Imagine having the freedom to create and being able to make your own toys at home with the push of a button. Toybox lets you do just that! Redefining the 3D printing experience, Toybox enables the average consumer to 3D print without any prior knowledge. On today’s podcast, Tom Hazzard and Tracy Hazzard bring on Ben Baltes, the Cofounder and CEO at Toybox. Recently, Ben and his company has been featured live on CNN, Yahoo Finance, ABC News, and on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Today, he shares how the idea of Toybox was conceived and the path they took to get Toybox to the marketplace.
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Finally An Easy Toy 3D Printer And Ecosystem Anyone Can Use With Ben Baltes of Toybox
We’ve got an exciting interview and product to share with you. It’s called Toybox.
I was sitting in a round table discussion. It’s more than startups, people who are growing their companies. A lot of them are fast growing. They’re getting more capital. It’s a networking between these founders of companies and investors, not because they’re in active seeking and asking for money. They’re not making presentations necessarily. We’re having conversations so everybody knows they’re still existing. They’re still in the mode of looking for future funding and other things like that. It’s a way to keep the investment community connected with you as a founder. I’m sitting there and I meet Ben Baltes. He cut this 3D printer in the background. I’m like, “What is this?” I can see him on Zoom because there are multiple founders going and he’s the third founder to go. I’m dying and waiting to find out what’s going on, what his company is, and what it’s about. It turns out his company is Toybox.
He’s the Cofounder and CEO of Toybox. It’s a fast-growing 3D printing company that creates a 3D printer and a creativity platform that allows kids to find the toys they want and print them at home. I’m sitting there thinking, “My daughter’s going to go nuts. Linnea is going to love this.” Toybox has redefined the 3D printing experience, which we have been saying we needed it for so long with a novel interaction model built from the ground up to enable everyday people, your average consumer, to print without any prior knowledge. Ben and his company have been featured on Shark Tank and with prominent exposure on popular shows such as The Price Is Right and Netflix’s Atypical. Ben and his company were featured live on CNN, Yahoo! Finance, ABC News, and on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. I can’t believe we didn’t see this printer before. I cannot believe you and I have not found this.
We hadn’t heard about it because he’s been doing this behind the scenes for years. I’m glad you did trip in through this group you network with. We had a fantastic interview with him. I don’t think we need to say much more before we go right to the interview, but we have a lot to talk about after. Hang around for that.
Ben Baltes from Toybox.
Ben, we’re glad you’re here. We bumped into each other on that investor startup circle. I was like, “How did I not know about you before?” I’m glad we’re getting you on the show.
Thanks for having me. It’s nice to meet the two of you.
Tell us about the start of Toybox.
This goes back probably a few years ago. We started very small. Before we started this project, we had another project that was completely outside of toys but involving 3D printing. This was years ago when 3D printing was booming and people had extremely high expectations. What we were working on at that time was we realized that there’s a lot of new technologies coming out for 3D printing, whether that’s automated build beds, new extrusion technologies, color printing and different materials. We thought it made a lot of sense to create a hardware platform that incorporated all of these things. Essentially, what we built was a very modular 3D printer and similar to what FLUX has now.
It looked almost identical. We built this prototype and the thought process was all these new innovations are coming out, but there wasn’t a hardware or platform to accept those changes. If you wanted to do an extruder or you wanted a multicolor extruder, you had to buy a printer for that. We built this printer. They all snap together. If you wanted a multi-color extruder upgrade or you wanted to make it bigger, you bought the components and snapped it together. It’s like what Dell did for PCs. We got far in that project. You could assemble it with these different pieces. It could read its configuration and adjust the content settings dynamically. It was very hands-off in that sense. As we were finishing this hardware prototype, we got to the point where we realized that even if we built this hardware prototype, there wasn’t a software system that could handle all these changes.
We could adjust the content, but if people wanted to print with color printing, it was a whole mass on that front as well. That got us thinking. We were three tech people building this thing and 3D printing all the parts. Me and one of my Cofounders was at Microsoft, another was at Workday. It took us a while to get pretty familiar with 3D printing. I built my first 3D printer. It didn’t work out of the box. I didn’t know if it was because I assembled it wrong or the extruder was broken. It turns out the model that I was printing was messed up. I spent days debugging this thing only to find that the model was right on the bed.
