We’ve got an interview today with one of the earliest adopters of 3D printing and innovating with 3D printing in business that really shows the power of 3D printing. He’s an early adopter and a mover and a shaker, he really helped to push it forward. He’s the former founder of Quick Parts, Ron Hollis, and their quoting system is basically the foundation of what we see so often in that instant quote and understanding how your part are going to come out what your parts are going to cost. He and his partner sold their company to 3D Systems but his foundation for how he built it is so amazing and how he learned about it. He is a product developer like us so there’s just great synergy there.
I met Ron on LinkedIn and we were commenting on the same articles all of the time and we had a lot of the same view points, so that’s how we connected. We’ve met a lot of people on LinkedIn, if you’re not using LinkedIn to connect with people in business, it’s underutilized and you should definitely do it. There’s some great business lessons in this interview in general, especially when it comes to doing new things, striking new ground, and paradigms that you are worried about. You are going to hear in this interview how there were a couple of things they were really worried about in their business plan in the evolution of Quick Parts, they thought it was going to be really bad for them. What they worried about happened, and it ended up improving their business, not hurting it and that shows the power of 3D printing.
Listen to the podcast here:
Estimating the Power of 3D Printing with Ron Hollis
Well Ron thanks so much for joining us on WTFFF?! I don’t think we’ve ever had someone on our podcast who has had quite as much 3D printing experience as you do. Your experience has lasted a couple of decades. Tell us what got you started.
Thank you, glad to be here. Long, long ago I finished a degree in Mechanical Engineering out of Alabama and got the opportunity to work for the Boeing Company in Huntsville, Alabama. We were on the space station program so this was circa 1990. It was the beginning of that and it was pretty exciting. One of the things that opened the door to this advanced technologies in product development, of course as a kid I didn’t understand what that meant, but I got introduced to CAD modeling in 1990-1991. Which very few people in the world knew anything about it then, because CAD at that time was predominantly auto-CAD, 2D electronic data, or just paper and pencil.
In that, at the training center that the state had produced, they had a stereo lithography machine. I was over there training one day and I walked over by this lab and I saw the machine in there with its dancing blue lights, and the whole “do not enter” sign on the door. As a kid you just see that as a kind warning, so I just went barging in. There’s this machine in there and I ask the guy what the machine is and he says, “Stereo lithography,” and I say, “Stereo what?” Anyway he tells me it’s a rapid prototyping machine and it’s going to take your CAD data and make plastic parts. It was an amazing experience.
I knew at that point right there, that the rest of my life would be something involved with this technology. So I begged for a job and of course they had no positions. Then serendipity stepped in, and a couple of weeks later, that guy moved on and I took his job. That was the beginning, and this was like 1993, into the world of 3D printing but back then we called it rapid prototyping.
Thanks to listener Eduardo Martini for sending us this awesome video of 3D printing in the ’90s. We sure have come a long way!
I think that we had similar experiences, because we were at Rhode Island School of Design at that time and doing things like advanced CAD. At that time they were one of the test schools that was doing some of that work at the same time. We were getting some of that early experience as well but we didn’t get exposure to SLA and stereo lithography or rapid prototyping until we were out in the workplace. We knew about stereo lithography but at that time it was so expensive to get involved in we couldn’t touch it really.
You then translated that into quite a series of work experiences and doing things to the point at which you founded Quick Parts. Tell us a little about why that was such a transition for businesses.
Sure, I’ll give a little bit more description to it because the journey through the 90s was an amazing decade for two pieces of product development. My passion was for product development, I loved the idea of taking and idea and turning it into a product to be marketed and sold.
We do too, that’s our specialty so we love that.
If it’s in your genes and what you love, well I consider it God-like and it’s amazing. Well the 90s was a fascinating decade and so transformative in product development in that you had CAD solid modeling evolving to the point where you could have high iteration design that was very efficient and very effective. Which topped off with Solidworks truly democratizing access to powerful CAD technologies. Parallel you had rapid prototyping or additive manufacturing evolving into a technology that was accessible by more and more people. The materials got better. The machines got better. It was all technology, stereo lithography, FDM – fused deposition modeling, all of them were evolving.
