We have an interview today with Scott Tarcy of CAD Design Help. I love that we’re going to bring in somebody else who has a different CAD design view. Somebody else really who is trying to do something similar that we are in helping to be a resource for people interested in 3D printing in one way or another. His focus is a little more in the CAD side of things. It’s a bit of a cross section. He’s more of an engineer, actually is a degreed engineer, a mechanical engineer. He has worked inside a couple of different corporations, doing real serious engineering work on products. He’s complimentary to what we do on WTFFF and 3D Start Point and we thought it would be good to have him on. He’s a great resource and he’s got a podcast. It’s called The Engineering Entrepreneur Podcast. I think he’s 24 episodes into it or something at this point. I think it’s really an interesting model of who he’s talking to that’s very different than who we’re talking to. There’s plenty of room in the space for someone else with a little different perspective.
Listen to the podcast here:
CAD Design Help with Scott Tarcy
Scott, thanks so much for joining us today on WTFFF. It’s great to have you on the show.
I’m excited to be on. I’m looking forward to talking with you.
Can you start by letting us know when and really why you started CADDesignHelp.com?
My background, I’m from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania originally. After high school, I decided to go into engineering more for the fact that I didn’t know what I wanted to do and my dad was a Chemical Engineer. I was always been good in math. My SAT scores in math were really good and science classes and stuff. He said, “Why don’t you just do that?” I’m like, “I got to do something.” That’s how I got started. I did engineering at Virginia Tech for five years. I did the four years engineering and a business minor, so it took five years to finish.
When I finished, I got a job with a company called United Pet Group or Tetra, to anybody out there who had a pet fish. All these aquariums and fish food, outdoor pond accessories like pumps and filters and lots of different things. That was in the same town of Blacksburg, Virginia. I take that job. Literally, I started two days after graduation because I was ready to jump in. That’s where my career started.
When I was there, I was dedicated for all outdoor pond equipment. I designed all kinds of things and did a lot of testing as well. Lots of plastic art design. I learned a ton about injection molding. While I was working there, they sent me on business trips around North Carolina and stuff for visiting suppliers and seeing how the machines work. We actually did have a 3D printer way, way back. This was in 2007 when I started that job. It seems like the technology was primitive. I think that machine was really expensive and it could make really small parts. I do remember parts being really bad, really hard to break off. That’s my first thing I got into 3D printing. I remember one time I used it. A part of my car broke and I reversed engineered a knob and 3D printed it. It didn’t quite fit, but that was my first attempt to fix a problem with using a 3D printer.
At that job, I was designing the pumps and the filters. I was doing a lot of testing. We had an outdoor pond where we would hook up something. We would measure how many gallons per minute would flow through something, all those kinds of stuff. I did for about four years. That’s where I really learned how to use SOLIDWORKS. We had it in college but I think it’s a mistake of the engineering program to not require you to take CAD because it’s one of the most important things in the real world for engineers or designers to know how to do.
They don’t require CAD?
No. At least at the time when I was in school, it was not a required course, which blows my mind now after the fact.
I went to college from ’88 to ’92. I was upset then that my college didn’t offer CAD. I thought I was ill-prepared for the working world because of it. I went out and got that education on my own because they didn’t do it. But I would think in the last fifteen years, at least, that every good engineering school and design school should be teaching CAD of some form. But not just that, I would have thought that SOLIDWORKS, Rhino, whoever it is, should be out there trying to indoctrinate you into their CAD system. They should be giving them to the schools because you get really comfortable quickly in the CAD system you learn first.
I think Autodesk is trying to do this with Inventor and Fusion because they want to overtake SOLIDWORKS as the number one. But SOLIDWORKS I think is somewhat arrogant and that they don’t think they need to do it, so maybe that’s why. There were student versions available and stuff and they had it available, but it wasn’t a required course. Let’s just say I wasn’t the most motivated student academically. I did the minimum to get by. I got decent grades, but I was more interested in partying back then than really jumping in. Since it wasn’t a required course, and I didn’t really know anything about the real world, I would just say, “I’ll take the courses they require. Pick a few electives here and there because I need to do that too.” That’s the reality. I got some people who reached out to me and I always tell these kids going into school, “Listen, learn CAD. It’s by far the most important thing when you get in the real world.”
You’ve gone from not really caring about it in school to being, “This is so important.” You’ve built a whole website around it.
Yeah. I love to do it. I just realized it’s a passion, like designing and creating things. I was working at Tetra is what we called it, but I think the official name is United Pet Group. Like I said, I didn’t even know any CAD going in but they immediately sent me out to California for a week of SOLIDWORKS training. I learned a bunch. What I tell people is when I really got good at it and learned it was after about one year of 40 hours a week doing it. The training got me started to the basics where I can make a box or a cylinder or something. But just doing it every day at work and designing different shapes, after about one year, I felt like I can make almost anything.
Those were the first four years after school. Then I just felt like making a career change, wanted to move to a different town. Then I worked for the next four years, 2010 to 2014, for Bosch Home Appliances. If you ever go into a Lowe’s or anything and see a Bosch dishwasher, I pretty much had a say or did it all myself on all the control panels. The plastic or metal control panels where the buttons are. Every engineer is dedicated to one part of the dishwasher and that was my part. I learned every in and out of making a control panel and all the molding tips and sheet metal and forming and all these different operations that go into manufacturing these.
Did that drive you crazy to only work on one section?
It did. I didn’t like that. They also randomly threw me fasteners because they had to give it to somebody. I was like, “There’s an issue with the screw.” I can give you a whole story about they sent me through the factory looking at every screw and be like, “Do you think you can figure out how to combine two screws into one, where not literally combining but saying that the two screws are close enough? Find a way so that we can change the design of this thing to use just one of the two. Because if we buy only one of the two in more volume, we’ll save a third of a cent per screw and save a million dollars a year.” Some math like that. They gave me some random tasks like that to do.
