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Who knew that picking one winner for our 3D Print Business Mentorship Contest could be so tough? Tom and Tracy Hazzard’s three finalists all have a great business idea and passion for 3D printing. The real debate might just be who can they help the most? Listen to the pitches of finalists Eduard Martina from Brazil, Kelechi Ojinnaka from Nigeria, and Michael Williams from the USA, and know why Tom and Tracy picked them.
Listen to the podcast here:
Pitch A 3D Print Business
This is our big day of talking about each of the finalists of our competition who we’ve talked to over Skype directly.
When we started this mentorship contest, it was like, “Let’s do this.” Three days later, we were practically doing it. It was an aside but it came out of another show. We realized the problem was there are many people with great ideas, products, and a lot going on in 3D printing, but they may be missing some aspect of how to make it retail, get it out and build awareness. There are many little problems that they have that they haven’t dived into, taking their business to the next level. We thought that maybe offering some help to do that over a six-month period to build them up would be helpful.
The nature of 3D printing is it’s also new and there are many business ideas being born out of it. A lot of people are considering getting into new businesses involving 3D printing or augmenting their existing business with 3D printing. We’ve got a lot of business experience and we’ve had a few different companies. We’ve certainly done a lot of different ventures for us and a lot of our clients that we’ve experienced many different aspects of businesses that have nothing to do with 3D printing. We thought that a lot of these people that we were talking to could use a little help.
What I was surprised about that though, is we had a lot of diverse entries. The three we chose were the three finalists, Mike, Kelechi, and Eduardo could not be more different. I thought that that was a good thing for us because it would make it more interesting for you reading the episode, but it’s made our life harder.
We thought it would make it easier to pick a winner in the long run.
It’s making it harder. In retrospect, that’s what it’s done. It’s made it harder. The interesting part about all the entries is we didn’t get any inventors. No one with a patent who wanted to have our advice, which is interesting because that’s the kind of people we get all the time.
In our business, we have a lot of patents and people find and see that. We give a lot of lectures about it. They can find videos of us online doing that. We do get a lot of inventors who have a lot of ideas and little business experience. Although what I did find interesting is Eduardo understands and gets the need now for having unique content.
They all do in a way but he gets it more than others.
He gets it to the point where he already has started creating some of that unique content even before this competition.
We should tell them a little bit about the business in case you haven’t read it before we get too far down the road. Mike Williams has what he calls Mélange. He’s already named it. It’s a great name. It’s going to be a shop in Maryland, where you make, learn and sell. It’s a jumble, which is what Mélange is, of designs, people, products, technologies and all of that together. His idea is you need to see it. The way the technology is now, you need to see it first. They’re all saying that.
The biggest challenge in Africa for Kelechi and his business is more of a service business and a training business. His biggest challenge is it’s not mainstream in any way, shape or form, but it’s barely on the cusp in some areas of where he’s focusing from, which is Nigeria and Africa. His challenge is creating an understanding of what 3D printing is and can do for you. Eduardo is saying the same thing. Brazilians are interested in new things and new technologies but that hasn’t taken off in the country as much as it has here in America.
We saw that it may be an opportunity for him because it seems that the culture of the market there is very accepting of new things.
Eduardo’s business is focused around personalized gifts and an online arena to deliver that. Hopefully, with that Brazilian design flair, it would be excellent there. We have some challenges for each one of these guys. Kelechi’s challenge is on infrastructure. Let him talk about it.
Let’s hear from Kelechi and we’ll talk about it.
We have power on an average of fourteen hours a day. It’s not constant between day and night. Although we are looking to have improvements because we’ve had a change in government. Beyond that, I will also have my own generator. That’s how I intend to overcome this challenge. I also plan to do my operations when there is light. Whether it’s day or night, I can’t, lights will come on.
Fourteen hours of power a day. That is a huge challenge. It’s a different kind of challenge than the other guys have.