What happened was, and I had a couple of companies in that decade, I spent the early time when I was at the advanced technology center with a passion of how do you make money with this technology. That was really my focus and I was an engineering geek. What happened was there was no tools, one of the first tools we developed was a build time estimator so when you take your part to build, you’d know how long it would take. We didn’t have that at that time, believe it or not. Today you’d ask why do you want to have it? But it turns out it’s not a trivial piece of development – it became a foundation of how to take this technology forward.
A couple of design companies worked heavily with inventors, worked heavily with product development companies. In the late 1990s I had a design company, we were actually one of the first labs for office printers which were the stepping stones to 3D printing. It was taking 3D printing or additive manufacturing out of the labs and putting it into the engineers office. Today, that’s common. Late 1990s, it was a $50,000 machine that only a few people would think about buying. When we tried to sell those what I saw was that there was still an inefficiency in the product development process when it became the transition between procurement of prototypes for design verification in that stage. If you didn’t have an office printer, and even if you did, the process of procurement was highly inefficient. Which meant we would use FTP or burn tapes and you would send your CAD data to a service bureau and a day or two would go by and you’d get a quote. You’d be waiting two or three days just for a quote for a process that needs to happen faster.
The other piece that we saw in the late 1990s was if you were a service bureau, your ideal customer had and email – if they had email – or they worked for a company like GE or Boeing or Herman Miller, a large company so you know it’s a company that’s going to spend money. So if you were just a normal product development company that no one had ever heard of but you could still be a viable product development company, you had a harder time getting in and getting traction in that because it wasn’t efficient. Mid 1999 the internet was red hot. Me and my cofounder, we solved this problem and there was this epiphany of why don’t we merge these two technologies of rapid prototyping and the internet and make is such that anybody could have access to the technology by making the procurement process so cheap that you didn’t care where I worked. You didn’t care if I was at Boeing or just an inventor down the street.
That’s what online instant quoting was about it was to make so an engineer can log into CAD, uploads the data, gets the quote, and buys. The cost of sale plummets for the service bureau such that they can have a much larger customer base. That became the technological differentiator of what became QuickParts.com.
It seems that you guys filed for a patent in 2000 and I see it issued in 2007, that’s quite a long time. We’ve got a bunch of patents ourselves, and seven years is a long time. I’ve read through your patent, cause I do that and I understand these things, and it’s a great patent in that it’s on the method by which you are doing this online. It’s not about the code or the software, it’s about the process. Which I imagine was very new for the Patent and Trademark Office at that time.
Well, yeah that was an experience, it took significantly longer and had like four rejections. The first one you are all worked up but your attorney says that’s just normal. The second one, well that’s not so normal. I lost so much respect for the USPTO and the whole thing, they would reject it for some little things and they just didn’t understand the patent. I’m not a business method patent guy, even though I’ve got one I am not necessarily an advocate of it. But it’s what I filed and what I fought for.
But the last one, six or seven years later went to D.C. with my attorney and sat with a guy and told him what I just told you how the engineer goes online, uploads CAD data, gets the quote and he buys. He says, “Wow that’s amazing!” Those were the words out of that guys mouth. I’m like, well no kidding that’s why I’m here! Anyway, after that it was like instantly stamped so I could get something like six months later.
Right. I mean you know this podcast is more about 3D printing and not so much patenting, but you know the patent process is not easy and sometimes it is a negotiation with the examiner at the PTO and it sometimes takes going there and having a meeting. I’ve had conference calls with them at times, and you did the right thing. Here’s the big point, that this patent is truly a unique thing and it really was, I would think, the lynchpin for that business Quick Parts. You had a method of doing something no one had thought of before and that no one else was going to be able to do to the point where you not only built a big business around it – which by the way I was a Quick Parts customer back in the day for some of our conventional product development before desktop 3D printing. And then the reality of it is, it was seen as incredibly valuable because 3D Systems acquired your company.
