Wanting to be an entrepreneur and actually becoming a successful one has a fine line that aspiring 3D print entrepreneurs can cross easily by seeking mentorship. Mentors can further your goal. Advice from experts can help with the mismatch between the product and the market and get your ideas to distribution channels. Learn the steps of moving from aspiration to success. Never feel ashamed of looking for people who can help you to get to your goals.
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Lessons From An Aspiring 3D Print Entrepreneur
This episode is inspired by a listener and someone who’s reached out to us multiple times on Facebook over the years. His name is Patrick. He’s out at Grand Rapids, Michigan. He inspired us because whenever we say, “Don’t do something.” He takes it as a challenge, and I love that because I want that. As we were talking with him, it got me thinking that there might be some lessons here for a broader audience of aspiring entrepreneurs. We’re getting a lot of them reaching out to us on social media. They reach out and we’re glad they do. There are some good lessons here. Patrick called it wantrepreneurs; people who want to be entrepreneurs. I never considered myself an entrepreneur. I always consider myself a business person first. I was building a business. I consider us business people, self-employed until the last couple of years. I did feel like we bridged over into being entrepreneurs because we had one business.
We started to build another business within it and then we spun it off as its own company. In that sense, that’s where I saw we treaded over into being entrepreneurs at that point. I do think certain aspects of the first company we had back in the late ’90s, there was some entrepreneurship within that. We didn’t join any entrepreneur communities or anything like that. We didn’t even know about them. We thought of ourselves as just a small business but we saw ourselves as a business. We were running a business. We never saw ourselves as freelancers or anything like that. I don’t want to say that freelance is negative. We just didn’t see ourselves that way. That wasn’t how we were operating and we were always building a business. Now, it has a term and it is what we are. Wanting to be an entrepreneur and being able to be an entrepreneur, a successful one, there’s a fine line between how you manage to get that going and get that started. You have to take action. Patrick clearly has done this because he’s reached out to mentors, to people like us. You’re reaching out to people who can help you further your goals. That’s a strong step for moving from want into do into can. That’s critically important.
Patrick is an engineer. He is a maker. He is very creative, maybe not in artistic sense but in an innovative sense. He sees problems and comes up with ideas to solve them. He aspires to do his own thing, to create a product and bring it to market. He is an aspiring 3D print entrepreneur and I love that and that’s great. In order to move from aspiration into success and into taking off, you have to get going. You have to be making some small steps progress. The speed by which you do it is all on your own. How fast do you want to go? It varies. I was talking to Jesse Itzler. He is the Founder of Marquis Jet and ZICO Coconut Water. He sold ZICO to Coca-Cola for multimillions of dollars. I think it’s close to a billion and definitely sold Marquis Jet for quite a lot of money. When you look at what he has done you’re like, “Lots of serial success,” one after another. That’s really critically important to be thinking about this serial success. How are you going to create a path for yourself that is constantly successful no matter which idea you decide to employ and which idea you decide to move forward with?
When I was talking with him about that, we were getting to the point at which we realized that what he does is go slow at the beginning. We hear people who jump into an idea and just get started and go too far. They don’t take the time to investigate, do some testing, really be methodical about the process that they use at the beginning. That’s where we’re different as well in some of the things that we coached Patrick about. That’s what we should dive into and would make great topic to help aspiring 3D printing entrepreneurs to move on to being actual successful 3D print entrepreneurs.
The thing that struck me as we were talking with Patrick and I was listening to his ideas, he is an innovative guy that has lots of different ideas. There was no one thing about these different ideas he shared with us, there was no consistency between these ideas in terms of the product type or a market or a manufacturing process except on a couple of the ideas that involved using 3D printers in the process of creating these ideas. In one case, maybe even 3D printers were a more significant part of the idea than another. This is not meant to be a negative criticism but the ideas were all over the place. That’s something that typically happens with very creative people because they have vision and they see opportunities in different things. That’s exactly what that slowdown process that we use helps you. It gives you a criteria by which you can screen the ideas for which ones and when to take them to the next level. Let’s dive in and talk about that.
