3D printers today still require a lot of perseverance, so 3D print companies need to be providing better help and support. Today’s guest, Brandon Davis, the CEO of Blue Dragon and former CEO Leapfrog USA, has tremendous passion and respect for both the history and future of 3D printing. He believes the key to success in this market takes an open mindshare approach combined with capitalist intentions. Tom and Tracy Hazzard could not agree more! Brandon is one of the rare individuals who 3D models and prints himself, so his perspective always comes from a usability view with a broader view out for turnkey solutions that will make 3D Printing mainstream. This episode reminds you to do your research when buying a printer. Go see one, test one, and ask lots of questions.
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Back To The 3D Print Future With Brandon Davis Of Blue Dragon
In this episode, we’ve got an interview with Brandon Davis, who was formerly the CEO of Leapfrog America.
It’s a funny story of how I met him. I was on a plane on my way to Seattle. I was going there and we periodically go to visit Costco and do some work with them. I kept thinking in my mind, “There’s something here to 3D printing. I wonder what’s going on in Seattle? It’s a hotbed for information. Maybe I should check out and see what’s going on? Is there a Makerspace? Can I check that out?” I type it in as soon as I got off the airplane and sure enough, in Issaquah, Washington, which is the town in which Costco is in. There’s this little computer shop happening to be running a meetup. I thought, “I’ll go.” I had nothing better to do that night.
At 7:00 PM, I opened the door to this tiny room that probably wasn’t bigger than our kitchen and I bang into somebody who’s standing in front of the door. That’s how packed it was. At the front of it is Brandon Davis and along with Craig, the owner of Coho Computer, which is the space I was in. Brandon is talking about his triangle of good 3D printing. I’ve since tried to convince him it’s a little different but the material machine, software and how the input of all those three things make for good prints. It was so fascinating, the whole group. Two weeks later, we bought another printer. That’s how much he excited and energize me on the possibilities and opportunities in 3D printing.
That’s what the interview covers a lot on. The real opportunities are there and how vast the market is and some of the changing dynamics. It’s an interesting interview. Let’s get to it and hear more from Brandon.
Thanks for joining us, Brandon. It would be great for everybody to hear how you got interested and started 3D printing.
When it first hit my mind, it was so engaging for me. I got excited and I wanted to do business. I wanted to get involved. The first thing I said was, “I need to do the research.” I went out there. There were many printers, even now. Back then, I thought there were a lot of printers and now I would say there are more than 1,000 actual printers out there. My first inclination was to get out and call these companies, meet them, talk to them, find out who’s who, and what their capabilities are. 3D printers can be a puzzle as to what’s the dependable brand. What’s a good product? How is it being made? Is it available? If I say I want to buy one, can I get it today?
It may not fit your time schedule.
It’s maybe a work in progress. It’s not available yet.
One of my biggest missions as an individual in the 3D printing world is to prove that there are dependable units out there that people can purchase and can be successful with. The other thing I’m about is, “Don’t give up.” A lot of people get a little stuck and something I’m big on is to help people realize how to use the machine. Where a lot of companies fall short is describing or giving the proper onboard.
It’s to manage expectations too from that side when you’re selling a 3D printer because it is a big learning curve. The learning curve isn’t much the user’s issue in terms of design and what they want to make on it as it is a technical problem with the machine. From providing a customer service standpoint, you can make it worse or you can make it better.
You can do so much to help the user. A lot of these companies that make 3D printers are highly technical. They have tremendous people and they usually have a decent product but their process is no good. Especially when it comes to customer service. You have a lot of international players in the market too and customer service is unique to certain business cultures where other business cultures it’s not as important. There are a lot of 3D printers out there that are great tech. You guys are notorious 3D printer hackers, your level of skill and how much you want to put into what printer you buy. You might buy a printer knowing the company has horrible customer service, but you’re prepared to surmount that. Getting back to what you were saying before about finding a 3D printer and selecting it, it depends on you more than it depends on the printer.
That’s what we always say here. We say, “You should start with what.” What do you want to print, which has a lot to do with you and what your business goals are and what you want to do as an entrepreneur, a freelancer or someone learning? It helps you define your criteria better.
A lot of 3D printers end up as boat anchors.
It’s a good point. That learning curve, we talked about that all the time. We believe that it’s a six-month learning curve and we are a proponent of going in there with a good mindset that it is going to take that long.
I love people that just jump in. First of all, do that. Jumping is great but you can still jump in and do some research at a time. Primarily, it’s about what you need and what you want.
A lot of times, if you thinking of a 3D printer becoming the basis for an Etsy business, an entrepreneur or in everybody’s home, it needs to produce a final product right out of the gate.
