Today we’ve got a really relevant but fun and unusual story and interview about a 3d print prototype, that actually came to us from completely outside the 3D print industry through somebody we have known for twenty years: Michael Byers of the Byers Group, a friend of ours from East Grand Rapids, Michigan. He hooked us up with this great company, Ring Cam, that is making ring boxes with video cameras for engagement proposals.
They have developed this specialized ring box that you put your engagement ring in when you are going to propose. It has a camera in it, and you hold it up as you’re down on your knee, and it videos her entire expression, reaction, and everything. They even teach you how to use it properly; there is a video that teaches you how to hold the box so you get the perfect angle. It records the whole moment.
We learned that people are using it to record more than just that moment. It’s a fun thing, and especially with Valentine’s Day coming up, it makes so much sense to cover right now. But there is actually a relevant 3D tie-in, which is a lesson for any business, especially a start-up, as to how 3D printing can be a tremendous benefit for your business.
Listen to the podcast here:
Interview – Ring Cam, A 3D Print Prototype For Business Success
Scott, thanks so much for joining us today on WTFFF. I’m really excited to hear more about your company because it’s doing something completely outside of 3D printing, yet you are using 3D printing in your business. Can you tell our audience a bit about yourself and your company?
Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
The company is called Ring Cam. It’s a product that we came up with about a year and a half ago. It’s an engagement ring box with a little hidden camera inside. If I were to get down and propose to you, Tom, I would be able to have your reaction recorded onto the ring box itself. We have made it extremely easy to use: it’s a single-button operation, and you can press the button once to turn the box on and record. You press the button again, and it will turn it off and save the video. There is a USB on the side that you can plug into any computer and transfer files over, just like a thumb drive.
You can just plug it into your computer and save your video. Do the customers buy it or rent it?
We currently have it as a rental model. We sold them at first, but then we realized that it’s a one-time-use thing. We would rent it out to people for a couple of weeks at a much lower price than we normally sell them for. That way they get the entire experience. We give them a return envelope, and they send it right back.
I love that. How are you using 3D printing?
This product would not exist without 3D printing, that’s for sure.
The box is entirely 3D printed?
No, not at this point. We used 3D printing for every step of the prototyping phase, every step of the building, and even some of the manufacturing right now has 3D printing components in there.
Why is that? Why are you still using 3D printed components?
When we first started prototyping this idea, the initial idea was a camera inside of a box. We got some random spy cameras, stripped them down into essentially nothing, and put them inside of any old ring boxes we could find. Then we would give it to our friends, they would test it, and we would see what their feedback was. We did that over and over again with 16 or 17 different iterations until we finally came up with a design that everyone was happy with. That was decently easy to manufacture.
The problem was that by this point in the project, we realized we would need some plastic injection mold pieces in order to work this. In some of our old ones, the button was a completely custom piece on here that had to fit a very certain way in the box. Everything that protected the camera module was a custom piece that wrapped around it in order to fit. We were looking at quotes for pieces for plastic injection molders, and you can imagine the tooling on that, those prices were crazy, especially for a start-up early on.
The other problem was that jewelers wanted specific ring-cam boxes. They wanted to have the camera module fit inside their boxes, and there was no leeway on that. So we had to find work-arounds in order to fit these modules in there.
It sounds like you have a camera that you were consistently using on all your boxes, but you have different boxes. Each box has a different size, so you have to make some custom fittings in order to hold and support that camera. Is that fair to say?
We understand the costly tooling, and now you have this tooling that not everyone wanted. Now you have an even bigger problem. You really do have the perfect program for 3D printing.
Exactly. Once we invested in a couple of 3D printers and with some quick CAD models and a couple of prints, we had exactly what you were looking for. We could work with our actual box manufacturers and show them. It’s more like describing a manufacturer, “This is exactly what I want,” when you could just hand them the piece in addition to the actual drawings: “This is exactly what I want, what I have in my hand right now, with these tolerances, with these dimensions and placements.”