For those of you who’ve been following our show from the beginning, which has been many years now. From the beginning, this is what we were saying to everybody. We found that a lot of times it is your model and it’s a whole host of other things, the software hasn’t caught up. There’s a whole list of things that you should do. Our goal with the show is to get you to stick around through this tough learning curve and to be the support system or bringing you resources to do that because it’s worth it at the end. That’s what we wanted everybody to get to, but we were the same way. We build this thing and we don’t know if we built it right. It confounded me like, how much user error there could be, that it was going to frustrate you?
We had the same thought process because once we got it working, we were obsessed. We’re printing all types of things. I have some shoes behind me that we printed. I printed all types of art that I designed. I was on the news for the first time because of that. Anything from helpful things around the house to fun things. It was fun and I found it valuable. For us, it was considering the use case and being like, “There’s a lot of room for human error.” A lot of it is integration because if you buy this printer, you usually have to build it. You have to calibrate it, and then you have to usually get some type of open source software, configure it with a slicer. A lot of that is integration and then you have to go online. You don’t know if these models are going to work on your printer or not because you don’t know the fundamentals of 3D printing.
You don’t want to print everything with support material. We were considering, how do we make this foolproof? How do we create something that is more similar to a consumer product? I know it’s probably what every 3D printing company claims. It came from building this from the ground up and taking all of those friction points and interaction points between all the software, and bundling it into one experience. We originally worked with an OEM on the printer. We upgraded some of those hardware components. We have a special bed that’s magnetic, that you can fill the prints off them. I introduce it now. We were the first. All the way from these small hardware improvements to bundling it with a software.
If you change filament, you’re not going to fill it like extruder settings and heating it up. You’re pressing the change filament button to being able to print from a preselected catalog of thousands of toys and pressing one button and having it work. To pull off that type of user experience, we had to take all these components, create our own solution, and put it together. We got to work on that. A lot of it is software and content. Everything works via web, all you do is buy this printer and plug it in to the wall, connect to the internet, it comes precalibrated, small build area so you don’t have to worry about it becoming uncalibrated over time. You open up our website or an app. You can print it directly from the app if you find something you like and press print.
It seemed like it’s about time that this stuff comes to that place where the files, designs, printer, software and maintenance of it is all coming together into one concise place and easy to use. Tom, you reviewed a lot of mini printers like the small-scale ones and they all had a lot of problems. Talk a little bit about that.
We reviewed a bunch of them. One of them that strikes me as being similar in size and maybe intent to years was the M3D. I’ve experienced very difficult to use printers where everything is manual to a high-end printer that is a completely closed system. I could not get that M3D to work the way they said it would and it was frustrating. To me, if I was a consumer buying that, I wouldn’t have worked as hard as I did to try to get it to work. I would have packed it back up and returned it. It’s important what you’re going after in creating a 3D printer that is so easy to use in every way. It’s a fantastic thing you’re doing and I’m excited about it.It's very important what you're going after in creating a 3D printer that is so easy to use in every way. Click To Tweet
Ben, are you seeing a specific area of the market that’s responding well to what you have put together here?
We’re focusing on toys. That’s our first market. Our thought process was 3D printers, even with the current technology, has the potential to change a ton of people’s lives that aren’t enthusiasts and aren’t 3D printing experts. We looked at the market and said, “With this existing technology, what’s a large market that could be benefited by 3D printing?” We looked at all types of things, cosplay, office supplies, art crafts. Crafts is a good one, but a lot of those people already know to use 3D printers. Toys stood out for multiple reasons. One is they’re a large market. Something around $90 billion of toys are sold every year and 90% of those are plastic. On top of that, they’re not biodegradable plastics.
PLA has some questions about how it’s biodegradable. You have to bring it to a composting facility. There’s a few in the US. They make their ways there, but it’s much better than plastic toys that can only be recycled once or twice. On top of that, the amount of harm this is causing to the environment in terms of transportation and logistics of moving those toys. What you’re doing is you’re buying raw material. It’s one shipment to your house and then you can print hundreds of toys off of that. It does a lot of good. Ultimately, what it came down to was what’s something that people are willing to pay in the $200 and $300 range and can benefit a lot of. It turns out that a lot of people with 3D printers print toys anyway. It seemed like a prime market and we’re focusing on that. Our goal isn’t just the toys market. It’s to create a 3D printer that’s easy for everyone to use. We have to start somewhere and that’s toys. We’re happy to say that we have 4 and 5-year-old that can use this thing. If they can use that, any adult can. It’s about the content.