Basically back to your question, it did drive me crazy because there was a lot of cool stuff. We manufactured all of the sides of the dishwasher, the metal tub in there. I got to see the machines and I helped troubleshoot some things, but I never really got to design that component. I never got involved in electronics part really, outside a little bit with the electronics in the actual panel. From their standpoint, it’s more efficient to give somebody one task and get really, really good at that than have them get okay at a bunch of other things, even though it’s less interesting from our standpoint.
I think it causes a lot of burnout and stuff. What you’re talking is called value-add engineering. When you’re talking about doing what you did with the screws. There are actually whole entire career paths you can take where you just focus on that value-add engineering and really optimizing something for manufacturing or for cost effectiveness. De-costing something is a major part of that. This is actually a really good lesson for any of you students out there who are considering being an engineer. This is very, very true, what your experience is. This is the reality of engineering and industrial design if you go to work in a particular manufacturing company, or you go into design firms that put you on accounts and only service various specific industries. You’ll only end up working on the same designs for the same type of things; phone cases again and again and again.
You don’t get to necessarily do everything about a product. In fact, more often you don’t get to and you are very specialized. I remember very early in my career. I’m an industrial designer. I’m not a degreed engineer at all. But one of the very first salaried jobs I had, this is part of what made me realize maybe I didn’t want to be a salaried employee at a company. I worked for a company in South Caroline called VELUX that make roof windows and skylights. They were made out of a wooden frame and then there are aluminum parts that are roll-formed aluminum and there are glass parts and metal parts and all these different things.
I spent a ridiculous amount of time working on how to engineer these wooden profiles. You’d still cut wood through a molding machine to get the profile, but they wanted to use cheaper wood that was very plentiful to that region of the country, and then veneer wrap it. Think of roll forming aluminum but doing that with veneer over a top of another wood substrate, so that it would look pretty, a nicer quality of wood. You wrap a thin veneer all around this profile. It was a year of just all the fine details. How small of a radius can you do and wrap that veneer around and not have it a crack and then not have it delaminated and not have the whole wood profile warp on you because you’re covering only one side of it, not the other. You get very specialized and into the fine, fine details. Consumers have no idea what goes in to making a product.
You would think, “Make a coffee cup, that’s so easy.” You have no idea how many details go into making anything, even the simplest thing.
It’s why it’s efficient for these companies to have you specialized like that because you actually know that knowledge at the end of the day; how much this radius can be and how strong a material I have to use and all of these things, so you don’t make rookie errors again and again and again. That’s where when we see these freelance product designers and these things that are coming in without that level of experience and detail and why one of our rules is, “If you really want to accelerate your process and you want to make your product great, you better hire someone who’s been there and done it again and again and again,” because you cut out those rookie errors. That happens when you don’t have that bank of knowledge over the years.
I agree completely. I always tell people, “If you want to get in to doing this, you got to learn how stuff actually gets made.” You can’t just be like, “I can draw it on a computer.” If that works on a computer, real life is 100% more complicated. A lot of 3D printing, learning how to fit parts together, how much clearance between parts, it’s been a lot of trial and error. When I first did it, I didn’t give any clearance and I couldn’t get a post it into a hole. It wouldn’t fit. When I give it half a millimeter around, then it was too lose. I just have to reprint the part over and over. Until I finally got it right and I’ve learned these things and written them down, just the knowledge. Any manufacturing is the same way. You got to do it and learn it from doing.
Some companies, it depends on what their focus is. If they’re really a high design and a more expensive product, then you can have as many different screws as you want and you can have as many different molded parts or tools, whatever you need to make the job right. But what has happened, especially with North American manufacturing over the years, trying to take more and more labor out of it, they also have incentivized engineering departments, even design departments to use as many existing common parts as they can. That’s why you see a lot of times a lot of common parts. Even on cars, especially General Motors, Ford cars, those types of companies, especially in the past. They’ve gotten away from it a little bit today. But let’s say a taillight lens or something on one car would be the same actual part as on a bunch of other cars because they didn’t want to have to tool for another part.
It’s expensive to keep adding all these components for the tooling and then also inventory and per piece price because you’re buying lower volumes.
It’s very eye-opening. I’m glad you said what you said about you need to understand manufacturing if you’re going to get into engineering. I don’t think it happens enough. We know a lot of people, a lot of designers, and engineers who have never walked in to a factory, never seen how the parts are made, never leave from behind their computer. We’ve had this issue where we worked with people who were doing FEA analysis and things like that. We could say to them, “No, we know this part will work in manufacturing. We know we can make it. Just because your stress test is showing that it’s failing, it isn’t true.” We know that with the different materials, that it’s not calculating properly. We would go and do it and sure enough we would prove them right because we had enough history of having made these kinds of parts over the years, that we knew they would work. They’re not always accurate because it’s in not a real world situation.
There are so many things you got to get right to really do a true simulation. It’s very hard, even if you have ANSYS, which is one of the best out there. It’s one of the best modeling simulation programs in terms of stresses. It’s still a huge approximation based on tons of assumptions. It might be good for something where you’re building a giant pressure vessel that’s going to go at the bottom of the ocean, you can’t exactly test that. But for a lot of stuff, it’s better just to build a prototype and test it. Like I said, you’re using so many assumptions that if you get any of those wrong, it just throws the whole equation and formula out of whack and you could be just completely off.