In addition to that, before we had started doing any plastic injection molding, we were constantly getting feedback from customers about different things they wanted from the actual product: “I would prefer if the button was located right here, or if the camera lens would be more centered, or if the USB port would be on the back.” Placement of components and size and everything like that.
With a 3D printer, instead of having to remake everything from scratch, you could make quick adjustments on it, send the revised version out again, and get even more feedback on it. We kept doing that, iteration after iteration, until we were able to settle on a box. The final one that we rent online, we have probably done 1,000 proposals with this current version alone.
I love that. 1,000 proposals. That’s so great. I have to say that it’s come a really long way since Tom proposed to me. Our daughter recently got engaged by a guy who is our videographer. He wanted video. I really wish we had known about this before. We were in Vegas when he did it, and he was thinking about hiring a cameraman. But your model is that that is intrusive. While she might really want the video later, she minds the intrusion, and that is the model you are working under. To have gone through so many iterations to get it right and then have 1,000 happy proposals, that’s fantastic.
We don’t want to take away from the moment at all. We want it to be a completely mindless thing. It can record up to 90 minutes at a time. So the guy can start it earlier in the day and have it in his pocket.
We had a person who brought the box with him all day when he was getting ready for the proposal, so he would pull it out and talk to it and tell the box how nervous he was. He was talking to it because he knew that his soon-to-be fiancée would watch the video later. He showed all the effort that he put into the proposal. The girl generally doesn’t see that.
That’s pretty savvy of a person who is going to propose to make sure he is getting complete credit for all the thought and effort he put into it. Well done, him.
It’s more than that. His video was spectacular.
That’s great. I remember when Tom’s sister got proposed to by Andy; he was so nervous. You could really see them screwing up. The fact that they can turn the camera on when still sane and not forget to do it, that’s fabulous. That’s so smart.
You definitely get the most genuine reaction that way. Nobody is thinking at the time how the girl reacts to seeing the ring for the first time, but that’s exactly what you’re capturing.
Let’s go back to 3D printing. Is it your future goal to still continue to have custom 3D print components? Or are you looking to shift into a full tooled product?
The 3D printing was a godsend. It got us to the point where we knew exactly what we needed and what those parts looked like in shape, size, dimension, everything. We had enough successful proposals with these current ones that we knew this would be the final part. This is what we need in the final manufactured form. We started the process of plastic injection molding with it. We would have never been able to get that far without having a very accessible 3D printer that we could do slight modifications and updates with.
It’s a perfect example of why every business, no matter how obscure it may seem—cameras are a tech function, and people do think of 3D printing as being used with tech companies. But I think making a ring box would definitely not be considered a tech. it’s a package, it’s a presentation, it’s an event. Weddings are big events, and rings are quite valuable items, so you want to have a nice quality box. You would think, Why would 3D printing relate to my business? A lot of people out there would think that.
But really, there are so many good examples, and yours is perfect, of why 3D printing makes sense for so many businesses. You probably saved so much time and money in iterating these 16-17 iterations you went through, and you were able to get actual market testing use feedback, which is so much more powerful.
You have social proof. You have 1,000 proposals. You have proof that your product has a market. That’s fabulous. If you can do that before you have had to cough up the money to start tooling, all the better.
Scott, tell us what happens when somebody goes online to rent the ring box and return it to you. Tell us about the jewelry store model. Are you selling those to the jewelry stores and they loan/rent them out to the users?
Yeah. There are a couple of models with that. We can do a leasing program with the jewelry store, where we give them X amount of boxes that they would hold in their store. They would pay us monthly for that, but they can do whatever they want with those boxes. If someone pays X amount for a ring, you get a free Ring Cam to go along with that. You could use it as an upsell. Or if someone walks in and sees the poster for the Ring Cam and then wants it, then the jewelry store can help them out in that regard.
It’s an affiliate program at that point.
That I have to say is another aspect of your business that is brilliant. What you’re doing is creating such a value for a brick-and-mortar store, which is so hard today. You have give a value to someone who is right in the chain anyway. You have added something significant to them, so they are supporting you and you are supporting them. It’s a great mutual beneficial relationship.