That might be questionable sometimes. Our young girls are running circles around the adults occasionally.
We ended up with a lot of 3D printers here. I took one and shipped it to my nephews. It doesn’t have the original packaging. It doesn’t have the original setup guides and all that stuff. I’m thinking through how to explain to them how to set this up, use it, and print something. It was quite complex. We ended up recording a video for them. I’m still going to need to get on Zoom with them and be tech support for them to get to the point where they can print. This is easier.
I can show you the demo if you want to see it. It’s quite easy to use.
Let’s add that to the blog post for this episode. We’ll have a little demo of the video that you can send us after and we’ll include it in this episode. We’ll get a little bonus feature going for all of you out there. I think there’s got to be a bigger demand happening in the marketplace as we’re starting to figure out this teach from home thing and things that are going on. We’re getting into a place where this is becoming questions. Your episode as following an episode where we interviewed Mary Hadley from MakerGirl. It is offering maker classes for girls, toys, jewelry, home accessories and other things, but they don’t have the printer. What if you get hooked and get good at the fun design side of it, and now I want a printer? What am I going to ask for? What is going to be easy? What are my parents going to feel comfortable buying me? They know they can’t provide tech support. This is also a good timing that you are at this place where you’ve refined it to getting that hardware, software and the designs working together.
There’s much potential for people to be able to build now, especially with the 3D printer that works. I remember when we started this, a lot of people are like, “3D printing is going to be valuable when everyone learns how to CAD. You have to teach people the fundamentals of 3D printing, not this closed system.” The analogy of that is we use computers and smartphones every day, but hardly anyone knows how to program or code on a command line. The technology is evolving and ideally, we get this to a place where the printer is a device that builds you things. You can find the things you want and you can design those things in an intuitive way rather than complex cutting or complexity of setting up the tools to get your printer to work.
I think you’re going to find a lot of adult users going, “I’m buying.”
Ten to fifteen percent of our customers are adults.
You guys have done some things that have been fun as you’ve been trying to get out there and make sure that the market knows about you. This is difficult. Our show geared to the converted, the people who already think 3D printing is great or at least as majorly interested in. Your printer is targeted at a market that feels that they don’t have an information. They don’t have an understanding of the market. They think it’s cool, but they don’t know. You’ve got to go through some difficult and expensive models of trying to get attention to the marketplace. You’ve got to go through real news outlets. You’ve had to go and get television appearances. You’ve been on Shark Tank. Tell us a little bit about that path.
What we’re doing is we’re starting a new product category. When people compare us to other 3D printers, our objective isn’t to be the largest or the fastest printer, it’s to be the one that normal people can use. We’re happy to say that 95% of our customers have never touched a 3D printer before. These are people that are leveraging 3D printing technology, but aren’t like the hobbyists and enthusiasts that are excited about 3D printing for 3D printing or for industrial applications or design prototype applications. These are people that want to build things at home and use those things. It’s much more difficult to do that because the objective isn’t, there’s constant race to the bottom with typical hardware or 3D printing companies where it’s, “Can you be $5 cheaper than everyone else?” You then take the market for 3 or 4 years, and then a new person gets it $5 cheaper.3D printers, even with the current technology, has the potential to change a ton of people's lives. Click To Tweet
It’s to provide value and experiences. A lot of our investment goes to building those experiences. If you want to create an action figure, we have an action figure builder. Everything is guaranteed to print without support materials. If you want to draw with your finger on your iPad, you can do that and then print it. That being said, since we are catering to a new demographic, it can be extremely difficult because we’re educating these people who have never seen a 3D printer and never touched a 3D printer. We’re saying, “You can buy this and you can print your own toys with that.” How do you do that? How do you reach people that have never seen a 3D printer before that aren’t searching for it on Google? Who searches 3D printer for kids on Google? It’s a small subset of people.