I agree. I found that that type of analysis more often steers companies away from really moving their company or their products forward because they’re trusting inaccurate information. We’ve had that happen. Let’s say the base of a chair where we came up with a new concept for how to do that, which was pushing the edge of the envelope, no question, and a lot of people doubted it. You got to have enough R&D budget and the willingness to go and try and fail. When something you test fails, that’s when you really know what the limit of the material is and what can work. We’ve actually gone and made very inexpensive injection mold tooling out of cheap base material just to make parts, a few of them and test them, not intending it for production but to prove something out.
You’ve got to remember, a lot of these software, and that’s what you’re talking about, SOLIDWORKS and all of these software or all of these FEA software that do all of this, the issue is that they get some of their assumptions and data from the material companies. That’s a material company maybe in an ideal world. Maybe they’re using DuPont nylon or something like that. When we go and source in Asia, it’s half of good nylon and half of recycled. In a real world situation, you might actually have a failed part in that example because it’s not pure. Your assumptions have to match what you’re actually manufacturing. If you never walk on to that design floor, you never walk on that manufacturing floor, you never leave behind your computer, you won’t know that.
When I worked for Bosch, we assemble the dishwashers in the factory, in New Bern, North Carolina where I was working. A lot of the components were sourced. An outside supplier would make it because we didn’t actually injection mold anything in that factory. The control panels were being made in Raleigh. Then they were injection molding and shipping them in there. Everything was assembled. I actually went to the molder many, many times because a lot of time there were issues or had to inspect quality due to time constraints of getting parts in and we couldn’t wait for them to come in and then check them.
Also, I spend a lot of time down there on the factory floor, like I said, looking at the screws, like that one time of trying to figure out a way to combine two into one. There were times where there were issues with assembly, a button wasn’t fitting. I had a pair of calipers and was checking every other button to see how much variation in size there was because they had to fit into a hole. All kinds of things. You just learn how all the stuff gets made when you work in that environment. I would tell people, even if you want to be a freelance engineer or designer, just take a job first and learn some stuff because you’ll just be so much better at it and you could be working for a few years. All that stuff that I learned, I apply today.
You’ve got a healthy respect for the lack of CAD education that you got at your school. You educated yourself in SOLIDWORKS it seems is your primary program and design for manufacturing. Now, what happened?
Actually at Bosch, they’re using Unigraphics, so I had to learn a different CAD program. What I tell people out there, if you learn one parametric program, I can’t speak to everything, like ZBrush and some of these other more sculpting programs, but for something like SOLIDWORKS where you’re putting constraints on it as parametric, it’s not too difficult to go to another program. As the engineer when I first switched, it was a little bit difficult, only that I couldn’t find the same button. The extrude button is called something different in Unigraphics, but it does the same exact thing. All of these operations, it took me six months to figure out where all the buttons were without having to look it up every time. I thought it would be cool if somebody could make a software program where you could type in, “I used to work in SOLIDWORKS at company one. I need to do a lofted cut. How do I do that in Unigraphics?”
It’s a CAD translator.
Yeah. I had this business idea and I just abandoned it, you know how things are with time and where your priorities lie. I thought this would be such a great piece of software if you were like me because this was a problem I had going from Tetra to Bosch, was that I went from SOLIDWORKS to Unigraphics and I had to relearn it. If I just had that translator, it would have been so much faster to find the new buttons and do the same things.
I was thinking of it as a Rosetta Stone for different CAD programs. I think certain classes of them are similar. I think that your SOLIDWORKS and your Autodesk Inventor and some of those programs have a lot of similarity. There’s also similarity, like you said, the sculpting programs are a little maybe more intuitive as to how they do that. When I looked at the CAD program Blender, that thing does everything. It is a hugely complex program in terms of its interface. You’re right, it’s learning a new language. It could take you six months or more to switch from one to another.
Autodesk Fusion 360 is very interesting. I’ve taken a close look at that one recently, which is really got one foot in each of two different worlds. One in the parametric world of SOLIDWORKS and Inventor and that sort of thing, then one in more of I would say the Rhinoceros and the more NURBS-based, where you can push and pull things without constraints. That’s interesting to me. I’m actually learning that now. I think it’s maybe a good next step for me. Because I’ve been a Rhinoceros guy for a long time now, about fifteen years. As an industrial designer, I don’t care about constraints really. I don’t want to think about constraints. It just takes me out of my game designing something that’s artistic or aesthetic in any way. I understand why constraints are there. If you’re doing something that lends itself to that type of modeling, it certainly is a lot easier to make changes and have relationships between different parts. Especially if you have moving parts, things that have to work, it’s very cool.
I really would love to learn Blender. I downloaded it. It just came down to the amount of time just to learn something, like you said, six months. I just couldn’t go away from my regular work to try to learn. I just didn’t have the time. It would be nice hopefully in the future where I can optimize my whole business and get everything running like clockwork to where I can dedicate half an hour a day or an hour a day just going in and learning it. It just hasn’t been a reality yet. But I really do want to at least explore some other programs because there’s a lot of value to them. In designing certain shapes or different products, it might be easier to use it. I just didn’t have the time to really dive in. I did use Fusion 360 for a little bit.
Let me get back to where I started CAD Design Help, which is what I’m doing now. I’m at Bosch. I’m doing that job, and the same thing, burnout, tired of the same thing. This is the point where I really wanted to do something different, be my own boss. I never really liked having my time controlled in a sense that, “You’re going to be sitting at this desk from 8 to 5, Monday through Friday.” That’s just going to be your life. I didn’t like that. The work itself wasn’t interesting to me. You guys have worked in a big corporate office, how politics are. The guy who was up in-charge of me got promoted and he changed the whole department. He stuck half the engineers into paperwork basically, and that’s what I got. The other half of the engineers got design. The last year or so, I didn’t really get to design anything. I was just doing paperwork all day. You would not even imagine the amount of paperwork.