Having instability means you’ve either got to have a generator, a battery backup or maybe both in reality because you’ve got to prevent surges if the power is switching back and forth from a generator. As we know, many prints take a lot more than fourteen hours to print on the printer he has.
It’s a technology problem too. The printers aren’t ready for it, so you need UPS and there’s a bunch of other things you’re going to need.
Maybe to customize the printers in the interface that you can pause a print even turn off the printer, turn it back on be able to resume that print. I don’t think there’s any printer now that does that, but do I think that it’s out of reach and beyond the realm of possibility to make that happen? No, I don’t.
In some respects, Eduardo has a similar challenge but not quite as that, but let him tell you about the costs of 3D printers in his country.
This idea is to complement what we have nowadays. I came up with this idea because I am married to my wife for a few years, but we have been together for a lot longer. I have given her a lot of gifts and nowadays, when we go to buy something for each other, it’s hard to choose something.
Tom’s pointing at me now, while you say that because I’m the pickiest.
This is Tracy’s pet peeve about products for women and especially in 3D printing, so we’re interested.
It’s a bit complicated to give something to another person that you know is going to surprised them and going to fill their needs. You can say, “This thing is going to be special for them.” Buying in the stores is not enough nowadays. In Brazil, the market for the 3D printers is different from the US because we have too many taxes, so it’s more expensive to buy the one here than to buy from the West. For instance, my 3D printer I bought from the US, but my uncle brought it to me so I paid around $1,000. In Brazil, it costs around $4,000.
Quadruple surprise there.
You could travel to the US, buy one and travel back. It’s cheaper than that.
That’s the most complicated thing about the 3D printers. We have a few of them in Brazil, but they are not so developed as the American or the European ones. We pay too much for a not so good printer.
That’s a big challenge too.
A printer that’s normally $1,000 to be $4,000 to get it there, that’s a big challenge. That’s also his biggest opportunity because that means that there aren’t as many Brazilians who are going to be 3D printing. If they love his products, his product doesn’t seem expensive.
Less local competition. He’s wise. He has some opportunities in the Brazilian market, but he also needs to consider selling his products internationally and using potentially local sources regionally around the world to print them.
That is a challenge but those are different than Mike’s challenge. Mike’s challenge is more of a business side. He’s got the understanding dialed in because of his long involvement with Shapeways and the maker community already. His problem is more on the business side of things.
I have my idea and direction but I’ve never run a business before. It’s a new territory for me to try to put all the pieces together.
Mike’s challenges are more on a local level. It’s about awareness and building a community that will understand what’s there for people to shop and buy.
It’s the business side of things that he’s worried about like the plans and all of that. There’s a lot of resources out there. It may not make it into the edit but I mentioned SCORE as an opportunity and we have that here in the US.
It’s the Retired Executives Counseling. That’s great and it’s great if you want to do something in a local community because those executives are the ones who were in your community. There are a lot of shop owners who are a part of SCORE. I used one before in Northern California. Those resources exist out there and they can help you. That side, I wouldn’t worry so much but building business awareness, and not spending too much money. All three of them need to not spend too much money. That’s my biggest concern.
To me, the biggest risk in some ways is Michael’s business. It’s the riskiest because he’s going to have to take on financial commitments on a retail space and there’s a lot of overhead that you have to commit to before you have a lot of customers. We were talking with him about how can you try to build some of that awareness early and prove the market before you commit to that.
That’s a good discussion. Let’s cut into that as well.
One of the things is my location of where I want to have this storefront. One town I’m looking at is Easton Maryland. That’s a big art community. I walked around and they have galleries everywhere. They have the Avalon theater. I talked to them about doing some maker booths at the events that they run.
Here’s the second suggestion I’m going to make to you about that. You want to be where the people are going to traffic, the right shopper who’s interested in it. That’s an excellent area but it’s going to be pricey. You’re going to go in as lean in business as possible. You don’t want to overspend. You also need to test out your model. If you want to test a location that, then what you should do is you should find one of the galleries or one of the things in there who would either let you run an event for an evening because that’s good for them, especially if it’s analogous to whatever they’re doing.