This is the hard part. In a sense, you’re creating demand for something that people don’t even know they want yet. That education is expensive and hard. You’ve taken on that challenge. Your model of aligning yourself with Shark Tank, Netflix, and some of these other places where you’ve been seen before helps to create that idea that, “There’s something out there I don’t know about. Maybe I should investigate,” without having to do the full education package.
Shark Tank was big for us. We were lucky because we had released our product and they reached out to us. At the same time, we’ve grown pretty organically. We needed an investment because it’s very difficult to run a hardware company. I was literally building this. I use the rest of my money. I was living on credit cards and we got the prototype out. We sold the first versions. Our first investors were our customers that were excited about the product. When Shark Tank contacted me, one of our customers that became an investor had been through the process before. She was able to coach me.
There are 20,000 applications a year for Shark Tank and about 60 companies end up on the show. It puts acceptance rate at 0.3% or something like that. We were lucky in getting coached on how to approach that. It’s not all about company. It’s about being able to tell a story and offer something intriguing. Jumping back to what you were saying about how to educate people, it’s any type of outreach we have, whether it’s being on CNN or Shark Tank, the way we craft our advertisements for the product and make it focus on that user experience and bringing back the magic that we feel about 3D printing to somebody who’s never touched it before. It’s exciting to do, but it’s a lot of legwork on the company for sure.
Our readers are going, “Did you get a deal? I’m going to have to look it up.”
We did get a deal on Shark Tank. I don’t know how much I can talk about it, but we are not working with Kevin O’Leary.
I wrote about this Shark Tank deals that happened but don’t happened or it doesn’t quite work out. I wrote a chapter in a book called As Stolen on TV. You’re not alone. I’ve interviewed about a dozen different Shark Tankers who didn’t have quite the experience that it appears on TV. Don’t worry about that.
You got to remember it’s a TV show. It’s a good way to get your product out there. Sometimes the investments can be okay. A lot of times it can triple the companies that accept the investments. It’s about navigating that smartly after the show.
I’m glad that you have navigated that shark waters. I’m excited to understand, how can someone do the design work and utilize the printer? We don’t just have to use your catalog. You mentioned something about using your finger. Could you go into that a little bit so that I understand so that my kid or me could use it creatively as well as printing out.
There are three ways people interact with the product. The first is if you want to use it like a normal 3D printer, you want to throw your G-code up there. It also accepts STLs. You can do that. If you make a 3D model, you don’t even have to slice it, you drop it into the browser or the app. It’ll slice it for you. If you want to slice it, you can put it into key or web key and upload the G-code. It still operates as a 3D printer if you wanted to. Our objective was to remove all the pain points. The first way people interact, and usually this is what they do right out of the box, is we have a catalog of around 2,000 prints. Everything is built to connect. For example, this is an action figure and it has connector pieces that we know work very well for our printer and everything snaps together from its eyes to everything else.
It looks like there’s a little movement. Is that conventional hard PLA or is that flexible material? You made a lot of articulating joints there.
This is the reason why we control the experience. When you understand the 3D printer, all the way up to top level software, you can make amazing things that work. We know the nozzle size we’re using, the printing speed, when to make things hollow, and when to bridge. This is all configurable with these pens that we made.Open source is going to continue to drive most of the innovations in 3D printing. Click To Tweet
I’m loving to see about this. Those of you who are reading, you are going to want to go to 3dStartPoint.com to see some video clips. We can put the big video and some clips so you can quickly see this because you’re showing us some toys that look like toys. They don’t look like 3D prints because you’ve combined different parts of different colors. There are articulating joints, movement of doors that opened, some linked parts that must have been printed all together. Kids are going to want to do this. My kids are going to demand one of these printers. We’re going to have to buy one.
You said you have a catalog of 2,000 prints and this was the challenge. When we first started the show, we had considered being designers that would create this high-level catalog of 3D prints. What we realized is getting prints to scale is a tremendously difficult thing. Getting them tested and getting them through the process. How many hours are you spending designing and testing these models that you’re putting into your catalog?
Our goal is every week we upload around 7 to 10 toys. Some of them are open source, but now we’re getting into making toys, things with articulating joints. What we strive for is a whole other level of 3D printing where we push the status quo. We can do that because we understand our printers well. We know exactly how much tolerance to put in these to have these articulating joints that hold its position afterwards.