The first thing that we recommend all the time that you do is to leverage an existing distribution channel. When I say distribution, a way at which whatever your idea is, is going to get to market. That’s what that means. It doesn’t mean who’s going to ship it. It means, “Where is the contact with the customer? Where are the people that are going to buy it? Are they buying similar things already? Do you have a large community of them? Are they somewhere?” When we talk about mass market retail, it’s really easy. The distribution channel is Target, Amazon, Walmart. It’s all of those things. When you look at a bigger distribution channel and if you’re in a plumbing business, a plumbing supply distribution catalog, what used to be a catalog, might have been the way before. Nowadays, it might be the online plumbing website. Autoparts, you talk about replacement antique auto parts. We talked about that in the episode where we were doing on-air mentorship. When we talk about those kinds of things, there are communities of people who are already passionate about that subject. You want to leverage who’s ever grown that community.
I want to make clear though. I don’t want any listeners here to think, “That’s easy. My item would be sold at Target or my item will be sold at Walmart.” We’re not just talking about picking a store. Mass market retail is a market, but then there are niches of markets within the store. When you’re trying to sell something that solves an unseen problem or an unseen concern, you’re talking about creating a market for something where none exists. That can be a very tall task. You want to go where the majority of that market that you foresee is. If it’s mothers of preschoolers, you want to go wherever the mothers of preschoolers hang out. I was talking to and interviewed and wrote an article about a woman who developed an app called Peanut. The Peanut app is an ideal place where you might be able to have a conversation with the exact mothers of any age group of toy you might want to create. You can have a conversation with them. You want to go to someone else who has spent the money and the time and is continually growing the marketplace in the market niche area that you think you could go into first or you think you have the most passion for.
We did this in our first business venture in our careers. One thing you might consider is if you have a product concept that’s an accessory for another product that’s already selling. You already know there’s an existing market of people buying that first product. Then you may solve a problem or a need that they have with an accessory. There’s a certain attachment rate that may be very predictable. For those of you who are digital marketing savvy thinking about this like, “What would I put in Facebook to create a look-alike audience? People who already buy this will be interested in hearing my story and buying my product.” People who have this issue, there are communities of people who are recovering from cancer or who have needs for a prosthetic limb or whatever they are. There are communities gathering around that issue, that pain point, that problem or that passion. It could be something positive. Those that want to save endangered animals or save water, save the planet in any way, shape or form, there are always communities around those thing as well. It’s negative as well as positive, pain points as well as passion points. Go and find them, and then make sure that you participate in that community. You can talk to them. You have to reach out. This is a critical part of the slowdown process is communication with your target audience. That’s got to be your place to start.
That’s been our experience in our careers which has been quite a while now. The biggest failure point of any product is a mismatch between the product and the market. Either it’s the wrong market for the product or it’s the wrong product for the market. That mismatch is more than half of all product failures right there. This is why we’re emphasizing this point on where you’re going to find the people that are going to buy this? The other thing that occurred to me as we were talking with Patrick is he had lots of different ideas and some of them were very large and some of them were very small. The idea of how you screen some of the ideas before you even start talking to people, that is some of the things that you want to look at. When you have an idea, start saying, “Is this my entry point ideal?” If you have not started a business, an entry point idea might need to follow a few key criteria. It might need a low barrier to entry and scale can be a significant part of that. The bigger or more complex something is, the more time it takes to develop. The more cost it takes. The more money it takes. If you can’t demonstrate your idea quickly and get that across without having to do all of that, then you may not be able to get enough information back to know if you should pursue it.
Especially if it’s your first foray into bringing a product from idea to reality, when it’s a very large product and if there’s a lot of different manufacturing processes involved in making it. The more complex the product is in size and in function, you’re setting yourself up with a very steep hill to climb. The higher the risk, that’s what it is. In this early stage, there’s a lot of risk reduction. I don’t want you to think we’re saying, “Think small,” in any way, shape or form. We want you to think big impact, small footprint. Success breeds success. This is something that you will discover along your journey of becoming a successful entrepreneur, that success breed success.