Jewelry stores love it because of the whole millennial aspect. We are the ones that are buying engagement rings right now. We are definitely a more tech-savvy generation, so this is very appealing to us. We record everything that we do. We take pictures of our food and videos of random stuff that happens to us during the day. This is very appealing to our generation.
What would a proposal be without a Facebook video post later? When my brother- and sister-in-law got engaged, that one put me to tears. Luckily he had someone who could spy and do a video camera, but he totally would have done this had he had the option. And I think most people will. You better be ready, Scott. You better be making a ton of these things.
So this is your full-time gig now?
Yes, this is my full-time gig.
I would imagine there is a tremendous amount of interest. You don’t have to show your numbers, but I imagine you guys are doing well?
Yes, definitely. We started in a little basement, even before the 3D printer; we were just building models by hand. Then we moved to a bigger basement, and we expanded into a living room, then the dining room, then the kitchen. Manufacturing in the kitchen and shipping in the living room. It finally got to a point where we couldn’t tell the difference between work and non-work. We went out and now have a full office building and live above it.
That’s awesome. We’ve been there, done that, so we know exactly how that feels. It feels really good that day you open that office building.
Congratulations. This is such a great success story of 3D printing and a great product development process. From Tom’s and my perspective, we are really excited about that for you.
Thank you. I really appreciate that.
Tom & Tracy’s thoughts – Ring Cam, A 3D Print Prototype For Business Success
I gotta tell you, Tracy, that that was really exciting and so much fun. Boy, I just think back to when I asked you to marry me, and I can’t believe you actually married me with how boring that proposal was. We don’t have to go into our whole story for our listeners, please. We don’t need to. Let’s just say there was a flannel shirt involved—oh, stop it—and a gift prior to that.
We didn’t live in a world where everything was Facebooked. This was pre-YouTube, pre-all of the amazing proposals that you see going viral. There was no going viral because it was actually pre-the Web. And it wasn’t a thing to come up with a creative way to propose. It was just get her to say Yes—it didn’t matter how it happened.
As we mentioned when we were talking to Scott, our future son-in-law Jonatan is a video guy. He really wanted to record Alex’s reaction. He looked into getting a friend to drive out from California to Vegas and stalk them with a camera. That seemed like too much. Then I went online and started looking up services that you could rent in Las Vegas, and I wish I had known about the Ring Cam. He completely could have done that, and it would have been no problem. He would have been so excited about it.
The reality was that everything was so expensive. All the options were so expensive. He is a video guy, so he knew. Not only that, but think about it, the day he did it, he had to pivot exactly where and when he popped the question. Had he had a video crew hired to go and stalk them, it would have gone on longer than it should have and been very complicated. It may not have worked out, so it could have been a waste of money and a big bust.
But if you rent or buy one of these Ring Cams, then you’re in complete control. You know you will capture the moment because the thing is designed to capture it as you present the ring. It’s dynamite, especially for the millennial generation. How perfect is this?
Let’s go back to the 3D printing aspect of it. This is the case. This is why I am so excited about 3D printing, entrepreneurship, and start-ups being able to iterate and get to that level. He was saying that they went through 16 or 17 different iterations of the box. Plus they had 1,000 proposals to refine the design shape. That’s amazing. That’s a great test market. Being able to dial it in before you spend your money on the tooling, and also being sure that you really have the right business model and the right market proof that you have a product that people want before you spend that money.
So often, we get it. These inventors and entrepreneurs come to us and have spent a lot of money on the tooling side and the patent side, and the product doesn’t have enough of a market yet. They don’t even know how they’re going to get it to market and how they are out of money completely. That’s old-school thinking. It used to be that if you really wanted to do a market test and have a professional product, you had to manufacture it, and you were limited by traditional manufacturing methods. But you’re not limited by that anymore. Now you can actually make an end-use product, sell it, lease it, rent it (whatever your business model may be), and you can 3D print it.