I want to emphasize this point for people because this has been one of the huge problems with open source 3D and models. The model that you make and print on your printer, and then you upload it to a library of files, and somebody else prints it on another printer, it doesn’t come out the same a lot of the time. I remember I’ve done this myself. I created this coffee sleeve a few years back that was all these different interlocking parts. It was meant to be simple. I print it once, take it off the bed, use it as a coffee sleeve. It was collapsible. You could fold and stick it in your pocket. There were some people that printed it and it did not work. By controlling the entire environment from start to finish, you’re making 3D printing predictable for anybody who purchases your printer. That predictability is probably as important as anything else that you’ve done. I know you probably agree with me because you guys are making the models. As you said, knowing that the tolerance is consistent from printer to printer is huge.
There’s a little bit of variance for printer but we know what that variance is. When we started this, people said, “You aren’t going to be able to make toys because the tolerances aren’t injection molding quality,” but it’s not about that. It’s about knowing what those tolerances are and being able to work in those compliance. We know that this pin connector that we made will work on all of our printers consistently because they are built with the tolerances of 3D printing. Even injection molding has tolerances. They’re much smaller, but it’s something you have to account for. The way we teach our designers is operate with a new status quo, the things that you see in the 3D printing community, and there’s great stuff out there.
We’ve built on open source and open source is going to continue to drive most of the innovations in 3D printing. Being able to have that predictability, it’s not about control, it’s about the end-user experience. Knowing every step in the process from the content to the software to be built on top, all the way down to the hardware, it’s extremely important to build high quality things that people can enjoy. That’s how we look at the whole thing. Sometimes you get hate for it. Sometimes people are like, “You’re trying to control the whole experience to lock people out.” It’s not the intention at all. A lot of people respond to our Facebook ads and they’re forcing you to buy their filament. They’re forcing you to print from their catalog, which we don’t do. You can use it with other filaments. We prefer people use ours because we don’t want nozzles to get jammed from cheap filament, but people are free to do what they want. They can upload their own.
When we have to buy a different filament that we’d bought in the past because of supply chain issues or the ability, it bugs us.
I want something that I know is going to work. This is no great revelation to our readers, but longtime readers know that I’m always an advocate for buying quality filament. I don’t care how much your roll of filament is per spool. If the quality is good, I’m going to buy it and use it because when it comes down to the amount I use per part and the real cost difference per part, we’re talking cents not dollars usually. It does not matter to me at all.
Your time is more valuable.
What’s the point of buying a roll for $5 cheaper if halfway through your $5 print, it clogs and you have to print another half roll from it?
This is an experienced and a converted user statement. If you are selling filament for your printers and it costs $5 more a spool than somebody else’s, I am willing to spend that because I know you had to put in a lot of time and effort in order to make sure it’s going to work. What I also respect about what you’ve done is that you’ve allowed those of us that might have an interest and the knowledge to create our own CAD file or want to use a different filament. We have the experience and knowledge to do it. You’ve allowed a way to do it. That’s something that has bothered me about certain other 3D printers. I’m having to hack the system to try to do it. I don’t want to do that. I wish you made at least a path for me to do it, which you’ve done.
You would not believe the amount of work that goes into making the filament consistent. It consistent all the way through hardware and software.
Our readers may not, but we did that. We went to the filament factory. We watched everything, learned about tolerances, helped advise a couple of factories and design the colors, which are hard to get consistent.
It’s not easy to be consistent. When I have had problems with some spools that I’ve bought and tested, it’s clearly a difference in diameter or validity in the filament. When you find a good filament supplier, it’s like, “I want to keep buying that over and over.”
I do want to talk a little bit the international supply chain. The supply chain may be having a problem for you in terms of making sure you get all the parts and everything that you do. Let us know about that if that’s the case. The reality is what I want people to realize out there is that between market, as we head into the holidays here is going to have a limited supply. There’s going to be a little bit of frustration from everyone going, “I can’t get this cool toy that I would like, wouldn’t it be great if the smart manufacturers worked with you to make sure that they could be available, even when there isn’t supply?”