Yes, we did sell to 3D Systems for a number of reasons. The patent actually was a small piece. I’m not a litigious guy, really what we wanted to do with the patent, we filed for it and we thought it was right, and my philosophy with patents is I think you still have to fight in the market. You have to have to compete and you win that way. If you have intellectual property that you can leverage that’s good, but we never actually stopped anyone from actually having instant quoting or tried. We just wanted credit for the patent. We built our business around being the best in customer service and the delivery of custom parts to our customers. That’s what built the value of Quick Parts.
With all of that we built a technology platform that fully integrated the customer experience from marketing, first engagement, web experience, all the way to finance and invoicing. It was a highly efficient process. That’s actually what the value ad that 3D wanted. They were the first ones who called me up to tell me they were going to buy my patents on purpose, because they said, “Sue us.”
That happens all the time when they have more money than you.
That’s exactly what it is. I knew I would run out of money before they did. I said, well that’s okay, we will just beat you in the market. And that’s what we did. That’s a different story, but it’s where it comes about. We are proud of the fact. It was an experience. It was on my life plan, just one of those things. It was great that it was aligned with Quick Parts and it made people aware. When I started this in ’99 with my co-founder Michael, everyone said we would not be successful. That no engineer would ever ever upload proprietary confidential data over the internet. It was not going to happen. That was the biggest fear. I mean I bet the house, we put it all on the line. It was burn the bridges.
We started the idea in June, outfitted it in September, launched January 1st of 2000. You guys can remember 2000, it was also Y2K – grea,t great time. Our first sale was to the Metro Electronics in Florida December 31st, 1999. We knew them as a customer and I asked if they would be interested, and they said that sounds great. So we set them up an account and they logged in a bought. My co-owner and I were like we put all this sweat and energy in this, we at least want to sell one part online before the internet blows up.
I kind of remember that night in our business as well, because we had an internet business, and I was like let’s just cross our fingers and hope we don’t lose all our online business orders in the morning.
That’s exactly right. We woke up the next morning and the sun was shining and all was good. Well and then it took off, engineers liked it. What we hit was a behavioral trait that we did not plan for, it’s that engineers and product developers are natural introverts. They don’t like to be sold to, but they have to buy parts. When you could get it so they could do their job without the inefficiency of the sales process of being sold to, they absolutely loved it.
They would violate most rules to get around it until it became an acceptable form of procurement for their business.
Isn’t that amazing, cause you had a paradigm shift that people are so protective of their IP and their confidence of work to do for clients and they are inherently nervous about uploading a CAD file over the internet. Yet, these engineers who are more introverted, cared more about not having to pick up a phone and talk to anybody and be sold to and place an order than security. Your instant online quoting software, which is the crux of your patent, really allowed that to happen and it became a successful business. I just love how it was a paradigm shift in breaking new ground.
I also think you really hit on something big, it’s that you really can’t start to estimate the savings for a business of no longer having to have their own parts, have their own machines. That savings in it is just not something you can justify when you are in a company. It’s hard to get at to say, “Well we have this new machine and we have all these things.” When you can demonstrate that and outsource and do it, and say that this is an efficient product development process for us, then all of a sudden it makes their job easier.
It does. It’s huge and it was a baffling time. I believe in office printers and the concept of engineers having them, it’s great. However, what happens is that it becomes a very monochromic technology and very individualized. You still want to have access to the other additive manufacturing technologies and the other materials. That’s actually how we sold it.
I remember circa ’04 or ’03, Stratsys launched their Dimensions brand. They were going to make a full push on office printers and they were getting a lot of traction. The fear in the market was that was going to eradicate the service bureau. We started tracking it and we found that the customers who bought printers and put them in their office actually significantly had a 15-20% increase in their sales to us in the next 12 months.
