3DShook has made the WTFFF?! Best Of list multiple times. The Valentine’s Day list was published recently, and another item of theirs made the list. In this episode of WTFFF?!, Tom & Tracy interview Hector Berrebi of 3DShook to learn about what makes their content different. Are they the Netflix of on demand 3D printing?
I’m impressed over the time that I’ve looked at 3DShook, and it’s grown since I started looking at it last spring. It’s gotten a broader, more professional design aspect to it. It always seemed curated to me, so I dove into their site and started looking at more details.
I discovered that they are actually designing themselves. This is exclusive content; it is not your average, user-generated file repository. This is actual designers who are making a living at it, who are being paid to create exclusive content for 3DShook to distribute. In many ways, they are distributing their content, but they own it. And that’s really impressive. It’s different from a lot of things. That’s why it’s no surprise they are making our list from time to time.
Listen to the podcast here:
Interview – 3DShook, The Netflix of On Demand 3D Printing?
Hector, thank you so much for joining us on WTFFF today. We’re really interested to talk with you because your company seems really design-focused, and that speaks to us. Plus it’s made our holiday lists multiple times for various events, and our Valentine’s Day list just came out. I think you guys are featured at least once.
Cool. Which one?
It’s a heart lampshade. Lampz. Anyway, let’s talk about what 3D Shook is all about. Tell us how you guys got started.
This started quite a few years ago with me hearing a lot about 3D printing. Being a tech geek and the kind of person that is interested in developments and reads technology blogs, I could see that this was becoming a reality where machines build things for you. One of my lifelong dreams was to have a Star Trek replicator in hand. There were actual 3D printers that were desktop-oriented and people could purchase. Being a person that was working in digital content in film and television, I was interested in what people would do with the printers. In my view, I’ve seen several hardware revolutions that were always driven by what you could do with the hardware and not what that hardware could do, if that makes sense.
In the case of 3D printing, all I could see were these huge websites of repositories of user-generated content. It was personal, but not always useful. It was mostly stuff to put on the shelves and look at, very geeky, and very IP-infringing. There was a ton of Disney and Marvel and Game of Thrones stuff, and not a lot of things to justify masses of people saying they needed things in that.
That’s why we named our podcast WTFFF. When Tom came to me and said he wanted to buy a 3D printer, I said, “What the FFF are we going to print?” That’s exactly the question people ask themselves.
Time passed, and I was thinking, “What will people print?” I worked quite a lot with 3D in my work, and my partner in the studio we worked at was a 3D person in post-production. We were exploring the possibility of this USB drive that people get every month, like a digest of designs. They will have 30 designs, one for every day, for different topics, and they could print them themselves. They will be tested and guaranteed to print and well-designed.
It was a very early thought of the subscription model we have. We didn’t do anything with it because we weren’t sure if you could make worthwhile things with the printers. It didn’t look like it from what we saw on the Internet. It took a year before we put together a plan for the first version of 3DShook; we brought our friend in to be the CTO. My partner took care of the technical part of things because at that point, we wanted to implement content creation methods from post-production and film and television into content creation for 3D printing.
How long have you been doing that part of it?
Almost two years. From the very start of going and raising funds because we were seeded by a venture capital to start, and then building a pipeline and testing it out and failing several times. The first batches of content were terrible.
What was so awful about them?
They didn’t feel like something that could be in this imaginary endless store that we envisioned. We wanted to be like some sort of IKEA or H&M because we wanted that fun feeling of things that you desire but are accessible. If you have the printer, it would be very cheap to create and own these things, and they would look like the pictures.
I had a friend who was working in an ad agency. He used to say that when he made presentations for clients, he would look for pictures in Google Images. At the time, it wasn’t an endless scrolling. He would always skip to Page 10 because Pages 1-10 were crap that everybody used.
Our first batches of content were the crap that everybody would do with a 3D printer. Once you start getting into it and working it and testing it out and seeing how much you can actually do, we realized that designers are not always idea people. Sometimes what they love to do is design. The research part and the idea and exploration part of what the market wants and needs could be placed on other people in the company. Then we thought we could train our 3D builders in-house so they could build in a more optimized way for 3D printing. That took quite a long time.