A little small success upfront can do tremendous things for you later, just by not having a start out of the gate failure because you took on too much. You have a big product. You’re going to make a certain amount of these before you go to market and you’re going to store them somewhere. You need a lot of warehouse space and that gets very expensive. You certainly can’t store something that’s the size of a small refrigerator, a bunch of them in your garage. You reduce your risk and you increase your potential for success. You certainly decreased the distractions that you’re going to have from dealing with what is the most important thing. How are you going to reach this market and get this market to believe they need this product and want to buy it? We say it all the time. This is where you’re going to test and prove it. Once you screened your ideas and you come through this criteria that says, “This one’s viable and I can do something to get the idea across enough. Maybe not 100% of my idea but I can get my idea across enough to start the dialogue with my target audience.” That way, we can get this going back and forth. That’s where we go to what Jay Samit said in Disrupt You! which was a zombie idea. Talk it to death. Make it die because if it doesn’t die, then you are on to something. Now you start to move forward and are ready to assemble it. Now you have that empowerment of positive feedback from the marketplace. You are ready to go with a refined idea that’s on its way.
One of the things I want to bring up very much related to that is if you are overprotective of your idea and you’re trying to keep it completely confidential, all within the confines of your home, your workshop, your garage, and you’re not going to show other people because, “This is really a viable idea and I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag and all that stuff,” you really are probably going to hurt yourself. You’re at higher risk of failure. In our experience is that you’re in your bubble and you don’t get a lot of perspective. No matter what you think, you are not your own market. You really got to get out of that mindset. You’re already farther along than your market in your mind. What is obvious to you is not obvious to them. That is a big mistake right there. It is a higher risk for failure when you keep things to yourself. You think it’s a great product but it doesn’t matter what you think. It really does not. Everybody who develops a product thinks that you have a good idea. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be passionate about it. It takes serious passion to dedicate yourself all the time and energy it’s going to take to bring a product to market, especially if you’re being entrepreneurial and doing it on your own. Even if you’re going to seek investors, they’re not going to want you to take a salary out of the investment that they give you for the first couple of years. They’re going to expect you bootstrap it so you better be passionate about it. You definitely should. It still does not matter if you believe it’s going to sell. It only matters what the market thinks. You’ve got to get exposure for that idea.
Another interesting example is the Locknesters product. I want to talk about that because it’s a 3D printed product. There are lots of fantastic product that can be 3D-printed even beyond prototypes. There are great products that can be conceived, designed and manufactured using 3D printing. Doesn’t that bring down a whole lot of barriers that have existed in the past decades? That’s why we love 3D printing. Look at the guy from Locknesters who came up with this puzzle toy. What did he need to do? He needed to spend all this time and energy developing this post-processing and finishing processes that made his product special, that made it just what he imagined it would be. It appealed to the audience properly so that they would pay the price that it could command. It was a good match or the price that he needed to charge in reality. These are the things but it came through a large portion of testing and going back and forth and getting it right for him. He knew what his target needed to be already. He had already done a lot of exploration on that side and done that.
The next thing in the step is beyond testing it, improving it, getting it right and making sure that it has maximum value to that target audience is to get advice and get a plan. You don’t properly build a foundation for building a business. Now you get caught up in the what. You get caught up in the cool idea and all the things about that. That’s where kick-starters fail within a year of starting. It’s why all of that happens is because they’re not properly building an entire infrastructure of business or understanding what it’s going to take there. You’re planning it for it and how you spend your money and how you spend your time and how you build your team. That’s another problem of not seeking the right expert advice at the right time. That’s why so many kick-starters are under-budget. That’s what caused them to fail and/or in the wrong market or in the wrong area. There’s a whole bunch of things that happen there.