That’s absolutely brilliant, Tracy. If I were you or your marketing department, I would be making a lot of noise about it because we are hearing even in the national media that inventory is going to be an issue this holiday season. Why not take it into your own hands? Even an active parent who wanted to buy such a toy could buy it with a little time and advance, print a few toys so that the kids don’t just unwrap the thing to make toys on the day, they unwrap a few toys, “You can make things like this, let’s go pick some and do it.” It could be brilliant.
It goes to the point that you’ve also made here is that when corporations don’t make their parts available in a 3D print model or they don’t allow their toys to be 3D printed, then we have an issue when there’s a supply chain problem. You created a possibility for that to go away if they decide to cooperate. You don’t have to work quite as hard to do the design work on your own. Wouldn’t it be great if they would cooperate with you?
We have some big news in the pipeline, but I can’t talk about it yet. That should be done by this holiday season.
It’s funny because when Tracy told me who we’re going to be interviewing and it’s about Toybox, that it’s a 3D printer that is specifically designed to be printing toys, which is also brilliant. Any other 3D printer manufacturer should take note, focus on a niche and do it incredibly well. It was a wise idea. A few years ago, there was a lot of media noise and buzz in the industry about a Mattel 3D printer that never came to be. We’re hoping for it. I’m sure they came across many challenges like you’ve experienced and maybe the bar was too high for them.
The reason that we were interested in it is the same reason that we think you’re successful here. That is because we realized that only a company with big resources with this mindset of how consumer friendly it needs to be and a toy company understands that, were going to get the idea that your ecosystem had to be tight. Everything had to work. You’ve learned that along the way, and you’ve worked hard to make that happen. I’m impressed with that, but they should have been able to do it and they crashed on it.
The only blog post I’ve ever done is specifically about that. Essentially, I quit my job at Microsoft to do this full-time and the news hit a couple of days later. I went to my team and I was like, “What are we going to do?” I’m expecting them to say, “They’re doing it, we’re done.” This is when I knew that I had a good team. They’re like, “So what if they’re doing it? We’ll do it better.” It gets you thinking, there are these companies with large amounts of resources, but think about who’s running them. Who was running that division? Was it someone who cared to the point where they’re working 90 hours a week to bring this to life and bring this to the world? Is this someone that had an idea and said, “You guys need to build this.” There’s no concept of unlimited resources. Even in these big companies, you have budgets for projects, then you have the chain of command. I’d worked at a big company. I’ve seen great ideas get killed because of politics.
It’s not just politics they come to resistance and that’s what they did here. It was harder than they thought it was going to be.
They’d say, “We’re going to do it our way.” I’ve seen it too. I want to make sure I and the readers understood you properly. Are you saying the day the news broke about the Mattel printer was a couple of days after you left Microsoft to do this full-time? I’m sure your parents were like, “This is disaster.”
My parents are great. They let me do whatever I want. They’ve been hands-off.
I’m glad that you have a good support system. That’s a testament to how much you and your whole team has believed in the power of what you could create here. Honestly, we’ve seen a lot of printers. We’ve seen a lot of things and you have done something special here. You should all be proud of it. We’d like to see the industry and the consumer market starts supporting that.
Even having our daughters who are grade-school age, they have an interest in building things. Our eleven-year-old took the MakerGirl course using Tinkercad and creating things. When she wants to print something, she still needs my help with the 3D printers we have because it is not that easy. I am admitting to our readers that I haven’t used your printer yet. I think it’s going to change quickly. Is it as simple for them as dragging and dropping something to print it on the printer? That makes a difference. If these kids can explore their creativity and these kids in this age group are smart. They’re getting on and building entire worlds in Minecraft and doing similar things in Roblox. I have to admit, I haven’t seen that, but they’re doing it. If they have the ability to go and print something themselves and do it themselves, then they’re going to do it.
The next thing on our list is we’re going to have to talk to my dad to building them a proper compost to recycle the materials. There’s much of it at our house.
They’ll have a lot of toys. You would not believe how many I have.
We moved our home from doing this and my 3D printing area was full of I can’t even tell you how many sample prints of things that I’ve been saving forever. I’m like, “Am I still going to save this?” I didn’t want to throw this stuff out. Believe me, it was an issue. I know the more you get in, the more stuff you make. I’d love for the kids to be making their own stuff more on their own.