In that process, we probably trashed 300 products that would probably be well-accepted in any other platform that offers 3D-printable content today.
I really like your high standards. That speaks very well for what you and your company are trying to do. It does not surprise me that you trashed 300 on your path to get there.
I wanted to ask you about your nine industrial designers on your website. Are they full-time employees of your company?
We have had nine designers overall. I would keep people forever, but people have the will to grow and expand and take their own paths. Sometimes people start a job and realize they are not into it.
But I won’t take them down from the design team page. If they designed a certain amount of designs and worked with us for a certain period of time, they will always be there. They will always be a part of the design team that created the catalog for 3DShook.
We also tell them that they can tell any future prospective employers that they were a part of this collection, not specific designs. They can show the link as proof.
I must say that as being the head of that team, I regret every one of them that I had to say bye to. I accepted them in for a reason. It’s an evolving list.
All this content is exclusive to 3DShook. Is it correct that at one time or another, each designer was an employee of your company, and you still have some designers doing this?
You have a goal on your website that says you want to add 100 designs a month.
Yep. It is a high pace. We had that for 2015. We are not sure we will keep it that way in 2016, but the reason is we are working on different kinds of content as well for the consumer 3D printing world and focusing on these other lines of content. They will all be out this coming year. They take some toll out of us, and we also wanted to grow and be a bigger platform.
Now we have 1,500 products, so we can maybe slow down a bit and focus on higher quality products or things that are rarer. Since our launch in April, we have 1,500 products in 42 categories, which we are proud of. Nobody believed us when we said we were going to populate 42 categories with usable, functional products. And we did. We have 42 categories, and all of our products are usable and functional.
If they are not, they have some sort of cultural reference. They are a replica of something worth replicating. But we don’t have too much of that. We don’t see the point in gathering figurines.
I really like hearing that you’re spending some more time working on higher quality content. But it brings up a curious question. As we were looking at your pricing and how you charge for designs, it seems like they are all the same. It depends on how many someone wants to commit to buying. How will you reconcile that going forward if you have different designs that you are spending more time on creating that are higher quality? Are you going to change your revenue strategy to be able to charge a more appropriate fee for some of those more in-depth and harder-to-create designs?
The answer is almost as complicated as your question. Some of these designs are going to be branded content that will only be available through printing services; we are working on that with several iconic global brands. That would be one type of content that is for consumers through 3D printing, not necessarily accessible as a file to download.
Others would be accessible through different resellers and stores as part of other types of content for 3D printing. They will have different pricing.
In time, our pricing will change, too. We don’t think that we should change the pricing for more complicated or simpler content, just like in television. You don’t change the price because you invested more in a series like Game of Thrones or less in a series like a studio interview show. You still charge the same for your monthly subscription because content is this entity that is fed differently. It’s bred differently and fed differently than sometimes you expect.
12 years ago, the cast of Friends all got contracts that gave them $1 million per episode. Everyone was shocked by that, but 12 years later, in 200 countries, every night on some station in cable, you have reruns of Friends, and someone is making small amounts of money still after all that time. The amount that was initially invested isn’t relevant at this stage; it’s the longevity of content that matters. If it’s quality content, there is no reason it won’t find different venues and outputs to re-exist in time. Printers will become better, materials will become cheaper and better, and content will stay content.
That makes sense. But it sounds like as a business, you mentioned you got some seed capital to start. When we were looking at your current revenue models on your website, it seemed like you have to sell an awful lot of files in order to make back your investment, and you’re creating the designs. It sounds like you’re taking a much longer term view and looking at different revenue streams to get your return on investment of all this time you’re creating. Is that fair to say?
Yes, it is. If you look around and see that we are already content providers to printer manufacturers like XYZ, we translated our huge part of our catalog for their store and their users. We’re doing the same with New Matter with part of our catalog. We are partnering with other printer companies and other forms of partnerships in which we share the content and the access to the content with their users. We do the same with filament companies and distributors. We can do it because it’s our content, which gives us a lot of freedom in dealing with it and distributing it in the right way so it eventually reaches the right people.