It was not what we thought would happen. The hypothesis is that they became so addicted, so accustomed to printing and drafting their models – design, tweak, and draft it, that then they wanted more models that were of higher quality. Whether it’s an SLA model or a different material, they became very accustomed to it. Probably no different to how we are with paper. I’ll write an article, then I’ll print it and edit it – kind of old school. But it was interesting in that the whole market really grew with that and more people became aware of it.
Isn’t it amazing that it was really counterintuitive. You thought that people buying their own 3D printer would take away business from you, but yet in fact it grew your business.
Yep, we all thought that! It was an interesting conversation in the service world.
One of the things that I found really interesting about a couple of the blog posts you’ve written in, and your view points on this, is that you think a lot of the companies that are “new” to 3D printing today are basically making the same mistakes and are just rediscovering the problems that are already solved. I think that’s an interesting take and I think that’s actually why a lot of people are listening here to our podcast. They are listening because they do realize that there’s answers out there and they don’t need to go reinventing the wheel every time. Could you comment about why you see that that way?
It’s interesting to watch it, I mean in the ’90s that was a decade of trying, literally in the whole industry – and it was a small industry relative to where it is today. You had a lot of very smart people who spent their lives trying to figure out how do you commercialize this technology. We honestly believed in the early ’90s that we were gonna be a significant transformer of the technology and that it was going to change the world not only in product development, but in manufacturing.
Now you’ve heard that in the last decade, because it got to the public and that’s what everyone says. I’m actually a contrarian to that theory now, but as a kid, I believed it in the ’90s. In doing that, a lot of things are done. Different technologies, different solutions, different things that some of them made sense and some of them didn’t. There’s all things that require timing, and you could have a great product with bad timing and equal failure.
Once this thing got into the hype, and one of the things I do as a consultant is I talk to entrepreneurs about their business. My passion now is business. And they usually have a problem, meaning the business isn’t growing or something like that. You get into it and you go, so what problem are you solving? They really have never wrapped their business around solving a problem for a need in the market so that they can then actually build a business in delivering solutions to that. That’s what I’ve seen with a lot of the businesses in the 3D print hype cycle, there’s a lot of people who wanted to get into this business because they thought it was cool and transformative without really thinking about it from a business approach. They loved the technology, but they were trying to fit it into a business.
The biggest ones are these companies that are platforms where they try to build a platform where the company can run it’s printers and all that. What they don’t know is what technology 3D systems already has, what technologies Stratsys already has, how is this already being done and is there a way better? And if it’s better, are they going to pay you right for it? That really becomes the nut.
Yes, definitely. Well Ron, I have a question for you. Going back to how you said that 3D Systems was going to come in and violate your patent anyway and you said, well that’s fine we are just going to beat you in the market anyway. That’s a great approach and I like that approach. Eventually they came back to you and wanted to acquire you anyway for both reasons, you were beating them in the market and that was hurting them and you had the patent.
Today we see on the internet there are many companies using this online quoting process like Shapeways and iMateralise, some of the bigger 3D print service bureaus that are out there. Is that actually violating your patent, do you have any idea, or is that done in cooperation with 3D Systems? I would think 3D Systems has enough money to go after them and make them pay license fees if they are violating the patent.
Right, well they are violating. Shapeways violated it when they launched. So as another story, we were involved in the very beginning when they were still in the incubator. We wanted to use our platform and our technology but they weren’t totally interested. We’ve have had infringers for a long time and the short story is that the one company that we worried about when we launched was Solid Concepts out in your neck of the woods up in Valencia. They actually had they technology to have built an online web system overnight. They had built estimators, STL viewers, and they knew the technology.
What happened is, the first two years before people came along to compete with us. The first year they said that no one was going to do this and then they said well maybe they are going to do this. We actually always advocate and our philosophy was actually how can we use our technology. Some of our companies they were actually our competitors they actually used our technology because they knew they needed to have online instant quoting and that was the future.
