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Today we got to spend some more time following up with Braydon Moreno, the CEO and co-founder of Robo 3D. I’m excited we got to follow up with him because they had done some terrific things. They were our top pick for CES’s 3D printing section. They have so many things going on between their Robo 3D kits and new printers coming out and their programs with education.
But we were rushed at CES. We got a lot of his time at CES for what most people got. But still, so much to talk about, and we wanted to do a deeper dive with him. Today we were able to do that and are happy to bring it to you.
Listen to the podcast here:
Interview – Robo 3D Kits
Braydon, thank you so much for joining us today on WTFFF. We’re really excited to have some private time with you, more than the last time we saw you in the middle of CES. A little less noisy.
I’m imagining we’re at a fireside chat right now; I’m excited.
We wanted to dive deeper and start talking about the kit strategy that you guys have been doing with retail. We love the idea of these 3D print kits. Tell us about that.
We have been focusing heavily on not just the hardware. Where we’re coming at is the angle of how do we grow this industry, not just how we get our brand out there, which is important to us as well. We have seen the 3D print industry go up and go down and flatline, so it’s been all over the place. We call it fighting the hype. What we’re trying to do is expand people’s minds of what can be done, so that’s where the idea of these 3D print kits came from: showing people we can incorporate hardware components into a box. Buy a 3D printer, print certain components, and assemble something bigger that may have electronics or something like that in it. It’s part of a bigger DIY project.
Fantastic. That is going to be a big step in the right direction for this industry. Bring more consumers into it and not just the 3D-converted.
What we want to do is see what the trends are out there. That’s what’s cool about the kits. Virtual reality is a trend right now. Drones are a trend right now. We can build off those trends and build kits for people where they can incorporate 3D printing into building their own custom drone or VR kit, whatever it may be.
I think that’s smart because that gets people to understand their interest and how 3D printing fits into that.
One of the things we did right off the bat with Best Buy is we sold what we call 3D project packs. They just have 3D files in them, and they’re all themed for the office, the garden, the kitchen, etc. What we have shown people is at that point of sale, of buying the product, you can actually buy files that you can go home and print. For all of us inside the 3D printing industry, we know there are sites like Thingiverse where you can find free files, but for the mass consumers, they don’t understand those exist yet, so we need to get them into using it first and then let them find the different files that are out there and become one of the early adopters to find good things to print.
I think that’s really critical. We talk about this all the time, that the 3D print converted already know about Thingiverse, but those that are new to it have never heard of it before. They get the printer home and look at it like, “Okay, this is a bigger project than I thought it was going to be. Now what do I print so my wife doesn’t kill me or my kids aren’t angry that I’m not playing with them today?”
That’s what we try and solve with these project packs. They are all certified files that we’ve made and printed. They don’t require support. They are all easy beginner files to get going. It gives people that confidence that they can use the product, they have things they can make already, and the objects pertain to everyday life, so they are things people are used to seeing. They’re unique files that you can’t find on a shelf. It’s something only a 3D printer could accomplish because no one has created this custom toothbrush holder.
Another way that it’s good is when we first got our first couple of difficult printers over the years, we had uncertainty as to whether or not it was the file that was the problem that we were trying to print, or the printer that had issues. When you have files that are certified already, then you can rule out the fact that you don’t have a printer problem.
That happens quite a bit to be honest from the support side. We get a lot of calls. It’s either the file or the material (they’re buying cheap material from an online supplier). People always relate it to the machine being the default problem. It’s the Wild West in terms of files out there. Someone could be really good, and there are a lot of great designers uploading amazing content, but there are also people that aren’t the best designers who upload content. People download it and get halfway through a print, and the file is broken, and they wasted a bunch of material. You have to sift through that if you’re just a normal user going out there and finding content.
I think it makes so much sense to have these in a store like Best Buy because that’s where regular people are going to shop for these types of things. The fact that you have them, you’re not directing them to some file repository. These kits come in a box, so are you putting a flash drive in there with these files?
Right now, the kits that we’re building right now resemble an iPad-style box. That thickness, that size. You open it up, and the hardware pieces for that item will be in the box, shrink-wrapped with a card that shows the graphic of instructions that you’re printing. It tells you how to put it together. The files will be accessed via a website you go to; you type in a domain, and you can download the files from that domain. It gives you everything.
The reason we’re not doing an SD card is we might perfect the file or might want to add additional files into it, and we can do that over a cloud-based system more so than with an SD card.
It gets the customers to come to your website, which is not a bad thing.
When I was a kid, I made model rockets. I could imagine you could have some fun with that with 3D printing.