We had a meeting for engineering change notifications. We called it ECN meeting or ECO meeting. Let’s say I want to change this control panel from half millimeter wall thickness on some area to 0.75. There had to be a form for that. It used to be one form for the first couple of years. Then there was a form for the form. It became so many forms that they had to take some engineers away from actually designing stuff and doing real engineering to filling out papers. This is just a small example. There are tons of other papers. It just got so bad. I just really didn’t want to do this anymore. It was not what I signed up for. Even though I became very good at Excel, this is not what my passion was.
Long story short, I was looking for another career. Like I said, I wanted to be my own boss, start a company, but I thought, “I never had a sales job. I never knew how to sell anything. Why don’t I just make a whole change here? It’s not permanent, but just at least temporarily and learn how to sell.” I ended up moving to Charlotte, North Carolina. I wanted to get to a bigger city. New Bern, where Bosch was, was a very small town. Charlotte’s got a million people, a lot more going on. I’m only 33 now, when I moved here I was 29. I really wanted to get into a bigger city. I moved here, I took a totally different job selling technology. It’s a couple different jobs. One was high-end digital cameras, more for business-to-business sales. The other job was selling audiovisual equipment for business-to-business sales as well. If you have a conference room and you need a TV and an audio system, I was selling that.
I only took those jobs. It was totally unrelated to engineering, but I took it to learn how to sell. I think it was worth it because I really learned the art for the cold call, which is huge when you’re first getting started. I learned just how to talk to people better, just personal skills. I’ve always been an outgoing person, but I just got a lot better at it working a sales job, making calls all day. That’s when I started CAD Design Help on the side. A big thing for me was reading The 4-Hour Workweek and The $100 Startup. Those two books really kicked my butt in the gear to actually do something. Because it was always my goal, not always, but probably after the first three or four years working in a corporate office and not being able to really go out and do the things I want to do because I had to be at an office every weekday, and not being able to control my time. Reading those two books said, “Why are you still not taking action? Do something.”
Those books are great because they really laid out the steps. The $100 Startup says, “If you’ve got a passion, as long as there’s some intersection between what you like to do and a way to monetize it, you have an option for a business.” They say in the book, “If you like to eat pizza, probably no one’s going to pay you to eat pizza.” That’s not a good example, but if you’ve got engineering skills and you like designing things, you can probably start a business around that because you like doing it and there are people willing to pay to get stuff made, to get stuff created. That’s where I got started. I actually built the website when I was at Bosch. All I did was pay for some AdWords and just didn’t go anywhere. Nobody contacted me. The website wasn’t great. It wasn’t built on WordPress. It was built with GoDaddy’s free website builder and it wasn’t optimized for a SEO and all that stuff. No one was finding me. No one responded to my AdWords. I wasted $1,000. Pretty much nothing happened. When I moved to Charlotte, I stopped pursuing it for a while when I was working sales, but then after reading those two books, I got back into it again.
The very first client I got was actually in person. There was an inventors’ group here called Inventors’ Network of the Carolinas, INOTC.org is the website. I go to a meeting. They have a meeting once a month. I go there and the very first time, I’m just talking to people afterwards, networking. There’s a guy there who says, “I have a designer who I was working with and he disappeared on me. I need someone to finish this file. Can you do it?” I said, “Yeah, absolutely. I can.” I didn’t even have CAD software.
There’s a great business lesson there. It’s something that I’ve done many, many times. It’s not entirely truthful, that’s true. But in business, sometimes you’ve got to do some things. There’s been a company that I desperately wanted to meet with, and maybe they wouldn’t have given me a meeting just because I asked them for one. But if you call them up or you email and say, “I’ve got to be in your city for another thing anyway on this date, would you be willing to meet with me the day before or the day after?” They’ll say, “If you’re in town, sure, I’ll meet with you.” It takes down a barrier to getting a meeting. Of course, they were the only thing I went there for. I just booked it on whether they could do it the day before or the day after. Anyway, good lesson for people starting a business. Sometimes you have to act a little bigger than you are.
It wasn’t really untruthful because I could help him out. I had the skills, I just had to figure out a way to get some software and do it. I knew there were options. When I started looking into it, that’s when I found Fusion 360. This is just my very first client and I really didn’t want to pay the $5,000 for SOLIDWORKS. I was like, “I can learn Fusion.” Like I said, I used two other CAD programs. It was a little slow at the start but I was able to help the guy out and get the thing done. Then from there, basically, I kept getting a few clients from that group, referrals, but it was still really slow. It was more of a side hustle. I was still working the sales job and I was doing this at night.
This was the big changer for me. Time period-wise, now we’re in 2015, July. There’s this website I stumbled upon called Thumbtack. Before this, I was trying to find some freelance work on Upwork, Elance, and it was really tough. There were just tons of designers and competition around the world. A lot of people there are looking for the lowest priced guy and people from India and stuff. I really couldn’t compete with them, plus it was such a crowded space. Even if I was the best guy for the job, with 500 people responding to every job, there’s almost no chance that the person hiring was going to find you, especially if you didn’t have a lot of reviews, which I had none because I was brand new to the site. I really wasn’t getting traction.
When Thumbtack.com rolled around, it was a big game changer. Thumbtack is a lot bigger now, but back then, two years ago, there really weren’t a lot of people on there. I love their business models. No matter what job you need done, a customer puts in a request. They limit it to five pros responding. You have a 20% chance as long as you get respond fast enough. This is where I excelled. Maybe it’s my phone addiction problem to my own benefit, but when somebody would put one in, it would pop up on my phone. I would respond immediately to everything. I started getting traction right away on the site. I started getting people hiring me. I think it’s all down to the numbers. You’ve got a one in five chance, and so it’s a lot better than one in 500. That site really kick started everything.
