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MakerBot lays off 20% of its staff for the second time this year (theverge.com)
86 points by SSilver2k2 on Oct 9, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 42 comments

I have to be honest, I do feel for anybody losing their job, but it makes me happy to see makerbot doing poorly.

These guys really did a mean thing to the maker community. Not only did they betray the trust of everybody that helped on that project, but it seemed like they wanted to take credit for 3D printing, as if capital M makerbot was THE THING that had suddenly made 3D printing explode.

No. It was the efforts of thousands of hackers all over the world collaborating that made 3D printing explode, and it wasn't fair to those people to see Bre's face all over the news, as if he had personally designed and built all of this stuff.

Time heals all wounds, obviously, and I hope there are good things for everybody involved with (or previously involved with) makerbot. But I hope that this is a lesson: being mean to people isn't cool, and they will turn on you and market against you when you do.

Agree, however Pettis probably does not care too much anymore after the sale to Stratasys some time ago. For the long term employees, i feel bad.

3d printing exploded because the patent expired.

This is sad on many levels, but for me it is most sad that Makerbot got caught up in the whole "if we own the IP we'll be the biggest fish in the pond" mentality. They fundamentally did not understand that as big as the 3D printer market was when they switched over from open source to closed source, it was not self sustaining, and it still isn't self sustaining. People like Printrbot came in with better solutions, people like Lulzbot out makered Makerbot, and in general the community revolted at them trying to be the only game in town after all the contributions from everyone in the community. Totally not the way to start a revolution but a good way to put the brakes on one.

Why is that sad?

What makerbot, and Bre Pettis, did was truly awful. That was an absolute betrayal of trust to everybody who had been working on that project.

Good that makerbot is doing poorly.

It's sad because human beings are losing their jobs, which always sucks. It also sucks because this is a big market player, and them going under may hamper investor confidence in future 3D-printing ventures or give consumers the impression that consumer 3D printing is dead. Additionally, if they go under it would mean that there are suddenly lots of schools and libraries equipped with makerbot machines who are no longer capable of getting support or replacement parts, which would also serve to dampen public adoption. Finally, it's sad because makerbot had so much potential, and although it's been a long time coming and they completely brought it upon themselves it still sucks to watch it end up like this.

>and them going under may hamper investor confidence in future 3D-printing ventures

Could this be a blessing in disguise?

It is sad to me, because a different path would possibly have been better for everyone. When you see a young person die from an overdose of drugs, it is sad because they chose a path which lead them to an early death, and everything they could have contributed to the world is lost. Companies are like that too, although it's easy to feel like they "got what they deserved" I tend to grieve more for what they weren't able to achieve.

It is only made more frustrating to people who advised them that this was the outcome at the end of their path if they chose to go this way, and they could not listen.

I find that sad.

Unfortunately, it isn't Bre Pettis who will suffer from this, but the innocents who work there.

MakerBot appears to have gotten themselves trapped between Printrbot (proprietary, entry level) and Lulzbot (open source, more expensive). Well, and about 40 other competitors.

I own a Printrbot Simple Metal, which is a nice machine. But the simple reality is that this is not a consumer machine:

- Given a choice between driving to town to buy a part, and firing up the printer, I'll drive.

- Given a choice between buying on Amazon, and firing up the printer, I'll buy on Amazon.

Where 3D printers are awesome is when I'm in "tinkering" mode—when I've taken out my toolbox and my calipers and my Arduino and I want to make something that doesn't exist yet. I can design a part using OpenSCAD, mess with the tolerances a bit, and run off two or three generations of prototypes in an afternoon. When I'm done, I can upload the schematic and some images, and other people can download it. It makes hardware almost as much fun as software.

But the reality—at least for machines using hot plastic—is that you need to learn about how plastic heats and cools, about what kinds of shapes are easy to print, and about how to model things using CAD software.

Until the open source laser sintering printers come down in price, the only "mass market" for 3D printing will be the kinds of people who have always hung out around RadioShack and Home Depot, or who browse SparkFun and Octopart regularly. 3D printers are awesome because they encourage hacking and entrepreneurialism, not because they give you a push-button desktop fab.

When they opened a brick and morter store in Boston, I remember walking in with a real sense of excitement but walking out without any interest in becoming more involved in the 3D printing scene.

If anything, seeing the printers in action made me realize just how inessential their product seemed from a layperson's point of view.

For all of the potential 3D printing has, at the moment it is a solution looking for a consumer problem, and most consumers aren't looking to make custom figurines or embossed text.

A few months ago, I walked by the storefront and it was totally empty. Apparently I wasn't the only one disillusioned by seeing their product up close.

3d printing got oversold. "Print replacement parts for your washing machine" was total bullshit. 3D printer CEOs wanted to be like Steve Jobs and sell millions of devices to consumers. They could have earned a respected spot in the toolboxes of engineers, artists, scientists, even manufacturers. Instead they pushed trinket machines that didn't even work as designed. They could have been like Tektronix or Mori Seiki but they got greedy.

I read them as, enthusiastic promoters on the bleeding edge. They jumped into 3D printing despite the risks. Harsh to call that 'greedy'.