The first kit we made with a company was a guitar kit. For me, I always wanted to learn the guitar. When I saw this kit, that was almost inspiring me to learn the guitar and use the 3D printer in the process. Working all these different angles, that’s what we want to do with people. We want them to see it and say, “I’ve always wanted a drone, but I am not going to spend a couple hundred dollars on a drone or buy a cheap one. I can use this 3D printer as a tool to help me build this custom drone that no one else has.”
Plus there is the mom play: “Look, Mom, I’m learning about STEM.” If there happens to be a guitar at the end of the day, oh well.
We talked about doing additional kits in education. That will definitely come into play. There will be easy access for us to have kids in groups accomplishing a bigger task.
Is that something you’re actively pursuing? Are these kits for an educational use? We have a daughter in grade school, and we pay for an extra-curricular STEM program. They’re doing different projects. I think this should be on the agenda for those programs.
We’re spending a lot of time and energy on building a platform for education. We can house our own content, but on top of that, teachers can go generate their own content and collaborate. We want to build a community around a 3D curriculum.
The other side of it is yes, we do plan on building kits for education specifically. The first one we got excited about, we just went to a conference and talked about kits. People got really excited about the idea of doing the Enable prosthetic limb kit. We talked to them, and they are on board to do this kit. What we want to do is have kids join the Enable group, try to get Enable to connect them with a kid that is in need of a prosthetic, and then they can hopefully communicate with that kid and build them a custom prosthetic based on their favorite colors or superhero or sports team. They will have to work on sizing it and all of that stuff.
That would be such a great club item. You can see these STEM-based engineering clubs adopting a kid and building a limb for them. That would be so awesome.
That’s the goal. Among other things, but that is one of the first angles we want to take.
You guys are biting off quite a lot. You have two new printers coming out in the spring/early summer, and all of these kits and programs. You must be growing leaps and bounds with quite a big staff.
We just raised some money, and we’re going to grow the team. This year will be a big year for us in terms of launching new projects and growing and new retail channels. I’m really excited for CES 2017 to come out as a whole different company.
You guys were really impressive at CES this year. Didn’t you get the award for fourth best booth in the whole CES show?
Yeah. Honestly it was based off of the prosthetic kit. That is what drew the attention toward us. The idea that we were incorporating a charitable cause with our customers. That was the whole idea behind the kit. We spoke to Enable and said, “I want to work with you guys to do something.” I want to give back in any way we can because we printed prosthetics for them. They said, “Every time you sell a machine, you could donate to Enable.” I said, “I don’t feel it. I don’t feel a connection there.” So I came up with this idea to use this kit and build a prosthetic with something we could possibly give away with all our new machines. When people buy the machine, they can instantly join Enable, make a prosthetic for a kid in need, and become a part of this charitable cause. The customer, not us.
I agree with you. It’s one thing to donate, yet another thing to be involved. And not only to be involved, but to facilitate and inspire others to get involved, too.
That’s what we want to do. It’s a fantastic community. They have 7,000+ members now, might be more since last time I checked. It empowers you to do a project like that as your first project. When you are printing and building a prosthetic and donating it to a kid, you automatically see the power of 3D printing. What else can you do now?
All the skills that you build while doing that are great.
I can’t wait. This is going to be a good year for us.
Is there any new information you can share with our listeners about the timing of your new printers coming out?
We are looking at the June timeframe. We want to have them ready for the summer and back to school. I expect us to have at least one of the two machines ready by June, which will probably be the mini machine. The R2 will be ready hopefully around the same time, but definitely the mini by June.
That’s perfect. Will it be available at retail, or will it be online first?
It will be online first. It will be on Amazon since they have been a fantastic channel for us. We will start pushing it as a product line through retail, hopefully toward the end of the year.
When that mini is ready, we want to get that in for a review because we are doing a battle of the mini’s.
I can’t wait to be a part of that. We have built the most robust mini machine you could find.
We got a sneak peek of it, but we didn’t get to see it running. We’re really looking forward to that. It did look pretty substantial compared to some of the other mini’s.
We have a fantastic engineer on board who was really the brains behind this. We went from 250 parts in our current model down to 120 parts. It was a drastic drop in the parts. From a manufacturing standpoint, it’s excellent. It’s a solid machine.
Simplification is hard, but once you do it, it makes something so much more reliable. Fewer things to go wrong, and so many things that will make it a better product in the end.
And repeatable. That’s what we want to focus on: having a repeatable process. That’s what’s been missing for a long time. One guy may have leveled the platform better than the next guy, so he gets the better print. There is uncertainty of what your quality is going to be. If we have this really consistent, repeatable quality, that is super important to us.
You guys are going gangbusters. We are so happy to hear about it in person and get our listeners to hear about what we have been seeing behind the scenes.