There’s a lot of it on the machine. There’s a lot of it on you as a user. To use the quality of machines to do what you’re talking about, there’s so much on the user. That’s what you have to be prepared for as an entrepreneur. Filament science is where the real gold rush is. The machines, there are lots of them out there. We’re going to figure that out. A lot of people should start trying to focus on the material. The biggest thing with machines is who’s going to come out with a machine that is consistent for that home business user. I’m hoping to be a part of that at some point in the future.
What do you think is holding back the industry from that growth?
There are a couple of things happening. One, you have some aggressive companies that have held the industry back for a long because they’re interested in protecting a market for themselves as opposed to growing. I’m totally about freeing and being profitable. You want to build a market that’s bigger than when you entered it, not keep it the same size. That doesn’t make any sense and 3D printing has this giant potential. The reason why it’s exploding now is because of those patents came free a few years back. If it wasn’t for that, we’d still be under the radar. Because of that, these explosions happen. At this point, the real question is, who’s going to emerge with that complete customer service and machine that can produce multiple colors, and simple and easy to operate?
For me, it’s still about a single extruder. For a long time at Leapfrog, I was about the dual extruder. The problem is when it comes to cost for the home user to have a dual extrusion machine that self-calibrates and it’s consistent, there are too many failure points in that design. There are a few companies out there that have a single extruder that can do multiple colors, less moving parts, and less everything. That’s a big deal. A lot of machines going forward are going to look like that. If you look at MakerBot, let’s be honest, they’re not successful selling dual extrusion. That’s not what they’re successful for. They’re successful at selling single extruders.
If you look at who’s doing well in 3D printing, they’re selling single extruders but we all want more color. We want more materials, but let’s be honest, no one has been successful in doing that. MakerBot says that PBA water-soluble support is experimental. They don’t get on board with some of these new exotic materials that are harder because they know the dependability of the machine skydives when you start introducing some of these other things.
Companies like XYZ are doing a lot of volumes. They’re out of California and their machine is great. The problem is for me, a machine isn’t great if it can only make things that are this big because how am I going to make a business out of that? That’s where we’re underserved. Where is the big business printer for the small price that does everything I need as an entrepreneur and more and gives me that expandability? In the future, we’re going to start to see that.
The problem is partially also on business because it’s one thing to have the availability of small footprint, small build volume and all of that. That’s a constraint and say, “It’s too small for me.” If business doesn’t push for it from their end and start to think about what they should be making, how they can be using 3D printing to make their business more profitable. Also, make that more customer service friendly, make better products. If they don’t start thinking that in their minds now, those printers are not going to serve them either.
I’ll tell you a great example. There’s a company up here in Seattle. They work with one of the great resellers of 3D printers that I’m aware of in the country. The owner of that reseller was talking to me about this client. It’s called Whirlyball. It’s this sport that they play. You’re in a go-kart but you have this little nerf ball scoop and you have to drive the go-kart around. You got to score points and pass the ball around with this scoop. These scoops, the guy can’t buy him anymore. He has to buy it from China. It’s been outsourced and the scoops have low quality. If somebody drops them, they get hit by one of the go-karts, they’re done.
The guy can’t source them and he calls up and he’s like, “Can I use a 3D printer to make these scoops?” The dealer’s like, “Brandon, is this possible to do this?” I’m like, “Yeah. What are you doing? Let’s go find a college kid with a CAD degree and let’s get them working on the scoop.” That’s exactly what we did. You guys know all about streamlining a product. The scoop had all these holes. It was netted because that’s easier and cheaper. Less material to the injection mold and that’s harder to 3D print. We had them harden the scoop, so no netting. It was one solid piece of plastic. We did a hollow handle but we did a full wrap on it.
That’s a great example of a business that had no knowledge of 3D printing, finally reaching out a little bit and coming out of their comfort zone. That’s going to happen more and more. That’s such an odd business to even make that jump. Can you imagine all the little solutions out there that 3D printing can resolve? Awareness is everything. That’s why we met at that little shack. It’s about building this community. We will all benefit business-wise. We’ve got to expand the population, so be generous with information.
That’s what we’re trying to do here on the show. We’re being generous with our information, our tips, and gathering the best so people can make a faster learning curve.
The maker movement down there is insane.
The maker movement is big down here and they’ve got a big support system. There’s a lot of Makerspaces, meetups, and there’s a lot of that, but there’s not a lot of business help or marketing help. What happens when your boss says, “I want to go into 3D printing?” The VP of Marketing, “Make it happen.” Where’s he going to go? He’s going to throw up his arms and go, “I don’t know where to start.”
There has to be a consultancy that that company could hire. There’s a fear of the unknown.
There’s always is. There’s definitely some of each though. There are some businesses that will take the initiative and reach out a little bit and find some of the resources that are there.