Run an event or have a little kiosk temporarily for a month or a week and do those things so you can run little test models of what’s working and what’s not, and see how much traffic can you drive, and how much awareness can you build. When I opened my shop in Northern California, there was a street fair. We opened up a table and gathered a ton of names. We built a mailing list. We had 100 people on our mailing list before we ever even opened our door. Those 100 people told a bunch of people and we had a huge grand opening because of it.
It’s the test and trial part of the process. It’s good for everybody. Eduardo should test the product designs themselves somehow. There’s got to be a way to do that before you spend a lot of marketing dollars trying to get visibility for your overall catalog of products. Before you build a website, make sure the products are of interest to people.
Especially before you commit to a brick and mortar retail space.
It’s scary. There are lots of art galleries out there in communities and they’ve done that. They’ve committed to retail space. How many people go to galleries and buy art? A small segment of the population. There are businesses that can work doing that but it’s inherently risky. The more that he can do to go out, create and test the market, create a following, and get awareness out there, the better off he’ll be and he’ll help reduce that risk of committing to a space.
Kelechi, on top of having the infrastructure problems and other issues that have to be resolved, but are resolvable. It’s going to take a little bit of creativity.
They’re challenging but honestly, if I were him, they wouldn’t deter me either.
That’s the most exciting thing about him. He’s pretty determined and I’m impressed by that.
He is seriously enthusiastic. Let’s read about his business.
My name is Kelechi. I’m 28 years old. I’m an engineer and I’m also a serial entrepreneur. I’m quite an ambitious young man with lots of dreams, drive and well self-motivated. This 3D printing business I established in December of 2014 after studying the industry and recognizing the immense benefits that it holds for Africa and the economic potential too. I decided to open a business in 3D printing because I’ve always been someone that loves new technology. Something that applies technology to solve more than this problem for my environment, for the community and for businesses too. Naturally, I’m an adventurer. I love trying new things and innovation. I look up for new things to grow. I lookout for new technology, even before everybody around me does that.
I’m also someone that loves leading in areas that have not yet been established in Africa, in my environment, and in my community. My focus for the business is to have a 3D printing bureau, a service model business, whereby we enable people to create their designs. A farmer somewhere in a village in Africa can have something created for him to reduce costs for ordering new spare parts eventually. We also want to enable young people and young talents to create things that possibly they could sell on the website.
He’s a serial entrepreneur. He’s self-motivated. He’s gone out and got this. He got a grant. That’s a great thing. He got a grant of $10,000. In the US, we go, “What would that do?”
It’ll buy me two printers.
He told us it’s going to last him 18 to 24 months. That’s an incredible use of resources. There are some interesting things there but his biggest challenge is that his plan may be a little too broad and grant. Figuring out that test and trial process and what you do at one time and do next, that sequencing of those things and the criteria by which you should go to the next gate. What is your milestone on that? Those are things that he needs the most help with.
What he’s been smart about is considering who his biggest market will be in the future. He’s targeting the younger generations, the up and coming. The ones that are even still in school being educated and they’re learning about new technologies. He’s wise to be focusing on that.
He’s not unrealistic about how long this is going to take so that’s good.
As it happens, he wants to be a resource for them.
That’s his grand plans and I love that. He’s realistic about it at the same time. He knows that he has to take the baby steps to get there. That’s great and that all entrepreneurs need to approach their business that way. It’s too easy to want to dive in and go for it. You can take so much risk that way. It’s all or nothing. We talked about this a lot with other people. Most businesses are 2 or 3 mistakes away from failure, but a product launch sometimes can only have one. You don’t always get a second chance with a product launch. When your business is relying on a specific product, that’s where greater risk happens and you better make sure you’ve done your test and trial process. When that official launch happens, it could be all over for you after that.