Ben, you’re honest. Toolbox is amazing. I’m excited to share this with all our readers and make sure that they see all the prints that you can do and they get to see these printers. What’s the challenge for you going forward? Is there anything that our community could do to help champion that?
We have a lot of things in the pipeline that we’re pretty excited about. We’ve done selling in the US, going international is definitely on our radar, being in brick and mortar. We know that the hardware has to have a place. We feel good about the reliability and the ease of use. Brick and mortar are coming in 2021. We have a version two that will come out probably about mid-2021. Those are the big things on my radar. Licensing deals are in the pipeline. More is better for those. We are getting the word out there and getting kids excited about printing is what we’re excited about.
You read that here. Your job is to go out there and get more kids and families excited about this. We are the experts in the marketplaces. All our communities come to us. I’m looping all of you readers out there because the first thing is you get a message that says, “I’m thinking about buying a 3D printer for my fourteen-year-old. What should I buy?”
It happened to us with a friend that we’ve known since college.
She was asking for one for herself. We’ve had such a hard time as experts of recommending a printer that’s easy enough for that community to use, for those types of consumers, kids and families to use. Now, we all have a choice.
I’m happy to support that. If you want to get one, you can reach me at Support@Make.Toys, we’ll hook you up.
All of you who’s reading, we’ll make sure that gets out there as well. Mention the WTFFF?! and they’ll get you connected up so you can make a good recommendation for a printer in the future. Ben, thank you for coming on and sharing this with us.
Thank you. Take care
Finally An Easy Toy 3D Printer And Ecosystem Anyone Can Use – Final Thoughts
How fun was that? I told you Toybox is a cool printer.
It’s great fun. What’s exciting is to not only be able to learn about and talk about something new, that’s always exciting, but to see how he’s done it. He’s a tech guy, but he’s taking the right approach. He’s not trying to be all things to all markets. This is brilliant because as a company, he’s not going to try to take a market share that’s already got many players battling for it. He’s creating a new market.
He’s doing it extremely well. That’s always the sign, when you do something extremely well. You’re delivering that absolute product. It’s not a, “It’s okay. At least, it’s a toy.” It’s, “It’s cool. This is the toy I wanted.” It’s better than I imagined it could be. They’re delivering surprise and delight. When does a product that delivers surprise and delight not work with kids? I know our daughter’s going to be salivating when she sees this when that printer shows up here for you to do a test, which we’re going to do.
We were not able to get one and try it out before. There are a lot that we didn’t talk about with Ben, their app, their software interface, and the ease of use. We’ve learned about these things from Ben, but we decided to save that for an upcoming episode because we are getting a printer. We made the decision, we’re buying it. This is not one where he’s sending it to us for free. That does happen sometimes, but we wanted to buy it.
We’re going to keep it for Linnea. That’s the difference that we’re also going to do here. Instead of me being the cohost or you doing it solo, we’re going to have Linnea in on it. Our eleven-year-old is going to come in on it and test some of the printer, maybe be our demo model, printing stuff out, using the app and the product and how the ecosystem works. You can see how easy it is and we can see how much kids like it. That’s an important idea here. I said this during the interview, but this is the printer that experts like us can recommend to everyday people interested in 3D printing. We get that question every day.
There are lots of people that ask, “What printer do you recommend?” It becomes this long conversation about, “What do you want to do with it? Are you going to create models or are you going to print things that exist? How much tech can you handle?” There are whole host of questions, “Is one color okay? Do you need more than one color?” It gets to be this level of complexity that when people are not techie to be able to help themselves or when things get a little complicated, it’s hard to recommend something.
How many of you out there have recommended it and then had to be the tech support?
I don’t want to recommend a printer that they’re going to call or text me for it. I need something that’s going to work.
The other thing that I kept thinking about is this is a good entry point. That’s one of the things that we’re always trying to create for our daughter Linnea, because she specifically has very creative interests, but she also has great technical skills. She’s been testing out Tinkercad. She gets how it works. She’s starting to learn that. She builds in Minecraft. She’s got good instincts for it already and has an interest in it. How do we give her that success feeling that it printed out? Because if they’re frustrated as they’re doing it, especially with girls because we find this is the case, they’ll go on to something where they get success faster.