It’s great. We love the technology. We have been in love with it ever since we started doing it about four years ago. We’re going to keep at it and keep trying to create great products for everyone.
Great. Thank you so much for joining us today, Braydon. We really appreciate it and look forward to following up with many other things as we go forward.
Me as well. I’m so excited. Thank you guys for having me.
Tom & Tracy’s thoughts – Robo 3D Kits
I think I love how we grow an industry. That is really the question Robo 3D asks themselves: How do we grow an industry? And they started thinking about it in terms of kits, printing, and design.
We have been saying this for quite some time on the podcast. They switched over. They stopped thinking like a printer manufacturer and are thinking like a 3D printing company, ecosystem, facilitator. It’s this whole bigger program there, and I love that thinking. I think it bodes well for their future. We still haven’t gotten our hands on their printer, so I’m still looking forward to it. That will be happening in the spring. There will be more to talk about then.
I think it’s very impressive that as a company, they are really thinking about how they are going to reach regular people. How are they going to be relevant online and at retail?
As much as you want to say that Amazon will kill the category and everything will be online, that’s just not the reality. We see that because we sell a lot of products into retail that retail still has its relevance to many homes. While it may be less relevant at a younger generation level, it is still very relevant overall as a market. It is relevant, but it is changing. The face of retail is completely changing. In a world where you can go to a store and use it as a showroom but then go on Amazon on your smart phone or any other site and see how you can get it cheaper and how long it will get to you, that threatens the very existence of brick-and-mortar retail. Retail has to become more relevant with unique offerings, things you can’t get price-matched on Amazon.
He talked about this after the interview, but project packs. It’s not just a kit, but there are also downloadable files. There are project packs that can be unique, and you can buy them in different categories. Those project packs can be store-specific, too. You can get a better project pack that is more focused on technology-based stuff that you like from Best Buy, and you might get something much more craft-oriented from another retailer. There is an opportunity for flexibility based on what fits the market best.
You can do some unique things with bundling of project packs with a printer that is a special deal. Something that a retailer can say, “Hey, you can only get this from me,” even if it is the same manufactured printer or other product.
For you listeners out there, this is the service pack. This is what you have to be thinking about. We get the question a lot: I’m ready to buy my holiday gift. What is everything I need, and is there a place where I can buy it all at once? They just want to buy the whole kit together for a starter. It makes a lot of sense.
While we are not a huge proponent of those ones that have proprietary their-filament-only systems, we do understand at that lower level that sometimes it makes it simpler. It definitely can make it simpler, and removing variables can be good. There is the benefit of the most difficult things to deal with when you are new to 3D printing is, “Okay. It’s not working. For whatever reason, this print that I downloaded and I loaded into my printer, or I created myself. I’m going to print it, and it’s not working.” What is it? Is it the machine? Is there something wrong with how the filament was loaded? Is there something wrong with the calibration? Is there something wrong with the filament to begin with? Is there something wrong with the file? If I’ve created it myself, you have to admit the variable might be in there. Is the orientation of the file right? Have I sliced it properly?
Let’s say here you use a project pack or a kit. You are getting a file that has been vetted and tested. You know it will work. Then you can rule out a big piece of a puzzle. Try a different filament. If the filament they recommend is still not working, now maybe you take a look at a hardware issue or a machine issue. When you start to isolate that, it really makes it so much of an immediate gratification possibility with your machine without the high level of frustration. That’s what we’re about on WTFFF. We want you to help scale that learning curve so you can be successful as soon as possible and feel that success.
It just makes complete sense that bringing new customers into this industry and market, you don’t send them out to go to all the different file repositories. Go search for whatever you want. We have everything. We have 100,000 models. Doing that is not really helping make it easier and simpler for the customer. You want to make it simple? It’s like going to fast food. You can order anything you want on the menu, but what do people buy? Meals #1-6. The meal deals. It’s the same type of thing. You’re making it easier for the consumer to understand and have a better user experience.
I’m excited about where they are going. Just like he is excited for CES 2017, so am I. I don’t want to wait that long. It’s really exciting to see that someone is as excited about 3D printing as we are. We get a lot of people who we talk to who get disillusioned by difficult how 3D printing still is. Here is a guy and a company who has the opposite of that.
This is a challenge to surmount. It’s not insurmountable; it’s easy to overcome this. We just have to think differently. We have to think about what our ultimate goal is, and our ultimate goal is to fight the hype and grow an industry. If we grow an industry, our brand will be relevant. It’s so much fun to do it. It’s such a fun industry to be involved in; I’m excited. I can’t wait for all the new things coming up and to keep working with it.
About Braydon Moreno
Braydon Moreno is the CEO of Robo 3D, headquartered in San Diego, California. He is a self proclaimed serial entrepreneur and loves the start up life.
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