In some ways, that’s what concerns me the most about Mike’s business plan. He’s got a lot more of those potential mistakes in a local retail brick and mortar store situation. There are a lot more pitfalls out there that could be that 1, 2 or 3 mistakes that end up killing the business, despite its merits on other levels.
Overall, Eduardo and Mike have a similar problem with the access to the designers and the quality of those designs that they might be featuring their product. In Mike’s case, it’s on a shelf, but in Eduardo’s case, it’s virtual. He’s got a focus on it that he wants them to all be personalized and that focus on them, which is great because it gives you a clear catalog. The problem is the quality of that now is a little bit lacking. There are some hidden gem designers out there that are doing a good job or there’s some who’ve got one great product but the rest of their designs don’t. The curation of those and figuring out what will sell because what has happened to a lot of these marketplaces in a sense, even though these are microcosm marketplaces, they’re narrow in their focus. Mike is in a region and Eduardo is on a category subject of gift items.
Even when you have that, the designers that are out there participating don’t necessarily know what’s going to sell. They aren’t the kind who are doing that in the mass market in general because it’s not viable. You and I do a lot of mass-market products and it’s not cost-effective for us to design products and we don’t have the excess time to design a lot of products to put up in a catalog or in someone’s store. It’s not our business. It’s not what we do but you got these designers and the hobbyists who are going the other way. There aren’t as many of them that are great. If you go to a farmer’s market, you might see one or two great artists and you go, “They’ve got something great there,” but you don’t see everyone there who’s good.
Here are some of the tricky things for us to weigh in who this winner is going to be. You’re right, let’s take Eduardo’s business, which is going to be primarily online. In the US for sure, and this is a challenge for us because we don’t know Brazil well, but there are not a lot of good online places to shop for gifts. How do you categorize them? You can’t walk down an aisle and because of how you have set your assortment up in the aisle of your store or your storefront or whatever. Your eyes are wandering through these different gifts and maybe it’s reset differently for this season or that season. Online is a challenging place to shop for things and no one’s done a great job of creating an online shop for women, especially because they shop in certain ways. Mike, on the other hand, is setting up a gallery shop type of environment where it might be appealing to women who are shopping.
You’re going to go in there and you’re going to get inspired. You’re going to say, “I could give that as a gift to my aunt. This is going to be great on my next anniversary.” You see things that inspire you to do them that way. It is a problem online because it’s search-based.
That’s not how people shop.
It’s the problem I keep talking about. You go on Pinshape and there are some great designs there. My favorite place to look for our gift list items when I put them out. We did Father’s Day and Mother’s Day and I’ll do a back to school one. They’re great but I have to search. There’s no good way about it.
You spend a lot of time and I end up on the other side of the desk hearing you cursing about how nobody has appropriate items for this particular holiday.
The thing is who’s going to go to Pinshape who’s looking for a gift for graduation, back to school or their mother’s birthday. It’s not the first place you’re going to look, so that’s the problem there. The 3D printed shop is the problem. People aren’t thinking, “I want a 3D printed gift.” They’re thinking, “I want a personalized gift.” Molding Eduardo into making sure it’s a personalized gift location. That’s a big challenge because you’re going up against Zazzle, Amazon, Etsy and a lot of these places that have these items mixed into their overall gifts. That’s where people are looking for, “I need a last-minute gift for my mom. what am I going to do?” It’s a challenge.
There are pros and cons to each one of these different business ideas or opportunities and challenges,
Let’s summarize that quickly. The challenge with Kelechi is the distance. It’s hard for us to communicate with him because he’s only got power fourteen hours. There’s a little bit of a logistical issue because I want to help him. He’s got a broad focus. The sequencing is going to be a challenge for us to try because he’s got to do it for what works in Africa. For us to help sequence that and work that out with him, it can be done but it’s challenging. What do you think?