It got to the point where was getting so much work off of that. My website was starting to do a little better was well. Back in 2015, it was mostly Thumbtack. It just got to the point where I was working that job and I was just like, “I’m working 80 hours a week. Why am I still working this job? It doesn’t make any sense.” I hadn’t totally replaced my salary yet but I also have 40 hours unavailable to work on this. I should just make the leap. It’s the hardest part to do when you have just a guaranteed paycheck. But my ultimate goal was to do this full-time. This is where I like the 4-Hour Workweek a lot. He says, “Look at it from the standpoint of, what are you going to regret the most?” What’s really the truly bigger risk here? Is it a bigger risk to be unhappy and be going to some job you don’t want to go to, with the downside being if you quit, you got to go back and just take a job again? Or is the bigger risk you fail? I can always just go back and get another job if I didn’t succeed.
I was like, “If somehow Thumbtack doesn’t work or I stop getting hired or whatever, I’ve got enough in savings that I can go probably a whole year anyways without even getting any work. Why not give it a shot? Because if I don’t do it, I’ll never know.” That’s basically what happened. Because of the fact that I was gaining momentum and things were going well with my freelance work, I just decided to leave that sales job. This was in October 2015. From there, I’ve just really grown. When I first got started, I didn’t even have a 3D printer. I was just getting hired to do CAD design. What I realized was everybody needed a prototype after I did their product. I had a friend who had some 3D printers. I was just outsourcing it to him, “Here are some work.” I just said, “I’m missing the whole revenue stream here. I need to get on this.” The very first 3D printer I got was the Cube 3, which is a huge regret.
They abandoned that platform too.
It’s so bad that they actually abandoned it.
That is just another great lesson that I really want to point out to our audiences out there. It’s really a great idea for you in a business model to go out there and outsource to someone else. When you realize, “I have enough business coming in. My profit margin would be better to bring it in-house and the return on investment of buying a piece of equipment is now there for me, or will be there within the next 90 days if I scale this up and bring it in-house.” That’s a really smart way to go about it. Because there’s no reason to go buy the equipment and hope they will come. Hope is not a plan. Making sure that you have the market and making sure that you can service it, even if you’re making no money in that model, you’re proving out that market product fit. That what you have to sell them, the market really wants. That’s a great way to into it.
The very first 3D printer I got was the Cube. The reason I bought that machine was I was looking around and I didn’t want to spend a bunch of money upfront, because what if I’m not good enough at doing this? What if it’s taking up too much of my time? Whatever it is, I was just looking for something that was easy to use. They really grabbed me with the easy-to-use thing and that’s the reason I bought it. I super regret it because it took me literally two months to get anything on there. Even after I got it to work, I didn’t realize that they marked up the material five times the actual market price, so I was paying way more than what I should be paying for half a kilogram of PLA, for example. It never was able to run ABS at all.
I was able to get it to work. I was able to make some parts for clients. But I quickly realized that it just wasn’t a sufficient machine. I’ve actually got two more machines since then. The next one I purchased was the Fusion3 F400, which is huge, almost industrial. It’s still a desktop machine but it’s totally different than the Cube. The latest one is an Ultimaker 2+.
We hear good things about that. Ultimaker has certainly been around a long time. I think that was a good purchase. Did you really just find though in the market that really the biggest gap was the CAD knowledge gap, and that led you to create CAD Design Help and focus on that area? Why did you decide to build the site about helping people with CAD? I understand your experience, and that’s very informative, but why this and not some other facet of what you do?
It’s a good question. I never thought about it that way. The reason I picked the name first of all, I did some research way back and I’m glad I picked the name. I’m actually surprised I got it, to be honest with you, it wasn’t taken. Like I said, I was looking at a way to start a business and it seems like a natural fit. I knew how to do CAD and I know that there are a lot of people out there, inventors and companies that need help with this stuff, so it just seems like the perfect fit. Originally, like I said, it was just CAD. But then over time, as I realized people need prototypes, that’s where I really gotten into the 3D printing and now I’m doing both. I do other prototypes as well. I’ve done some stuff with electronics. I’ve integrated that in the 3D prints, for example. That’s where I’m at now.
Your site certainly does cover CAD, 3D printing, issues around prototyping and inventions too. You definitely strayed into inventions and all that. That’s great. These are things that a lot of engineering creative types come across or cross section of all these issues. Where are you taking the site now?
Things have really grown. It’s funny because I think you guys and myself are the only designers or engineers who also run a podcast as far as I know. I’m a really big believer in SEO and producing a lot of content, because it just improves your rank in Google. I’d rather people find me than have to respond to Thumbtack. In fact, I don’t know if my rank has risen or if more people are responding to my online, “Submit your information form.” But I get way more people contacting me now for business, “Can you give me a quote on this drawing? Can you make this part for me?” than I’ve ever had in the last two months. I’ve actually really cut back on Thumbtack. I just haven’t had the time to do those jobs. I can only take on so much.
From a business standpoint, I don’t want to really grow indefinitely. I want to be able to keep a certain amount of my time free. I’m going to always run this business essentially location-independent. I just run it out of my house. I use contractors to help me get some of the CAD work done, as well as overload 3D printing, if I’ve got too much of that. Everybody that works for me works from their house too, so we don’t have any issues there. It keeps the overhead low. I’ve scaled to the point where I don’t know if I can scale it any more or I wouldn’t want to scale it any more. Basically, I’m booked with all of my time between doing quotes for people and doing the business, and doing the podcast and stuff that I do, and writing the blogs to keep my website updated. Then also designing and 3D printing. I’ve got other people doing for me too. I don’t think I can manage any more people. I’ve got about four or five people.