Let’s talk about how you pick categories. We have a background in design and design research. How are you determining these categories? Are you determining them by country, by retail? How are you deciding 42 categories? That seems like a lot.
It happened a long time ago. I don’t remember exactly how we nailed it down. 42 is a great number; it’s the answer to the ultimate question from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I think we had more, and then some were unpopulated, so we eliminated them. Then there were still categories that are weak, but we want to grow them in time. Some just grew out of other categories. For example, “Doors” wasn’t a category, but then we had door knockers and door stoppers and signs and door knobs, so we said, “Okay. That’s good enough. Doors can be a category.” Some things were in other categories, but it made sense to re-appropriate them because they were all related to doors.
Same thing with “dining table.” A lot of things initially were in “kitchen,” but then we had salt and pepper shakers, napkin holders, poultry holders, and all sorts of things to put on the dining table. So it made sense to have a “dining table” category.
That’s one way that they are born.
Obviously, just thinking about every room in the house, every activity that people do. We had a category for bicycles because we thought we could do a lot with that, but others didn’t, so we eventually eliminated it. I hope we will bring it back someday.
One of the other things I noticed is that you have a subscription specifically for education. How did that come about?
We thought that if a school wanted to have a yearly subscription and let students enjoy our collection in their spare time or when they learned different processes in printing, we thought they should pay a lower price.
I like that model of helping the educators as much as the kids because the teachers are always struggling with demo prints. It’s a big deal for a lot of the educators who listen to our podcast, and you have solved that problem with allowing that download subscription.
I hope so. I think that education is a big challenge. Every company we talk to always says, “We want to do something for education.” It comes from both actually wanting to bring it to a younger audience and have children grow up with it and be natural around it so 3D printing expands more, but also from a vision that schools and education systems have money and are a scalable force that you can sell content or printers or systems or software to on a larger scale. Both are valid points, but it’s actually quite a big challenge to bridge 3D printing and education if it’s not in order to teach children how to design and print. If you’re going that way, then yeah, they’re perfect together. You can teach children how to design and use the software of your choice to help them print.
We noticed a lot of companies want something else. They want to bring the education plans and programs into 3D printing and into the classrooms, not necessarily in design classes and not for purposes of learning to print, but rather to involve it in the actual learning process. That is something we explore as well, and we have our approach to it. We find it quite challenging.
You’re distributing STL files to your customers, correct? Do you have any concerns about those files once you let them go—having them be shared in ways they’re not supposed to be that could hurt your revenue model?
This has occupied my mind a lot in the past three years. The first part would be, Yes, of course ware concerned. We took our measures. We have an end user license agreement that says they won’t do it. They can use the file as much as they want in a personal level. They can print it as many times as they want, and they can probably modify it and add stuff to it, and we wouldn’t know about it. That’s okay.
I think file sharing should be what it’s called. Sharing is a beautiful word. People should share everything. I don’t mind people sharing; it’s okay.
Distributing online, uploading to other systems, reselling as if it’s yours, that is a different matter. Of course, like any other business in the world of digital content, it is something that occupies our minds. What we concluded was that this industry is still very young and small, there is not a lot of people printing at home, and considering the group of pirates in the general population is always a small percentage, the damage they can cause us without us monitoring it or being able to take down by asking the websites is small today.
Every movie you can imagine is online. And yet you pay for cable in which you pay for movie channels. So you are repaying for these movies even if you don’t watch them. People take a plane and pay for a plane ticket and movies. If you pay for a hotel, you pay for movies. They found ways to regenerate revenue regardless of so many sharing that is going on.
Not long ago, I asked a person who works in the cable industry whether people actually order movies on VOD because in Israel, they have this huge endless VOD system. You pay one monthly fee, and you have access to shows and movies. They additionally offer movies that you can order per movie. So I asked them if that was actually used. He was saying that every day, thousands of movies are being ordered.