It’s like the guy you’re talking about with the Whirlyball.
We’re hoping to help be one of those resources to help connect people from what they’re trying to do with 3D printing in business to the resources to be able to do it. You talk about machines, technicalities and how things are improving. It’s all true. The color, I want to circle back to that for a second. There are a lot of things advancing. I’m glad that the materials are advancing and there are these new support materials. That’s great. That will help things and simplify the process. If we’re going to appeal to that Etsy community or to that home-based crafter who can help take 3D printing to a whole new mass level. There are tens and hundreds of thousands of people out there who would buy it if it was easier to use, so the usability issue is key again, but you’ve got to have the right colors.
You’ve got to have libraries of color. You can’t have a line of filament that’s sixteen deep. In my opinion, you’re going to have to have filament lines that are 40 and 50 colors deep at a minimum. You want to use CMYK so you can identify. Corporations published their color codes. If you look at the wide-format printing and vinyl industries for sign making, they specifically make colors of vinyl and ink colors to match those corporate colors and those business colors that are most commonly used. 3D printing has a lot to learn. The people involved in 3D Printing are so focused on the technical, science of the material or the science of the machine. They don’t understand who’s going to use it. They’re getting over making filament, “I make filament.” They don’t get it. It’s not going to work unless we make it applicable to the real world.
Unless we make it marketable and that’s what Tom and I always talk about. It has to be marketable. It has to be something I want to buy at the end of the day and that’s important.
What’s exciting to me is that the industry is segmented in terms of its advancements and its expertise. There are people making good printers. There’s so much technical to deal with that they don’t have time to think about filament. There are people making filament and dealing with the material science there and it’s all they can do to make that as best it can be. The exciting thing is there are opportunities for filling in all the holes, bringing all this together and making it a user-friendly cohesive process and product.
Marketable money-making proposition and capital. It needs to make money.
You need to be able to offer a turnkey solution when it comes to all of those things. For the longest time, my big thing, while I worked at LeapFrog was to preach what I called The Triangle, which is the machine, it’s the filament, and it’s the software. You’re trying to harmonize those three things together and that’s what I wanted to do there. I didn’t get a chance to do that entirely, so now I’m going to try and hopefully, experiment with that a little bit.
I want to change it from a triangle.
I agree with that. There’s a component missing in the triangle.
The center of the triangle.
Take it so that it’s three circles and they’re all overlapping. It’s the sweet spot in the center where the machine the material and the software overlap with what is of interest to the consumer or to the user. That is a sweet spot in the center and it becomes a little ellipse we can call it.
Understanding that, it is like what we’re talking about now. This conversation isn’t going on in a lot of these printer manufacturing companies. The material guys are super material. That’s it. They’re focused. The ones that are successful and the companies that make the printers, they’re focused on the printer. Look at MakerBot. It blows you away that the filament aspect of their product offering is so limited and bland. You guys are doing this great job with the machine and marketing the machine itself and being in all these magazines. Your filament still looks like some filament you order from China.
The first thing I did to my MakerBot was to build a rack of it with two different levels of other people’s filaments. I know I broke the warranty when I did that. The first thing I did was put somebody else’s filament in it because MakerBot didn’t offer me what I was looking for in that filament.
What about all these pop-up services now like 3D Hubs but there are at least 4 and 5 others. We’ve got all these databases now of prints. I think that’s a big growth, especially for the turnkey that you’re talking about.
Let’s talk about that because that’s a misconception in the market that we try to correct whenever we talk to people. Thingiverse came out with a thing that said they had 700,000 design files for download.
How many of those are duplicates?
How many are any good?
I have gone in to do at least three different gift lists. I have yet to be able to find something that I would download and buy or download for free even and print it out as a gift. If there’s not something a consumer wants on there, what is the value in those 700,000 files? You can’t say, and this is what a lot of 3D printer companies are claiming as they go out there to sell their printer because this is not their area of expertise. They’re going out there saying, “Look at all these. There are millions of design files out there for purchase and or for free download.” You can print something every single day of the year on your printer because it’s there.
Thingiverse is a beautiful dream but they don’t deliver on it.
Where’s the value to me? There are some good models out there but I’m critical. Here’s the thing, we have some great designs. You’ve seen our tie and our angel. We do some complex and interesting designs. People go nuts over them. They take nineteen hours to print but it’s okay because if you’re going to print it at home for yourself, it’s not for production, that’s okay. You put it in overnight, and the next morning you have a tie, so it’s perfectly fine.
That’s what people want. The thing is I know many people with tremendous designs. Here’s the big problem, as designers yourselves, what are you going to do with these designs? How are you going to release them to the public? Unless you’re not interested in profiting from them.