I agree with that. In some ways, each one of them probably has this same problem coming to mind from what you said. They’re each going to have a business that they’re in the middle of and they’re going to need to have that business operate and turn profit as soon as possible. They’re going to face challenges on perhaps pivoting their business one way or another that increases that revenue. They may find that pivot is in front of them that’s enticing and that’s going to bring money in the door. That may take them off of their original intent.
That’s going to happen.
You have that balance of, “Do I take in any artisan who’s got something to sell in my store or am I going to be discerning about this because I want to be known as a place of quality gifts that you can get.”
There’s a challenge in doing that.
In Kelechi’s case, he’s got a lot of pivot opportunities for sure.
The opportunity with Kelechi is we’re talking about getting in on the entry floor of a whole continent. That’s pretty incredible. He’s got a big opportunity there.
Some of the big corporations could afford to go into any country they want and market. They could try to do it, but it’s not going to be easy for them either. Building from within here is a smart thing to do.
He has a big opportunity because it’s got a big opportunity and it could be successful even in a small way, even if it doesn’t make it that big. He has an opportunity for success all along the way.
Don’t forget about what we learned about some of his labor rate advantages too. In terms of content creation at a low cost. That’s enticing there too.
He’s got a big opportunity there. For Eduardo, the Brazilian touch is a cool idea. That’s a big opportunity for him. His challenge is finding the designs and designers to do this because if you don’t hire them, if you don’t spend the money to get good designs happening, that’s the challenge. Is he going to have enough resources to be able to make that happen? You’re not going to be able to find a lot that you’re willing to accept. We know creation time takes a long time.
I admire him for already starting to create that content. That’s smart. If he has the ability to create that good content that’s going to appeal to his market in Brazil, that’s great. He’s going to have to have other help running this business or he won’t be able to do it all. We have to trust him that he has his finger on the pulse of his local Brazilian market. He certainly seems a smart guy that can definitely handle the challenges. He’s lived in several different countries. He has a good worldview in terms of reaching out to the international market but he’s got some tough decisions to make. Is he going to try to be all things to all of those markets or is he going to focus more on Brazil, less international or vice versa? There’s a lot to consider.
He’s starting with the what and that’s always a plus for me. What the FFF? There you go. He’s starting with what. That’s great but building that awareness is one of the hardest things to do.
How are you going to do that on a global scale? He should focus more on the Brazilian market because it’s more of a local initial opportunity. He’ll get some organic traffic internationally. He’s going to be an online presence and some of that will happen.
That’s a challenge. For those of you who aren’t out there on social media, trying to build your brand and do all of that, I struggle with it every day. “Is this working now? Is what I did last month still working? Should I try this new thing Periscope? What should I do next?” Someone recommended to me to try Reddit and I wanted to throw my laptop across the room. It’s so difficult for me to grasp in terms of how do you get your message across? I read an article that says don’t use Reddit in business and I was like, “Thank God because I don’t want to.” I could see why people like it. It’s just not for us. Building awareness is almost a full-time job. How do you do that and build your business? It’s a struggle all the time. Building awareness is the same problem that Mike has. That’s the same challenge, but he’s got to build a mail list.
It’s more of a local level and there may be some easier ways to do that. You were talking about the farmer’s markets or the street fairs.
Also, the other galleries in the region where you might want to open your shop.
He’s in Maryland so he’s going to have to think about the time of the year and timing. How many more street fair, farmer’s markets or outdoor walking opportunities are there? As you get into the cold in the winter some of those events become fewer.
Charitable auctions there are a bunch of things that you could do towards the fall and winter that would get you in the gift-giving ideas. It gives you time at which that would be smart.
To me, his challenge reminds me a little bit of our friends starting the ice cream business here in Southern California.
We have to give a shout out to my favorite ice cream shop, Best Coast Creamery. I love Jessica Rollison and her husband. They’re such fun people and they make my favorite ice cream.
They make the best homemade ice cream in the world. Can you imagine competing with the big ice cream guys? How are you going to do that?