In any aspect of damage that is being done today or files that are being shared today, these same files would be sold tomorrow in other venues of distributing 3D printable content. I don’t think that it’s something that should scare. The movie industry and the gaming industry have been shared for the last 15 years, and they make more money every year. These two industries keep climbing, so it didn’t hurt them that much; it just changed the rules. It made it that you need to be cooler in your offers and have a more attractive offer, a simpler approach, a bigger selection, and wider tastes so that you make people say it’s easier to go this way than that way.
The third part of the answer is that if you are not shared, you’re not loved. In television, if you are doing a TV show and you are not in the top 100 downloads, somebody is yelling at you and telling you you did something wrong because Game of Thrones has been there for the past three years, and they are making tons of money on that show. They must be proud to be the most shared show in history. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be making that much money as well.
One last thing. There are great companies working on streaming solutions that will make it much easier for all of us in the content industry. I’m sure that in the next year, we will see solutions out there that are simple enough and fast enough and smooth enough in user experience to allow streaming of content and eliminating a huge part of the risk because STL files won’t be shared.
I think that’s true. One of the major advantages to your library is that you have taken the time to quality assure them to make sure they are printable. What is your process and the time involved in that?
Huge time involved. There are 20 printers working 24/7. I go every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and on my days off to launch printers. I scrape plates and put them back, calibrate and launch printers. We print so much. We order filament in half tons. Then we throw it to the recycling bin eventually because there is too much of it. We print and print; it just takes time. It’s not just printing that we QA. It needs to be strong enough, well-positioned so it prints in the best possible manner. It needs to look nice. That’s a huge part of the work.
A lot of the time, we discover things later. People don’t know, but we keep going into different designs in the collection and making them better. We switch them with the better file because we found out we could do something we didn’t know we could do before or we do better now or we just didn’t see at the time.
That’s impressive. You can’t do that with user-generated content.
I disagree. Thingiverse does. Not as a website. There is nobody ordering them to do that. But the good users, contributors, and thinkers update their files and learn new ways and improve things. There is a thriving community.
I am a big fan of Thingiverse. I think that eventually in some distant future they will be like the YouTube of 3D printing. And YouTube is great; it’s not a substitute for professionally produced video content, but it is a great addition to it. I keep discovering cool stuff on YouTube that you would never see on television or in a movie theater.
But I think for 3D Shook as a company, to have it be a part of their mission not to just say, “Hey, we did that product. Let’s move on to the next one,” but to be revisiting it and improving it, that is very impressive.
I am doing much more. I am going product by product and reevaluating if it is fit to stay in the collection. We think that we got better as time advanced.
I think that’s exactly what happens in 3D design. You get more advanced, and it really improves the designs overall. So that’s great. Good for you to keep the integrity.
A lot of products will get a kick in the ass in the following weeks.
That’s how real retailers work. In a sense, you are a retail catalog, and you have to act like it.
I agree. It’s a good approach.
Thank you so much for talking with us, Hector. We really appreciate it. Be looking for your designs to keep hitting our Best Of choices because you have made it the past few times.
We thank you. It’s really flattering. Thank you for having me.
Tom & Tracy’s thoughts – 3DShook, The Netflix of On Demand 3D Printing?
Gosh, that was quite an interesting interview. We went on some tangents, but they are all good points to consider, whether you are a designer or considering a 3D printing business or how revenue applies to your 3D printing business. I want to start talking about that whole television analogy, which I understand. I think in some ways 3DShook is going under a model like Netflix: the Netflix of 3D printing. They had coined that before.
I think that’s really interesting because Netflix is a subscription model, and they are a subscription-based model for 3D printing. There is a lot of synergy there. There are tons of titles. You have to think about it from the perspective of not all the titles are in-demand. You have that ebb and flow of classics and old ones that hardly ever got downloaded, but you have a broad library. You have a lot of choices, and you need to have a big enough library.
But one big difference between Netflix and 3DShook is the majority of the content on Netflix is not created by Netflix. You can get a lot of that content from other places as well. Professional content. It’s not user-generated like YouTube. It is professionally created content. That is another important distinction.