It was a great example. They used 3D printing just to figure out how their camera mechanism was going to fit in the ring boxes. Then they were actually able to manufacture their early product run, and some pieces of it continuing are 3D printed. They were able to flexibly customize per jeweler in this case. That is the beauty of what they can do because they can do it so quickly.
As we know from our experience, when you go to lots of manufacturers, a lot of times you have to show them, not just tell them. If things go wrong, they don’t have a lot of vision. You need to show them. Seeing is believing. Plus doing the actual test market. Putting the product out there. People use it, give them feedback, and they have a ton of videos of different videos (See YouTube Video above in this post) that couples have allowed them to put out there. You can see what a special moment this is and how valuable this service is that they are providing.
I just want to add that the market research side of things does not have to be costly. I just wrote an article for the past month for my Inc. column “By Design” on the low-cost ways to do market research. That will be perfectly acceptable for you to use a 3D print version of your product if you are able to. That really opens up the door for you to really get some social proof and market proof. You can get great testimonials.
When you have 1,000 proposals, you can get a few testimonials. They have ten proposals in 60 seconds on their website; I love that video. It’s all these amazing reactions, so it’s very uplifting. Who doesn’t want one? They have done that beautifully. That’s a great market research tool and a great social proof tool. We will link to my blog post so hopefully it will help you figure out how to market research if you don’t have the money.
It really helps you get financing, and capital investment. When you have those things already under your belt and have shown that you are not wasting your money on tooling, that you know this is the right model for you and have tested it, or you know you have the right market for it because you have tested it as well.
It’s not to say that you won’t tool for it. It’s just about when is the right time to tool. It’s about the sequence. You tool after you have this thing completely figured out; it’s all dialed in. And now tooling is not as much of a capital investment as it is a path to save money and reduce your cost of goods, of manufacture. There is nothing wrong with tooling and using traditional manufacturing methods; it’s just when is the right time?
Spending that money too early can really hurt your business as you are building your brand and awareness because right now, their big problem is people don’t know about them. We’re going to help get the word out here by doing this podcast, but they have now to spend more money on that. If they had really tapped themselves out by tooling too early, it would have been a disaster.
What’s also really cool about this company is there are four of them doing this. It’s their full-time gig; they’re doing well enough for that. They just decided to buy a 3D printer. In the early days, they weren’t doing a 3D printer; they were trying to coddle together whatever they needed to to make the camera fit in the ring box and try it out. They bought a 3D printer and didn’t necessarily have CAD skills. They taught themselves how to do it, and it has succeeded. It has worked for them. To me, that’s a great success story for the 3D print industry and 3D printing as a whole, but it is also a huge success story for entrepreneurship and business.
I do want to mention that they did buy a printer, but there are also other ways not to buy a printer if you don’t feel comfortable with this. Scott mentioned to us that he had the CAD skills. He may not have known how to 3D print, but he had CAD skills before he started. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, there are a lot of services out there where you can buy, rent, use whatever it is. You can come up with a way to make this happen. You can use a 3D hub, a service bureau like the UPS store, or have it printed at Shapeways or Sculpteo. There are a bunch of places you can utilize.
This is a perfect example where buying a 3D printer actually made a lot of sense. It was probably cheaper. So many quick iterations, with immediate response and feedback for what they are doing themselves and the fit and finish of their product. It allowed them to accelerate their timeline of their business.
We would love to hear more entrepreneurship success stories with 3D printing. This is something we would like to feature ongoing, so if we can raise awareness for your business and how you utilize 3D printing to make it a success, we would love to feature you. Please contact us and let us know. You can do that anywhere on social media @hazzdesign, or you can go to our website 3dstartpoint.com and send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I also want to mention that even if it’s not your business, but you know of some other business, there is nothing wrong with referrals. Send them our way, or let them know about us and that they can contact us. We definitely want to hear more of these stories.
- Ring Cam
- The Byers Group
- Inc Article on Ring Cam
- 3D Hubs
- UPS Store 3D Printing Services
About Scott Brandonisio
Scott is one of the founders of Ring Cam, a young but rapidly growing company located in Holland, Michigan.
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