When we can design, make or find something, and then get into the immediate gratification of doing something well, it’s now going to lead to this creative thought process, which I love to engender in my daughters and in kids in general. It’s this idea of, “If I could make that, I’m wondering if I could create something on my own to do this?” I love that there’s that future of being able to do that with the same printer. They don’t have to think about what else to buy. They can now expand their creative and technical skills on the CAD side and still use the same printer. It’s a world built in.
We’ve experienced a lot of different companies in this industry. We’ve reviewed a lot of different printers. We’ve reviewed software for printing, you’re slicing software, open and closed systems or whatever. We’ve reviewed software for creating CAD models.
We’ve reviewed CAD model libraries.
It is refreshing to see someone who not for their own selfish purposes is creating something a certain way or they have a certain philosophy or they have a certain experience that leads them to have a narrow perspective. It’s refreshing to see Ben and his cofounders who’ve created this company think about the entire user experience. That’s the key here and doing that for this new market that they have created. There is a market out there that they don’t know if they want to buy it yet, and it’s going to be successful. To have the foresight and the initiative to allow those of us that can do more, want to have more control, want to do things a little differently to be able to do it, that I’m impressed. I don’t think I’ve seen that in any other company or 3D printer ecosystem. I’m going to call this an ecosystem and not just a 3D printer because it is an entire ecosystem. They haven’t said, “We’re building the printer, but we’re not going to build our own software because that’s too hard.”
My favorite are the ones are that they are building a printer that you can put anything you want on it, you can design anything, you can make anything. It’s too open.
People are always asking, “What am I going to make?” If you’re leaving that question to the consumer, you are going to have a very hard time selling your product because you’re not giving them a reason why. They’ve said, “We’re focusing on toys. We’re going to kill it with toys.”
They’re putting out 7 to 10 toys per week and he didn’t answer the question about how many hours it takes to design them, because I’m sure it’s all over the place, depending on what they’re working on. We know that it can be up to 100 hours to get a good design. Even though they’ve got their tolerances dialed in and they’re probably using common snap on joints and those things.
It’s gotten easier now that they created the systems for it, but those first ones, I’m sure it took a long time. I’m sure if they’re putting out 7 to 10 a week, they’ve got quite a department of fulltime employees doing this.
We’ve tried it. We were looking at doing that. That’s why WTFFF?! happened. We were thinking about starting that kind of design firm.
We were only thinking of doing the creation of the files to print side of it. We were not creating the whole system to print them as well.
We realized it started to fall apart and we didn’t want to take all that on. That’s why we’ve never done that. I’m glad somebody took it on from that holistic perspective and the ecosystem. Toybox, I can’t wait for you to see this and all the add-ons that are in there. There’s extra video footage. There are extra images. Don’t forget, you got to go to the video for this episode at 3dStartPoint.com and check out the articulating arms on some of those toys. There’s going to be so much for you to see. Ben has offered us a coupon for $50 off for all of you who are interested in buying this for your family, your kids or yourself maybe out there.
You have more to look forward to because there is another episode coming about all those things that we hadn’t talked about yet like the user interface, apps and browser. The experience of using it is something else to look forward to.
If you’re reading this and you have some daughters, don’t forget to read the episode before with MakerGirl because there’s a great tie in between MakerGirl and Toybox there. These girls start printing and then become makers. If you’ve got that going on, go check that one out as well. Thanks everyone for reading. I’m excited to be back with you and bringing you some cool things when we find them here at the show.
Until next time. This is Tom and Tracy on WTFFF?!
- Mary Hadley – Previous episode
- As Stolen on TV
About Ben Baltes
Ben Baltes is the co-founder and CEO of Toybox Labs. They create a 3d printer and creativity platform that lets kids find, design, and print the toys they love right at home.
They’ve had an incredible journey with TONS of failures, brutal setbacks, and incredible successes. They’ve felt from the brutal sting of only selling 2 units on their first 2 months of business, to scaling to millions of dollars of revenue a year. They’ve taken trips to desolate cities in China to find suppliers, they learned to wire electronics the hard way (with lots of explosions and sparks), and even appeared on TV where Kevin O’leary invested in their company.
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