We talk about the story Three Feet From Gold all the time. It’s one of the things I repeat over and over again. It’s from Napoleon Hill’s book and it’s about the prospector who invested on all this equipment to mine for gold in the California Gold Rush. He does strike some gold pretty quickly. He gets investors. He was keeping his mine. He goes back to his family, gets investors, gets all the equipment that he needs. He goes out and gets this plot of land and he goes through and starts doing it. He’s going for it. He starts digging and he mined some gold but very quickly, the gold runs dry. There’s no more there. He keeps going until he runs out of money and then he’s like, “I’m throwing the towel,” and then he leaves. What he didn’t do was consult anyone. He sells his equipment to a junk collector for $1,100 or something. In the process, he also sells his plot of land, his claim, his rights to dig in this area. He thought, “There’s really nothing there. It wasn’t much of a gold deposit.” The guy who buys the equipment then seeks some advice with someone that has experience in mining minerals and gold and said, “The person that did this digging, they didn’t know what they were doing. They didn’t do their research. They didn’t get any advice. They were thinking in a different plane or dimension.” Think of it in terms of 3D printing. They were thinking on the XY axis, they weren’t thinking on the Z axis. If that original prospector, instead of digging everywhere laterally, had dug down and up straight, that gold forms in a vein that is more vertical. If he had just turned 90 degrees and started digging more in that direction, he would have found the most incredible huge gold deposit that existed. Basically, it became the anchor of what is Fort Knox now. The majority of that gold is sitting in Fort Knox.
It’s a good lesson about being willing to seek advice, mentorship, help, keep your eyes open and considering a lot of different factors and not staying within your bubble, protecting it so secretly and not taking and not having a plan and not stopping soon enough to ask when things aren’t going right for experts. Go and seek them. There’s no shame in that. There is success there. Investors like it when they see business plans where the founder of the business actually has business education and personal development planned into their budget so they can grow as leaders of a company, and that they have the right team and the right experts and the right advisors on staff as well and that’s in your plan. That builds you a foundation for success and a process and a system for success. Someone asked me if I had success secrets or I had a success system. That’s because Jay Abraham was giving a talk and this is something that he said, “There are no success secrets. There are only success systems.” I stepped back and really thought about it and I would say, “No. What I do is not a secret. We share it with you every single day so it’s not a secret.” What we have is a system by which we know we can design successfully because our design process is a system in and of itself. We have a process by how we build teams and seek advisers. We have a process by how we screen our ideas and judge them and determine which ones are worth pursuing so we don’t go off on tangents and waste tremendous amounts of time when we could be focusing on the things that will be making money and/or making bigger impact. This does not matter about profit. To me, being profitable isn’t all about dollars. Being profitable means more people are benefiting. You can be a non-profit that’s profitable because you are helping more and more people. It’s sustaining success. That’s the way I look at it.
I hope that we’re inspiring 3D print entrepreneurs out there and empowering you with success systems by which you can evaluate your ideas. You can talk to others, you can get feedback, and you can build a great foundation for a successful future as an entrepreneur no matter what idea you choose. That is what’s needed. It’s difficult because building a business, there are so many variables with that. So much can go wrong. There are so many things beyond your control. You want to reduce your risk as much as possible and have systems in place. When the risk happens though, when something goes wrong, you have another system to rely on that you can then pivot towards, or another adviser you rely on that you can go to and go, “Now what do I do? How can I stay successful? How can I keep going?” Make that a part of your business growth, your planning, your education. I see that missing so often in our education system like, “How do I become this person? I have to be an entrepreneur. I don’t do entrepreneurship.” It’s not about that. It’s about how you need to be and who you need to be.
We hope this episode has inspired you. If you have any questions or anything that you would like to share with us, please do so on 3DStartPoint.com or on our Facebook page @3DStartPoint. Thanks for listening. We do appreciate it. We will be back next time. This has been Tom and Tracy on the WTFFF 3D Printing Podcast.
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