That said, 3D printing is still pretty lame. Cheap plastic parts are rarely the critical element in a device. And even knobs etc often have retaining clips or friction-fit holes with sub-millimeter tolerances, that 3D printers cannot achieve.

I speak from personal experience. It was all greed with certain major players.

I agree, My washing machine knobs are fine. I did however print a replacement for a knob on my clothes dryer. ;)

However 95% of the time I'm printing something for a prototype or some little thing I'm tinkering with.

I think this is exactly it. I worked at a digital agency in London a few years back who bought a 3D printer (maybe a Makerbot one, I have no idea) because it seemed essential that a company working in that sector should have one - they were the new exciting tech phenomenon, and surely wondrous things would come of them. They were never able to work out what to do with it or how it could at all relate to their clients' businesses. In the end, the most exciting and interesting thing they managed to do with it was to print a miniature model of the tech director's head for use as a pair of earrings. On that basis, what hope does a regular consumer have of finding a purpose for them?

There are always going to be people who buy homebrewing apparatus - but their numbers will always pale in comparison to how many people just go to a pub or bar and buy a beer.

This is my sentiment too. I'm excited by the possibilities of 3D printing, but at the moment all of my friends who've purchased printers are using them to create shoddy little trinkets. The kind of printers that could produce practical items are outside the budget of the average early adopter.

Of course, it's a matter of time before tech advancement fixes this problem, but today there's little reason to buy one of these machines if all you are planning to do is actually print useful stuff, rather than experiment with 3D printers as a hobby.

That most people just print ready-made trinkets from Thingiverse that they don't really need is hardly an issue with the machines. Most useful things around us made of plastic can be done on a 500 USD FDM 3d-printer (which is a lot of stuff).

I've fixed our commercial (China quality) lasercutter using parts made on a cheap FDM 3d-printer. Fixed powertools like drills and drill-presses. Replaced parts on my bicycle. Made functional scissors, and a haircomb that I needed when no shop was open.

The issues are that for commodity items, in the first world, it is quicker to just buy them (if we don't have them already). They will also be prettier. Or if it is a custom item, one has to actually design&test, which is something that requires CAD skills and some hours of work. Teaching this will take some time.

Most people just watch kitten-videos and play Farmville using their Internet-enabled devices. Does not mean the devices are low-quality and cannot be used for useful things.

3D printers are impractical for household repairs but I really think 3d pens like the 3Doodler are missing an opportunity here. I bought one with the original Kickstarter and we played with it for a while before putting it back in it's box and forgetting about it. A couple months ago I came across it and decided to try and fix the broken castor on a dehumidifier. The part was way to complex to be worth modeling in CAD for the amount of inconvenience it presented but it was ridiculously easy to weld the old part back together and reinforce it with the 3Doodler. Since then I've been using it in conjunction with an old soldering iron to fix things that I just don't trust glue to hold.

Also, if one needs quality not acheivable on current cheap machines there are still valid reasons to get one: - Use your cheap printer to prototype/iterate/validate your model - Then send it off to a printing service, to have it made in high-quality plastic/metal/clay

This way you can combine rapid iteration with high-quality production. When designing new parts, I often do up to 5 iterations a day. Sometimes engaging up 3x 500 USD printers at the same time, to keep iteration time down.

Print The Legend was a pretty interesting documentary that showed the development of Makerbot and form labs - but it made Makerbot look like a complete disaster and the original CEO seem terrible (along with what I think was Amazons invester arm)

Not surprised things aren't going well. Seems like the vision died long before the sale.

MakerBot's problem is that their hardware technology is obsolete. They made a mediocre extruder-type printer years ago, and they still make a mediocre extruder-type printer. Meanwhile, the other players are going to better technologies.

So many people talking about how 3d printers is something impractical for everybody.

The other day I attended a talk about the history of personal computers, and certainly it rhymes.

At the time everybody was saying, a personal computer? who wants this? People do not need a database for cooking, or a spreadsheet, it is a very expensive typing machine and it is very hard to use(command line). It was true.

What happened is that personal (and then mobile) computers evolved from a entrepise-centric to user-centric to grandma-could-use-facebook centric computers.

Most people in the old days could not imagine what the future would look like, because computer did exist, but their applications were different to what they predicted.

In the same way I believe 3d printing is amazing, not for what it is now, but what it will became.

I volunteered giving 3d classes for children and it is incredible what they could do after you teach them the basic concepts.

What is shocking for me is that it is "normal" for those 10 years old to design things that I could only do after studying engineering and gaining experience. Some of them absorb knowledge like an sponge.

I see in them the next Linux Towards, but instead of OSes, it becomes possible to design a car, or a plane over the Internet.Before 3d printers it is so hard that is practically impossible for normal people to do it.

Sorry to hear about the problems at makerbot ... This company really got out in front of 3D printing and made people excited about it. That being said, maybe the growth was a little to aggressive. I remember seeing a makerbot store here in Boston in the last few years-- a lot of people watching the machines in awe, but no one was actually making any purchases (as in the printed items they were trying to sell). It just seemed more like an expensive showroom rather than a store. So cool, though!