It’s not actually as trivial, it’s a whole lot easier today than it was then. Then it just became that we would just license our technology to these people. Today 3D Systems has really bought up, they’ve changed strategies and that was what sort of shifted everything. Where they were more interested in acquisitions than leveraging assets and so that’s one of the reasons they didn’t get into it. The theory I always had, and not sure if he had it, but I actually always was okay with people going online. I want people going online. My philosophy was that if we can get people going on the internet, we are going to win, because we are the best. We could beat any company in the world using an e-commerce strategy to make custom parts. We just needed to get the world there. That’s why were never worried. Today, 3D… well they are just trying to stay alive.
That’s actually an interesting concept what you were saying about how they weren’t actually trying to leverage their assets. That actually has been the downfall of so many companies like Xerox and some other companies. There’s a great book that we talk about all the time called Rembrandts in the Attic. It’s about how all these companies have these fabulous patents and IP assets and they don’t use them and it’s such a mistake. When you learn to leverage them and turn them into great products where you are beating everyone out with doing such a great job in the market, that’s the best case scenario and that’s the most sustainable long-term growth strategy.
They are missing out if they are not utilizing this. We see a lot of patents through our company and through all the inventors we talk to, and yours is really strong. It’s a great one to model after also if you have a method of a process that you’ve invented and want to protect. Everybody thinks that you’ve got to protect your software code, well I think it’s probably a lot easier to code around somebody else’s code and come up with another way to do it. If you can patent the method or process by which you do something, then it doesn’t matter what code was written to do it. That’s impressive, and I think our engineer and consultants we work with will be fascinated with that case study.
Where do you think 3D printing is going? Where do you think the real great future in it is?
In the last 20 years, 3D printing has been a very vital, viable, healthy technology. We always forecast it as marketing advance around 10% per year, and it’s done that. Not a lot of people are in industries that grow 10% per year, and in my opinion that’s what it’s going to do and it’s all a function of the product development economy. As product development continues to thrive, grow, expand, and you continue to have more products, higher iterations of products, and more efficiency and more complexity; then the need for the design verification using additive manufacturing is required. It’s not even an option, you don’t even have a choice anymore – today you have to do it.
In the ’90s we were selling it as insurance, we would say, “Sure you don’t have to do design verification, you don’t have to go to prototypes if it’s too expensive or whatever. But you are going to have to pay the price in manufacturing when you try to have tooling and all the design changes.” So we really positioned things as if it was an insurance. Today we don’t have to do that, it is a required part of product development process. That’s’ going to continue to expand it.
You’ll have more and more of the office printers and the personal 3D printers, not the consumer market but in the professional world. That’s going to continue to evolve, the materials, the technology, it’s been great. I think the price points are where they are going to be because it gets to be a problem where the market is big but it’s not a consumer market. It’s not where you have tens and hundreds of millions of customers where I can get the price points super down and I can absorb the distribution costs. It’s still a technical market and you have to have enough money in it so you can have a distribution channel. I think it’s going to continue to evolve and grow.
Those FDM and FFF models, that was a technology that was supposed to have died ten years ago, so it only got revived because of the consumer and the reprap movement, it was a really interesting rejuvenation and repositioning of a dead technology to a market that likes it.
I think that as you were talking about earlier, about there being a place for both in the market, I think that there really is from our perspective. There’s a place for both in the market because just even as product designers ourselves, we like to use the FFF because it’s a really quick way for us to check our designs and how we visualize things. At the end of the day we still really want to use high quality, end result for our prototypes and maybe even end products for what we might be doing in specialty materials. There is definitely a place for both.
