting from a design perspective, either, but it’s not their day job. If you think you can just convert a section of your in-house team to be doing something with 3D printing and have it be successful, you’re kidding yourself. That is where the big brands are going to go wrong. It’s not that simple.
You need to have someone who has spent a lot of time being an expert in product and in 3D printing. You have to have both. You either have to go hire some resources who will understand 3D printing and train them in your product, or you have to do what Tom is suggesting, which is you have resources who are dying to do something with your product, so let them. Be a conduit to help facilitate that and do it so the brand is comfortable that they will maintain brand integrity and their intellectual property, and the designer is not encumbered by figuring out how to get paid and pay people out. It’s too complicated.
The real power of this marketplace is that messy retail world that hasn’t figured out what they can do with 3D printing yet. When they figure it out, they are going to be desperately needing Tom Simon’s company. That is a difficulty, still: how you are going to integrate this into the existing marketplaces. That is a future challenge. But it is all moving in the right direction.
This discussion with Tom is interesting to me in that it also reminded me of what we talked about a few weeks ago with Mattel. Mattel is a company with a lot of really big brands in the toy world. What have they done? They have gone a different route and gone vertical with creating their own 3D printer to allow actual consumers to print things. I think the goal in the future is they own the brands and allow people to print things.
I think they might have made a critical mistake in that none of those brands are part of the core content that is being launched initially. I think that’s a mistake because I think there would be more of a strong desire for it if it had the brand integration that is expected. If you don’t know who that character is, would you want to print it? That seems like a lot of work. That is how it might be looked at, and it may fall flat just because it didn’t have the brand integration. I hope they are in it for the longer haul and they will wait it out and not just kill it. I hope it doesn’t go that way.
I am more optimistic about it than you are, but I think they have a plan. They have these brands and are just starting somewhere. Maybe that is a higher-up, executive-level corporate decision that I am not letting our precious brands out of the barn until you really prove that people will buy this machine and they will be able to do it. I think they may kill the machine before they really could see its potential because they didn’t go all-in. I hope not.
We have heard from some listeners over social media since we talked about the Mattel Thingmaker coming out that they are super excited about it and they think it makes so much sense. I can’t wait to see it, too. It does make sense. I don’t think it necessarily needs to be a super remarkable 3D printer in terms of the most advanced or the highest tech. it just needs to do what it does well, and those brands are the key, the lynchpin. They have to do something with it.
I keep thinking about this from what I would call secondary characters. Think about Marvel or Disney. They have Sofia, which our baby loves. They have these animals. As a retailer, do you want to invest for tooling for all of that, selling those characters, will they sell well, is it going to happen? This is a big risk investment, and 3D printing is a great way for you to have those brands licensed, have them sitting out there, have them able to be printed somewhere, have someone able to access their favorite character even if it is a minor character. They already exist. These are such great things that you can do to expand exposure to your brand as a whole. This is the retail play. This is what I’m suggesting that Mattel could have done. They could have gone all in with something and really expanded it.
They still can because the machine hasn’t hit the market yet. Maybe somebody from Mattel will be listening and get some ideas and do it. Regarding Disney, though, I agree with you on the inventory thing. Disney is such an incredibly massive company. I’m always shocked whenever we go into Disneyland at how many new products there are that they are clearly tooling for and producing in incredible numbers. These guys have enough money to tool pretty much anything they want, and they probably could sell more if they could tool faster. Maybe they are not the best example, but I agree with some of these other companies.
No question that the tooling investment and inventory management is impossible for certain types of product, and 3D printing is the answer for the future for them. Disney should be doing it, too. It’s very much like the mouse ears hats where you go and get your kid’s name embroidered on it. Every girl wants to go and get those, and a lot of boys do, too. All we have are girls, so that’s what I think of.
What could 3D printing do with the right type of object to do a modern customized experience in the park? They are doing that already. Disney has done interfaces, and so has Marvel through White Clouds and a couple of the other service bureaus that are going out there and doing that. It is happening, but in small test markets. They have 50 targets. They did this iPad connection where you could print out a Gingie, a gingerbread character from Shrek at the Holiday Inn. They are testing these things out all over the place, but they are not going full force. They are having limited success in some cases, which is disappointing. Maybe they are a little too high-priced, but that is what makes the brand license interaction even more important as we wait it out for the market to tip.
I really enjoyed talking with Tom today. He was a great guy and a great interview. We will keep talking to him. He is somebody who has a company, but he is trying to push the industry forward. We want to help him do it, so we will continue talking about how we can do that. I’m excited for that future.
- Source 3
- HazzDesign LinkedIn
- Licensing Expo
- White Clouds
- My Little Pony Superfan Art on Shapeways
- Martha Stewart 3D Printing
- ThingMaker by Mattel
Tom Simon is the founder of Source 3. He got into the 3D printing world a few years ago in 2012 and hasn’t looked back since.
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