We totally understand that. That’s exactly where we were a couple of years ago. When we started the podcast actually, we were at capacity for ourselves, the amount of time and amount of people we could manage, and the amount of clients we could shift and manage. I do want to make a throw real quick so that people understand. Your podcast is called The Engineering Entrepreneur Podcast. What we found, and I think that’s what you’re finding right now, is the podcast was leading you the right clients because they were self-selecting through your podcast. They’re listening to you and they’re saying, “This is the right guy for me.” That helps a lot in you not taking many calls, putting lots of bids out. That should actually improve your time and your sales conversion rate too because they’re already coming to you saying, “I know I want to work with you. I know what you have to say. I’ve learned from you already.” That’s a really great way to use a podcast. We don’t actually use it on this podcast that way because we don’t sell our services for 3D printing, but we use it in our product design business. We use it that way as well.
I was going to ask why you guys decided to start the podcast.
We knew we wanted to do more business in the 3D printing space and we wanted to establish ourselves as expert there and also build an audience to communicate with, and it worked. It continues to work. We now have a whole website just around 3D printing, 3D Start Point. The podcast is a good way to grow a business and to market that business as well.
I agree completely. I’ve been on about three other podcasts now. I don’t know if you’ve heard of these. I was on the Side Hustle Show. It’s all about people with side hustles, which makes sense because that was actually right around when I started this business, at least full-time. Then I’ve been on one called Built In A Day podcast, which is a pretty interesting one, where they test a business idea in one day. I had a product called the Selfie-Glove. If you look up Built In A Day, it’s episode nine I was on. It’s the Selfie-Glove. I go over how I tested it. It’s pretty interesting, this product. Another podcast was The Engineering Career Coach Podcast. Basically, if you’re an engineer and you want to get some advice, Anthony Fasano runs the podcast about that.
It all comes back to what you’re saying, to establish yourself as an expert at an area you need to publish a lot of content, whether it’s written or it’s a podcast. It really helps to establish your credibility. You learn a lot. I’ve really enjoyed it. I don’t make money in my podcast at all. I’ve done 24 episodes so far, but I’ve actually just really enjoyed just talking to people about everything in this industry. I just have a passion for it. I’ve done episodes with beginners who just have questions about, how does a 3D printer work? I’ve done episodes with guys who are super experts in CAD. This guy Will Gibbons, He has used twenty different CAD programs. He’s an expert in KeyShot and renderings. I learned a ton about that. I’ve interviewed a bunch of people that do 3D printing. I know that one guy from 3D Hubs, he’s testing all these new materials because he runs so much material for people. He’s got 30 printers that he’s getting all these experimental materials from the manufacturers and told me all about these cool new materials that are coming out, all these different things.
That’s one the reasons that I kept going with the podcast. At the beginning, it was a grind. I was like, “Why am I doing this? I’m losing money. I’m paying somebody to edit these.” I still enjoy doing it. I think eventually, if I build up the audience, I can at least maybe bring on a sponsor and breakeven or something. I think the main reason is I like doing it. Number two, it’s establishing yourself as an expert and people are going to find you more likely and it’s just going to help you root business.
Scott, on your website, CAD Design Help, I see 3D Print the Future TV show casting call. What is that?
This is something we’re trying to get started and hopefully we’ll get it. What we essentially want to do, this is a project I’m taking on with myself as the host of the show and my podcast editor, Gina Watson with Motion Picture Video out of Florida, they’re the company who edits my podcast. They said, “We produce a bunch of TV shows.” They produced a lot of videos and stuff. They’ve done really well on Amazon Fire, which is like Netflix. “We think a show all about 3D printing and invention and design and all the stuff that you’re doing would be just incredible. Why don’t we put together a 12-episode season one and go from there?” That’s what we’re doing. We’re at four or five people signed up so far. I will say, disclaimer, we are going to have to charge a little bit of money, probably about $500 per person, just to cover the production cost. Because we’re going to have to fly to wherever the guests are. I’m going to have to fly there and we’re going to have to make this show. We’re not trying to make money out of people in the show. We’re just trying to cover the cost.
I think that the people in the show are going to get great value because you’re going to have your brand out there. We’re going to go over your product, show how it’s made. Show the 3D printing of it, the prototype. Hopefully be able to go to some injection molders and show that process. The whole point of the show is to show people how this is done. I’m sure you guys know the movie Print the Legend. It’s like that but not so much drama. It’s to be more educational. That movie did a decent job of showing how different machines worked to some degree and they explained the history of some of these companies. It’s a piggy-back off of that a little bit. But this is going to be a lot more about digging in and showing the details of how stuff gets made.
It’s like your podcast or my podcast, where we’re going over how things get made, going over CAD, going over 3D printing, but it’s going to be with the visual. We’re going to actually have a show about it. We’ll show the printer and we’ll explain what a layer line is and probably do an episode on how all the 3D printers can fail and all the different things that go wrong. I think anybody interested would jump on this. I’m hoping that anybody listening to this, if you’re interested in coming on, you just reach out to me or to you guys. My email is info@CADDesignHelp.com. I think I got about four or five people now on the list. We’re looking for twelve, total.
Scott, we so enjoyed talking with you about all sorts of the path of an engineer, the path of a 3D print designer. It’s just so interesting to see how you’ve grown over those couple of years, and how you’ve shifted into just providing different services and things that fit your lifestyle and fit the business you love to do.