I agree, and what you are going to see is the office printer again having its technology evolve. Form Labs is trying to do, and you see others trying to use a stereo lithography model. Carbon is trying to do something like that, and I think they give a mixed message that it’s trying to replace manufacturing but it’ll be interesting to see if they price their systems where it would fit into the office printer market. If you’re an engineering pool or a product development pool where you can have a lot of these printers, like a printer per three heads which turns out to be a lot of printers. Then engineers can use it as a quick draft.
We’ve got a beautiful world we live in and so I saw products like your chair, and it’s a beautiful chair, but it would have been hard to have done that in the ’80s. You have to get it to where the technologies comes together: organic design, prototyping, etc. Then you can move it to manufacguring and make it to where you can actually make it.
That’s actually a great example. I worked on the Arrow chair in the mid-90s and I worked with Herman Miller at the time, so I saw the whole process. That was almost a five year project from the very beginning of when it started with him, it had a hiatus in there but then it picked up and I caught the last two years of it.
That chair that you are talking about, the one the sold at Costco for $99, that chair we designed, prototyped, full development on it in six months. You couldn’t have done that back then, that wasn’t quite possible at that scale. Today that is highly possible.
The difference we see here is that because people, that’s young designers and engineers, are getting used to the tools that they forget they actually do need to build something. We see that so often and that’s the biggest mistake that we have to pick up the pieces for for our clients. They did end up having to go straight to tooling because they did an analysis on there and they did the whole FEA stuff. They say it was fine and then the product didn’t hold up or work because there’s a very different thing about the way a person physically interacts and works with a product that you physically need to make it. That’s why we are such big proponents of 3D printing and the product development process, because too often those CAD designers forget that a product is its purpose.
We saw a lot of that in the ’90s. The more normalized product development process that a company uses, that’s not even a question anymore. We did work for everybody at Quick Parts but your big companies required those milestones in their process that iterate with prototypes no matter what the change was. To an overkill probably, which can be good for the business but not necessarily.
I remember in the 2000s the fear was that we weren’t creating engineers anymore, we were creating CAD junkies. The guy who could run Solid Works, he believed he was a proficient designer because he could make something that looked good. However, it couldn’t be made or the customer interface was horrible and it didn’t function right, and it was the perception to ignore those things. I think it kind of went away, it’s still there though. Today we are moving into degenerative design, how do I apply technology so that I could still have manufactured parts.
That was one of the things we saw at Quick Parts and we evolved. Quick Parts started in rapid prototyping, that was what we knew and we could do algorithms, but when we sold that was actually only a third of our business. Over a third of our business when we sold was injection molded parts, low volume injection molded. An engineer needed plastic parts and he needed them in five days and he needed a hundred of them done in thermoplastic. We would make tooling in just a couple of days because what that did was a true validation that the design was manufactureable, extremely powerful. The engineer who went through all the prototypes, he’d make a dozen with the laser or with SLS, then he’d say he wanted a hundred of them out of ABS and he’d get them. Or he would say it can’t be done cause you can’t make a tool.
It’s so much cheaper at that point as opposed when he ships it at mass production tooling, a multi cavity tool probably in China and make parts that don’t work.
Right, absolutely. We see that a lot. Fantastic. It’s been really good to talk to you and it’s been so insightful of where everything we are doing today came from and why this economy has worked. Some of the surprises have been great as well. Thank you so much for spending your time with us today and sharing your experience.
My pleasure, I enjoyed and I enjoy the work you are doing. I love my country and we have a great entrepreneurial opportunity. I grew up loving inventors and realizing they need help. So it’s good you guys are working in that and helping them in product development.
Estimating the Power of 3D Printing with Ron Hollis – Final Thoughts
You know, I really enjoyed that interview. I found it fascinating. I didn’t know what to expect, and often times we read about people but we don’t really exactly know where the interview is going to go because it’s not completely scripted. It’s a conversation and some questions that we come up with along the journey. That was really fascinating and I really thought it was a great lesson, and there’s several great lessons there for people in business.