There are many challenges for her business to get a dairy license and open a store. It took her over a year. She’s doing this weekly thing where on Tuesday nights, she comes to Irvine, which is where we live and she will deliver. She sends out a Facebook post saying, “Here are my flavors that I made. I’m delivering fresh.” She makes it fresh that day. By the time she delivers it to you in perfect timing for you to have dessert, it’s hard not to eat the entire pint.
The point is it’s almost like a flash sale, “Here are today’s flavors. Order from these 2 or 3 flavors and they’ll be delivered between 6:00 PM or 9:00 PM to your door.” That was exciting and she did that anyway. The point is as she’s working toward getting that storefront, deciding where the location is, negotiating the right price and carefully considering all that overhead. It’s the same challenges that Mike’s going to face. She’s found ways to be operating her business in a lean way and building a following and having costumers to sell too that eventually when she does put up a store, where are we going to buy ice cream? We’re going to go there. It’s an interesting stuff.
Mike’s going to have to get creative. He needs to consider carefully when is the right time to open that shop. Hopefully, it’d be great to spend 6 to 9 months or even a year trying to do things leanly and a little more virtually. Eventually, you build enough following and there’s enough awareness in the local communities that now when you open up a store, it’s like, “They finally opened up a store,” and you have costumers.
A lot of entrepreneurs get in too big a hurry. You have the two kinds of entrepreneurs the ones who are in too big hurry to open up as fast and furious as possible whatever their business might be. Sometimes there are a lot of gurus out there to help you do that. I don’t disagree with that. You just need to open smartly. Start, but start smartly. Launch, but launch smartly. Launch lean and give yourself room to pivot and flex. Spend as little money as possible there are going to be many challenges that you didn’t realize and many assumptions that will surprise you that don’t work.
Kelechi said he’s a serial entrepreneur but it’s different for each business. Each business that we’ve done, each model or version of our business has been different. You may find you don’t like some things. I owned a retail store and I work hard. Sometimes we work 80 hours a week but I never felt more exhausted than when I had a store. What I found out about it was that I didn’t like the way people treated the shop owners and the shop workers. I didn’t like that attitude. We were this tiny little shop for tween girls. I found that people were rude. They’re like, “It’s so expensive,” then don’t shop there. We’re not Walmart. There’s that treatment. It’s like, “You should be giving me a discount for even walking into your store.” I thought, “I need to feed my family.” That rudeness got to me over time and I couldn’t take it anymore.
We’ve learned from that and moved on from that business.
It happens. You might find you don’t like some aspect of the business. You may not like all the social media. It’s hard. You may not like doing that. If you can’t sub it out at the course of your business, if that’s not something you could sub out, your business will fail because it will come across that you don’t like it.
Passion for what you’re doing will show through.
I can’t make my choice. This is so hard.
We’re going to have to reflect a little more.
We have some time to think about it and mull it over. I guarantee you, we’ll probably change our mind three times.
For all you reading, you’re going to read it in the next episode.
Stay tuned for the final announcement of the winner of the Build Your 3D Print Business Mentorship Contest.
We’re looking forward to doing it and spending time with the winner for six months.
If you’d like to find out more about these guys, if something they said interests you, if you want to partner with them, if there’s some way you want to get in touch with them, that’s at HazzDesign.com. Let us know what you think. I’d love to hear who you would have picked.
This is a 3D Printing show and a lot of discussions in this episode have been around more business issues. It’s not all 3D printing-related necessarily, but I think a lot of people in 3D printing are considering a lot of these things themselves. Hopefully, it’s helpful to you.
Thanks again for reading and thank you for all the entries that we received. If you didn’t win this time, it gives you an opportunity to hear what we thought and try again next time.
Maybe we’ll do it again. We’ve been talking about that. Keep working at it.
Thanks again for reading.
- Michael Williams – LinkedIn
- Kelechi Ojinnaka – LinkedIn
- Best Coast Creamery
- 3D Startpoint Facebook
- 3D Startpoint LinkedIn
- Hazz Design Twitter
- 3D Startpoint YouTube