It was a lot of fun talking with you guys. I hope we can stay in touch and maybe even do another one some time.
Thanks again, Scott. We’ll talk soon.
CAD Design Help – Final Thoughts
The idea is CAD Design Help is his business. This is more like CAD design and engineering support. He’s your resource to be able to use that and that’s what he’s really providing. It’s not like he’s teaching you CAD over his site. I just want to be really clear about what he’s doing there. I think this is really so critically important. Having someone who’s been there and done that and really understands how it works, I can’t tell you how many prototypes I review, how many inventor stuff that I see that I know are never going to price out. That’s because they were engineered and designed badly to begin with.
Once you get to that stage as an inventor, this is what happens all the time, they get to this and they’ve got this prototype and they’re holding it in their hand. They will not change that design for anything. It’s not just that they’re attached to it because they’re holding it and they think of it as their own and now it’s a physical thing. But they also spent a ton of money getting to that point in their minds, whether it’s a lot of money or not, but that’s how they perceive that as a lot of money, a lot of time, effort and money. For them, they cannot see the idea that it won’t work in the current formation. Changing it just is not possible.
I used to try to talk them into changing it. I used to try to work with them to get that to happen. Now, basically when I find somebody who’s intractable like that, we just don’t take them on. They’re just not for us. They’re not a fit and we move on. We’re like, “If you’re not willing to change your design, I cannot make it cost for you.” It will not happen. It will fail and I don’t want to fail in the process that we use, so we just turn them away. But it’s really nice to see someone who understands that from the get-go, who understands engineering for manufacturing.
I think that was very educational for some of our audiences. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are lots of engineers who listen to this podcast who this was not news to them. But I think there are a lot of other people who are in their path, being educated in what they’re going to do as an engineer or a designer or some other facet of product design development involving 3D printing. They don’t realize, when you get a job at a corporation involved in product development, you may work on 5% of a certain product. You don’t get to work on all of it.
I even remember early on in my life as a teenager, I thought I wanted to be an architect at one point. What did I do? I went and got a job, part-time, emptying trash baskets at first in an architectural firm, because I wanted to see what it was like for the other architects working in that business. What was that job really like? Was I really going to like it? There, the people that first started training me in the earliest form of AutoCAD back in the mid ‘80s. There were a lot of things I liked about it. But at the end of the day, after four years of doing that and when I get to college I realized, “I don’t think I want to be an architect.” Because I saw what these guys were doing and there is a parallel here.
Some architects were focused on landscape architecture. Others were focused on commercial buildings, laying the pipe that goes throughout the facility. You could design that day in, day out on every single facility. Because there are a lot of risks involved in learning it new every time. When they get someone, they train them in a particular area. It’s no different than in engineering and making sure that you don’t make those rookie errors because people get hurt in the process if you’ve done that. It’s a high risk for that architect to be training someone on all the time in a particular area, the same thing in engineering. This is what you don’t really realize. Unless you’re running the company, most times you don’t get to have your hand in every project or every portion of it. You’ve got to move up to that management level for that to happen. Then you’re usually not engineering and designing, you’re managing.
I ended up going to college for Industrial Design. Most of our audiences who have been with us for a while know that. Tracy’s family lived in Rochester, New York at that time, so we would go to Rochester to visit once in a while. There were a couple of big corporations there. The two biggest corporations there were Kodak and Xerox. Xerox, I remember going there and meeting with somebody because Tracy’s father knew somebody at Xerox. “I’ll go meet with them and see what they’re doing with Industrial Design.” They walked me through this building to this tiniest office that had no windows in the middle of a building and that’s where their industrial designer. This particular industrial designer they took me to see was sitting in this room, so small, four white walls with not much on it. They’re a big corporation, they don’t let you do whatever you want in the space. He was just sitting there, sketching these forms of Xerox machines, of general business size copiers. He’s doing these nice little sketches and I can tell from the look of it, “They’re never going to build that. That’s not the type of stuff they do. What is this guy doing here?”
I could not see myself in that environment, sketching the appearance of what these drawers for paper look like that you pull out and throw more paper in and close them. Just the very idea of it just scared the heck out of me. I did not want to be that type of designer. It’s not the immediate gratification we have from 3D printing. Not even close. Maybe that’s why I’ve ended up doing what I’m doing. In order to work on more of a whole product, you really have to work for smaller companies. Industrial design is a great profession because you see every aspect of a product. From start to finish, you get involved in it usually. It’s not everywhere, but as a consultant working for a company that doesn’t have the budget to hire a whole staff of people that specializes.
That’s really something that I want to mention that Scott talked about early on. It’s really one of those things where you don’t get the luxury of being able to build something and hope that they will come. We hear this all the time, “I’ve made this great little 3D print product and I’ve got it up on Thingiverse. I’m on Fiverr. I’m on Thumbtack. I’m on these places. I’m on 3D Print Life Support and on 3D Hubs. I’m not getting any traffic.” We hear this all the time. There’s no business. Just putting yourself in a directory isn’t going to be the be-all and end-all, unless somebody is driving traffic to that directory and traffic to you specifically. Scott hustled. That’s the example. He hustled.
There’s only about 2% on Etsy, on 3D Hubs, on any one of those places, I guarantee you there’s only 2% that actually do any legitimate business enough to support themselves on it, significantly high volume. It’s across pretty much every platform. I know the majority of listings up there are just up there and doing something now and again and not covering their cost. We’ve gotten that number from people who sell 3D print items. Only 2% of the sellers do anything, only 2% of the product.