I mean I think it’s business lessons and 3D print lessons. The idea that you might have things that you think are barriers, that why we always tell our clients and those that we advise to prove it first is the most critical factor. Whenever you have one of these things, these paradigms that you think you can’t shift, these problems where everyone is saying how this will never work because of this, that’s the first thing you do: you don’t go forward and keep testing it and pouring money into it. It worked out for them but we recommend instead that you go and test that particular item.
When you do it and you find out that it works, then you have a better foundation for going forward. You can disregard that because out of the hundred people we tried it with we had this amount of people who said yes. That’s really powerful into finding out that you don’t have that problem. I think it’s really interesting to think that you have a problem and you really don’t, I love that. That aha moment because that’s one of my favorite parts in a business to find you didn’t really have a problem at all.
It’s really that X factor in business and it really shows that you can do all the modeling in the world of what has worked in the past. Although, past performance is not a future indicator of success. Especially people that are innovating new businesses, they have vision and there is inherent risk involved in that. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. There is inherent risk but the reality is that sometimes is where the biggest opportunity and the biggest success can come from. I’m not recommending that everybody just throw caution to the wind here and do whatever they want despite indicators that would suggest otherwise. It just proves that you can’t always model everything in business and know what’s not going to work and what is going to work.
Which is also why you can’t do that in product development either, you need 3D printing. You can’t just computer model something and expect it to work. You have to test things, that’s why 3D printing has an inherent growth factor because more and more people are growing in CAD. There’s more and more product development processes, more inventors that are popping up, and all this is happening at a time in which all the tools are so accessible. When he talks about 10% per year growth, that’s the literal average he’s talking about. That’s huge when you are talking about a market growth, that is big.
I believe that a lot of these years, especially in recent years, the market has grown a lot more than 10%. We’ve seen some reports from other companies who are involved in this industry and the growth curve has been even steeper than that. I think to Ron’s point that’s where the hype happens. When you expect to get 20% and you get 12%. To say that’s not great, I mean 12% is better than almost any other industry growth right now, you should be extremely excited about that. Your projections and expectations from investors then take your company, that’s where you have the problem with that over hype going on and the expectation that you’re going to cash out and be able to do these things sooner. That’s where we get the problems. Just to say, “Hey look at this, it’s on a growth trajectory, it’s growing at a pace that’s great.”
With our podcast, we see that evidence because we have a very great growth curve going on that’s above the norm and average of other podcasts. You guys are listening because you are growing in interest. This is why we are very bullish on 3D printing, and why there are very many people the industry that are very bullish on it. There might be some experts and investors out there who are a little put off by it, but that’s because they had unreasonable expectations.
10% growth per year is phenomenal for this industry and really any industry. I found it amusing when he was talking about starting the company in the late ’90s and talking about the Y2K bug, and I’m sure some of our listeners remember those days. It was interesting how people were so worried about it because there was all this hype. Tom’s mom actually had a whole business on it, she has a software business in New York that was starting in the late ’90s. They even named it R2K, and the name still remains the same as they’ve flexed their business over the years. They held that gap of the companies who couldn’t afford to fix the Y2K bug in their softwares. It’s interesting how that was a big concern at the time and it ended up being quite a fizzle of an event. Probably because everybody had planned so well and fixed it.
This is going to be a tell for our audience as to when we recorded and wrote this, but today we got the news that Prince died, and I think about his fantastic song “1999,” and Tracy’s crying purple tears right now. It’s sad, and we will definitely miss his music, but I couldn’t not mention that today.
But seriously, Ron started Quick Parts at that time and this was Internet 1.0 for sure, the very early internet where everybody was coding their own shopping carts. What they were doing was really innovative, and it’s sad to me that again, a big Goliath of a company like 3D Systems would come to them and say, “Hey , well we are just going to violate your patent anyway.” Flying in the face of the laws, but it happens all the time. It does, and we’ve been there and we decided to fight and we prevailed. Although, you win but you lose, that’s always true. Ron had this great attitude that they were just going to be the best at what they do, so that if they copied what they do with their software and method of instant quote, they were still going to beat them. Good for him, fantastic.