3D Shook only has their own professionally created content on the website. And that is because there is no other professionally created content anywhere else. You can’t consider what’s being done on the user-generated websites to be professional; they are still hobbyist or artists. There may be a case that you want to invite a few of them to be on your site, but it’s not professional.
What does make sense is that Netflix creates their own content now, like Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. It is now their most popular content. It is what drove tons of new memberships. They are paying a lot of money to create that content, which they are hoping to get a return on by adding lots more users, which they do.
That’s why Hector said he doesn’t think you should charge more for the subscription model.
But the flipside is that you do need to pay more. That’s what wasn’t clear about it. You have to pay a Kevin Spacey a lot of money to do a Netflix show. You have to pay for great content. There should be a premium version of it that is what drives people to subscribe.
I agree with that. It takes us a lot of time, and we have a lot of experience in design and manufacturing that we have created lots of successful products over the years. I’m not going to lower my rate because the going rate for 3D modeling on certain sites is so low; it doesn’t make sense.
Hector used Friends as an example on television; it’s running everywhere in reruns still all these years later. It is still making money. That is true. I agree with that.
The difference is the advertisers who paid to advertise on new Friends episodes, especially in its later years, were paying a lot more money than the advertisers who are paying to advertise in the same slot the next night. The advertisers were paying more, and the networks were making more revenue on that higher quality of content or that more popular content, which is why they could easily afford that million-dollar salary for all six actors.
But that is what the revenue model is, which is broken in 3D printing right now. There is not enough money for someone to generate that high-grade professional level of content for celebrity (for lack of a better term) with many years of experience to generate that level of content. There is not a revenue model for that because there aren’t advertisers paying right now. All your company can do it on right now is seed capital or really funding for a future licensing. That’s where it’s a little hard right now in content generation.
Do I think it needs to change? Absolutely. I know it needs to change because this is retail. This is your future retail catalog. As it really becomes more clear to the retail-buying public out there in the United States, as the US consumer understands what 3D printing can do…
Hector said after the interview they prefer not to call it 3D printing, but rather on-demand digital manufacturing. Now for everybody that just does prototyping, that’s different, that’s fine. On-demand digital manufacturing is what we are always talking about where the market needs to go.
As the US consumer understands that what it can do for them, I think they will be willing to pay $10 for a file that is printed for them instead of 50 cents like these other models. Or to pay $10 for a file on top of the actual cost of having it printed on demand for you from a place like Sculpteo or i.materialise. I think it makes sense, and it will happen. That level of paying for models done over a long period of time—because these models will live out there unless you decide to take them down—you get hundreds or thousands of downloads, and that kind of money will justify hiring professionals to create that content.
I do see it changing, and that will happen. Certainly there are a lot of different ways people are looking at this, and some are just working on investment capital and aren’t worried about their revenue right now. That’s not sustainable.
I think some of the important things Hector are talking about is they didn’t create a lot of designs in the beginning they are happy with. They are cutting it and culling it and going back through. I’m sure there was nothing wrong with those designs; some of them might have made our preliminary review list. The reality is that was probably still better than a good 80% of Thingiverse or what is being generated on other sites.
To have learned that is a tremendous amount of value to their company already, to have gotten through that phase of what doesn’t work and what does work. That’s why it took us nine months before we were ever Instagramming anything we liked. It takes that kind of learning curve for you to figure out what makes great content. What starts as great content on your computer screen may not be great content printed. It takes so many hours to work out the details and get them to print.
It really is refreshing that 3DShook is a company that not only respects design, but they also understand it. They know. They get the difference. They understand that design is not art, and it is not hobby. Design is an overused term in society today. There is a real big misunderstanding of what design really is, which hurts professional designers to a degree. But they really get it. It’s very impressive that they are not satisfied with their own designs that have been out there and are trying to improve them. Good for them.
If you haven’t checked it out yet, don’t forget to look at our picks for Best Of for Valentine’s Day for you to print on your 3D printers. These aren’t just ones to buy on Shapeways or Sculpteo. You can print these on your own printer. Especially if you are running out of time for Valentine’s Day. Hopefully you are listening to this podcast close to when it drops because if you don’t, you might be SOL. Still faster than Amazon potentially though.
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