I remember Pinshape was telling us that even in the earlier days when they had paid models and free models and that very few people were really into it. Even in the free models, just driving enough traffic to it, it’s really only 2% of the sellers or 2% of the profiles ever get enough traction. Those are the hustlers. Those are the ones that are driving traffic. They’re responding really quickly to proposals, just like Scott was doing on Thumbtack. They’re getting a lot of five-star reviews, a lot of downloads, and that in and of itself has its own self-fulfilling prophecy. It means you come up to the top of the search engine. You’re always there so you’re the first check out. Then those reviews help you get people to just say, “Why not try this guy? Everybody else did. Look at how many downloads it has. Look at how many great images there are.”
These are the things that help to fill that. You must do that work. The site will not do it for you. The location is not important, to be honest with you. It’s just a way of consolidating into the right traffic that’s already looking for what you have to sell. From that, you have to attract their attention. He learned how to do that because he went into sales. He taught himself sales. I think that was one of the smartest things that he has done. He realized he had a weakness. He had a gap in his experience. He realized he needed to change that situation, so he went out and got a job. That’s one way to do it. You don’t necessarily have to go about it the same way that he did. There are ways you can study sales or get training that is not just going and doing it, but good for him.
We got that on the job too. Even from my very first position and job at Milliken & Company. They would send designers on the sales call. We were in the partnership group. We happened to work in companies that believed in that cross function. Designers listen to what the sales people were missing. You made better designs for the next iteration. Because we were always in an iterative design business, that’s how it worked. We watched bad sales happen. Sometimes we gave the presentations. Eventually, we took over the presentations because we were better at it. That comes from years of training and learning.
You need to put yourself out there. You’ve got to get some sales. You’ve got to get some marketing. You’ve got to do that if you want to be in this business as the source for something, as the source for design files, as the source for engineering, as the source for 3D print services. You’ve got to get yourself out there and do that. That’s such great lessons that Scott has given by his example here and what he’s doing with CAD Design Help. It’s really great to see, learning about his career path, what he’s done and what he’s passionate about, what he wants to do. He provides this great resource, which is very useful for our audience or anyone in the industry, I think it’s a good resource for certain things.
Something that he didn’t touched on and we probably didn’t touch on in the intro, he’s an inventor. He has a couple of patents and he understands inventors. If you’re there and you really don’t want to handle the engineering and the design help, he’s the perfect guy for that. He’s got the perfect service model because he gets you already. Even using his site or his podcast as resource, you could help yourself do some of those things. I think it’s also part of what he’s interested in doing. He has a little bit of both going on.
I want you not to miss. If you were trying to get yourself out there, if you’ve got great projects, if you’re working on great product ideas, he’s offered you up a marketing opportunity at the end of our call there, 3D Print the Future TV show. This is a great way for you to get exposure. $500 is honestly a really cheap marketing investment. I’ll be impressed if that number stays that low. Probably two or three times that would still be reasonable enough, but for the exposure it’s getting, people spend a whole lot more than that in a week or a month on PR for something new they’re doing. To me, if you have a product or a project that is worthy of being the subject of a TV show, then you want to apply. I know that they certainly are looking for more projects.
That’s a really interesting model of doing it. You’ve got to get someone to see and understand what you do. This is the hard part if you’re providing a service. This is why Scott started his podcast, The Engineering Entrepreneur Podcast, because it’s hard to explain what you can do for someone, and then get the value from that; Fiverr and Upwork and all of these sites. It sounds snotty to say that I hate them, but I hate what they’ve done for some really good people that are on them. Because by the whole, you’re being associated. It’s no different than how we complain about Thingiverse and these site repositories as well. There are so much junk to sift through to get to the diamonds in there that it ruins for the diamonds. It takes the shine off of them. I really feel like these sites have done disservice to good design work, good engineers, good service providers doing 3D print work.
You really have to find a way to stand out there and that’s going to require you spend some money. You really put some effort into it. He’s using a podcast. It’s a hard road. We know because we do it. It’s a lot of work to do a podcast. But if you can find a way to converse with people so they understand who you are and what you can do for them over time, they get to know you. That’s really where he’s becoming valuable.
We’ve had a few listeners reach out to us and submit ideas for podcast subjects which we have put into our calendar for the next month or two. If you have an idea or a subject you’d either like to hear about, you want us to go out and find it, or you have a suggestion for someone you know, then reach out to us. There are a couple of places you can do it. The bottom of the home page on 3DStartPoint.com or under the podcast section, there’s a way to submit an idea for a topic for a future show. If you want to reach out to us on social media, you can go to @3DStartPoint. Facebook is primarily where we do it, but we do also have @3DStartPoint Twitter page as well. Don’t be shy folks. We actually got a lot more engagement with our audiences lately, comments on blog posts, a lot more happening on social media and also directly on our website. We’re thrilled, we’re happy to see that. Keep that up, please. We want to make this relevant to you.
Thanks again guys. This is Tracy and Tom on the WTFFF 3D Printing podcast.
- CAD Design Help
- The Engineering Entrepreneur Podcast
- 3D Print the Future TV show
- The 4-Hour Workweek
- The $100 Startup
About Scott Tarcy
My name is Scott Tarcy and I am the President of CADdesignhelp.com. My company consists of myself and other engineers who create CAD files, designs and prototypes for inventors and companies. Typically we make prototypes by 3D printing. We have a total of 50 years of industry experience (adding up all employee experience). My company is the highest ranked CAD design and prototyping company in the United States on Thumbtack.com
Personally I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering with 10 years of experience with large international corporations in design engineering roles. In 2015 I decided to start my company and this is what I have been doing since. I have 2 granted patents and many inventions. In addition to my main work for clients, I sell my own 3D printed creations on Ebay, Amazon, and Etsy.
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