One other thing I just want to touch on what he said which I think is really interesting is the idea that if you have a product development process, and if you are starting a business – and I see this so often because the companies that start out with private labeling on Amazon, or they start an Etsy shop so it really is a product design and development business whether you realize it or not. You think you are selling products and you think that’s what you are doing, and somewhere in there you have to keep innovating, designing and developing something new. If you start that without a formalized process and when you get into trouble, that’s where the growth happens. We see it happens right after about a million dollars in sales.
When you hit a million dollars in sales, if you don’t have a formal process, that’s where your growth slows. It slows from one to twenty million. When you hit $20 million in sales, not only do you have to have a formalized process but you also have to have some bodies to help you through it. That’s where we hit again, in the core of our business where we tend to help people. Then you hit from 20 to 200 and by that time you have to have a formalized process, a full team trained inside and we’ve helped people build those, that understanding that the formalized process is the insurance policy. You don’t do that and you are constantly at risk.
That’s what’s so interesting about it and to think that that process is costing you money, that’s the mistake that I see. That’s what I think he’s so clearly shown through the way that he has developed businesses and helped them. When that insurance policy that you are building is the cost savings, because you don’t re-tool, you don’t lose time to market, you don’t lose all of those acceleration products, and accelerating your product and your resources through that. Eventually you learn that you cannot afford not to adopt these new systems, it holds you back and tanks your company.
I found it fascinating about what Ron said about it’s a product development economy and going forward it really is and it has to be. It’s the only thing that is going to make this entire industry work, it’s product development. If we are not going to develop new products, why are we bothering with all this technology. That’s something that we’ve been saying forever really, since the beginning of this podcast and before. You can call it product development economy or you can call it design economy, it’s the same thing either way and that’s what we consider it. Design is an important part of the process and the most gap that we see in training. A gap in training and a gap in employment.
We hope you found that as interesting as we did and if you looking for Ron, head over to RonHollis.com, and I suggest you connect on LinkedIn to him. He makes great comments and posts all the time and he’s definitely worth following there. He’s a very friendly guy and even shared his email address so check the links below for that.
Don’t forget to check out the upper right corner to link you to getting your free 3D printed coffee sleeve. You definitely want to go and do that while it’s available. It’ll take you over to MakerBots website and you fill out your shipping info and they will mail it to you as free. Going to get that coffee sleeve will actually help support the podcast by showing them how active a follower base we have, and be sure to let us know your feedback once you receive yours.
- Ron Hollis webpage
- Ron Hollis on LinkedIn
- Quick Parts – 3D Systems
- Patent for Instantenous Qutotation System for Custom Manufactured Parts
- Our David vs Goliath story – Small Business Rip Off
About Ron Hollis
Ronald L. Hollis, Ph.D. is the former President & CEO of Quickparts.com, Inc. He founded the company in 1999 with a new approach toward procurement, which became the industry-wide standard. He led the rapid growth and profitability of the company to an ultimate acquisition by a public company in the same market. Hollis exhibits strong, diverse skills in technology-based business, marketing, sales, and business systems. He applies a focused passion, strong discipline, candor, and leadership to develop efficient operations that are scalable. His passion is building organizations that can profitably grow while developing leaders in both the organization and community. He has received many awards and recognitions, awarded a US patent for the invention of Instantaneous Quotation System for Custom-Manufactured Parts. He is the author of Better Be Running! Tools to Drive Design Success, a business book on product development, as well as a graduate of the MIT/INC Birthing of Giants, the former President of the Atlanta Chapter of Young Entrepreneur’s Organization (YEO), a member of Young President’s Organization (YPO), a corporate sponsor of Hands On Atlanta charity organization, and coaches of other entrepreneurial companies.
His areas of expertise include 3D printing, additive manufacturing, product development, Internet technologies including e-commerce for industrial markets.
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