This is the problem that I’m talking about. The problem is I haven’t taken the dive yet to selling them anywhere because I don’t see someone supporting the value for me in the future. That’s what I want to see first.
If it took me somewhere near 200 hours of total time designing, printing, iterating, testing those prints, getting to the point where I dialed in every detail of that 3D printed tie so that it then is done.
You deserve something for that. Here’s the thing. I don’t even know what this is but I’m telling you all my secrets. I want a place where we have a dependable design but we also have the ability for anyone, a college student, a mom, anyone even a grade school student if they can make a design that other people are going to want to print. They need to be able to safely upload that, have it certified, and be able to sell it by the print.
That’s why 3DPrinterOS is such a great infrastructure because we’re working on technology where we can stream that geometry and not the print file and you can make money per print. That’s the key. It’s to create a marketplace like in Etsy where designers are safe and where you can become a professional 3D print designer or the 3D printer person, the person that’s taking the time to learn to design for 3D printing. We both know that it’s the difference between drawing something in AutoCAD or Google SketchUp, SolidWorks or whatever you use and having it print properly because there’s a style that you have to follow. Those people need to be rewarded and be protected. Go on Thingiverse. How many rook chess pieces are in there? There’s 50,000 of them on this exact same one. To me, that’s not content. That’s a maze and that hurts 3D printing.
It also goes to this dissatisfaction, which we’ve been talking about here for this whole time. If you have the learning curve, that’s going to take you six months to be successful with your design and your file. You’ve got this in your house, your kids and your wife are going to start getting a little pissed at you if you haven’t made them something off of that machine yet. If you can’t find something that’s worthwhile to print, you’re in trouble. Brandon, this has been so good. We have so much information here and we always love talking to you. We’d love to do this on and off over the time because there will always be something new to talk about. Thank you so much and we appreciate that.
I appreciate you guys. I love the show and I hope it goes far.
That interview doesn’t just point out the vastness of the 3D printing industry, and market, and the complexities of it, but also the fact that there are a lot of opportunities in it.
Entrepreneurs should be so excited about 3D printing now. I know that investment communities are pretty excited about it. The ideas are there. You have to tap into one and get running. You’ve got to jump in. That’s what Brandon said, “You’ve got to jump in and do it.”
There are lots of people that certainly can jump in and be successful with it. The industry has to mature more and the systems have to get easier to use in order for it to grow where we want it to grow, which is mainstream all over the US with users that don’t have to have as much technical ability.
I don’t disagree with you, but if we jump in, it’s going to force the market to improve. That’s how I see it. It’s going to be a forced correction.
That’s what we did. We jumped in.
I love that example of the Whirlyball. Do you know what I think is the most interesting example? Part of it that interests me as a designer is the fact that went to go redesign it, making it different is an opportunity for improvement that you never imagined. You are not constrained by the systems of injection molding. All of a sudden, you can do some things like making it hollow and lighter, which makes it easier to use or you make it more durable so you can’t run over it with a go-kart. The opportunities to recreate your what is tremendous.
You’ll be able to choose what color you want it in, personalize it with your name on it or whatever.
It’s limiting to think that you can take this object and duplicate it on a 3D printer. That is boring to me.
That’s the least of what 3D printing should be done.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s a market for that. If you’ve got an antique car and you can’t get this part anywhere, it gives you an opportunity to fix apart and replace something and keep it running great. There’s a market for that. I just don’t think that going in and duplicating parts is at all worthwhile.
It’s not a big market. It’s a specialty need and it’s a great use of 3D printing to meet that specialty need, but it’s going to make for more expensive parts. If that 3D model of that antique part doesn’t exist, you got to create that. There’s a lot of time in that. It’s going to be expensive.
When people go and find out, they’re like, “It’s not that easy to replicate it.” You don’t scan it and print it. It doesn’t work like that, as we discovered at our visit to the UPS Store. I’m excited about the future. I hope that our show, and that’s why we’re here, is going to help jump that learning curve for many people, so there isn’t a level of dissatisfaction. These printers don’t gather dust in somebody’s basement or they don’t go on eBay. You can be successful in your personal goals with learning 3D print skills, the education of your kids, or your small business goals. It only gets better if you help us make it better, so ask us anything.
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Thanks for reading.
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About Brandon Davis
Brandon Davis is one of the rare executives in this market who 3D models and prints himself. His perspective comes from a usability view with a broader view out for turnkey solutions that will make 3D Printing mainstream.
Brandon has so much valuable information and experience that within two days of randomly meeting him at a 3D Print event, we bought a 3D Printer from one of his dealers!
All because he knowledgeably answered all our concerns and questions about dual extrusion machines.
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