I'm still bullish on the maker space. I saw a functioning prototype of this 3in1 machine in Pittsburgh last year.


CNC routing and laser cutting/etching included and priced much better. The maker machines will just get better and less expensive and I can't wait.

How big is their actual market. In Print The Legend they realize a major sector is the small engineering/tech shops that can't afford/don't need an industrial prototyper but could use a $3000 one. After that they have the "Hobbyist". These sectors seem small and possibly shrinking.

An anecdote: I know someone who works for a small engineering company. They bought a ~$3000 one and used it perhaps a couple of times. 3d printing is still at the "early inkjet" phase of hassle. It's sometimes easier for a guy with a lathe and a mill to knock something up by hand from a pencil drawing for a one off if he's got 20 years of experience than have to knock the thing up in some CAD software and frig around with a 3d printer for an hour then wait for it to print and then have to clean it up.

I suspect the market is saturated with such purchases.

Yeah, 3d printing is still a solution in search of a mass market problem. Quality isn't good enough to make "consumer" parts yet and still too fiddly, and not 10% of the country needs to prototype, much less the whole country.

Eventually someone's going to figure out exactly what they're perfect for and things will really go bananas. Until then they're fun but only useful to a pretty limited set of people.

I'm looking forward to the day when the norm becomes "things have slowed down so we're all taking a temporary 20% pay cut".

If you're hiring full-time employees for short-term goals you're part of the problem, not part of the solution.

You mean a 20% paycut and double the equity, right?

If it's just the 20% paycut, all your best talent is going to jump ship and you end up losing people anyway.

20% was just an arbitrary example. The underlying point I think is the first focus should be on trying to retain all full-time employees. And I probably should've mentioned that the likely outcome would be that the higher ranks would make the sacrifice, not the lower levels (unless absolutely necessary), since they probably depend more on their salaries for the basics.

Those who are not willing to make the sacrifice probably don't really believe in the vision and thus probably aren't the right people to help you get out of the rut.

And one other caveat would be transparency. That way a company can't just arbitrarily request that their employees make sacrifices when it's not demonstrably essential.

>Those who are not willing to make the sacrifice probably don't really believe in the vision and thus probably aren't the right people to help you get out of the rut.

Sorry, but this is a bit ridiculous. You could make the same counter-argument from the employees perspective as well.

"If my company isn't willing to sacrifice to pay my current market worth, then they don't really believe in me as an employee"

Is this company going to pay an extra 20% when things start going well again to make up the difference lost?

When you sign on for a job/salary you shouldn't feel bad for leaving if the company can't hold up their end of the bargain. If you only worked at 75% of the capacity they thought you were going to, you'll most likely be fired.

That's not the point really. The criteria are: If a company is demonstrably (ie. open financial books) having financial difficulties, then I think the default reaction should be "what can we do to get ourselves through this without layoffs". The current environment seems to condone a "fire as first reaction to save the company" behavior. I would argue the default reaction should be "fire as last ditch effort to save the company". Before firing anyone the first reaction should be to find a compromise everyone is comfortable with so that everyone can find a way to help the cause.

Also I think there is merit to the point that if someone is not willing to sacrifice in times of scarcity, they are only thinking about themselves and thus are not mentally in a state conducive to helping the company to get out of its financial difficulties.

I've lived this situation. At one point in my career I had people on my team who I thought were truly brilliant, and I vouched to ensure their happiness and comfort in spite of difficult times. They simply took that gesture of goodwill as a sign of weakness and feasted like vultures without any real uptick in output in return.

In the end the lesson is that no matter how brilliant or gifted you are, a true sign of loyalty or dedication to a company's cause in the form of sacrifice is far more valuable than a self-absorbed employee who can churn out good code, but only as long as everything is going in their favor.

EDIT: And that's not to say a company shouldn't find ways to sacrifice as well. For example additional equity should certainly be on the table as an option. You can't expect people to give without expecting anything in return should things turn around and the company should eventually get back on its feet financially.

> the first focus should be on trying to retain all full-time employees

Why? The 20% that are fired can get other jobs. The group as a whole ends up getting paid more with lay-offs than with pay cuts.

Being fired is an unplanned event. So the likelihood that someone who is fired is in a similar negotiating position as someone who leaves a company unannounced is highly unlikely.

Especially people with families. When faced with the decision of "either accept something at lower pay or risk your family starving or eating in soup kitchens" I think the decision is obvious.

Then again they could wait 6 months or several years more for the perfect position. One that pays similar salary, is in a similar location which will not require a relocation, and similar benefits so no additional out-of-pocket expenses for things like health insurance. The higher up on the food chain you go the less likely you'll fall into a comfortable situation. And even lower on the food chain it's not a certainty that things will work out. It's far less likely they'll be in a position to negotiate. Your first reaction will be "first company to offer me something I'll take" because lower wage employees generally have far less saved away for situations like this.

So net outcome IMO will probably just end up being alot of people accepting less than ideal offers given their less than ideal negotiating position.

Also don't forget that the dynamics of these situations in rural vs urban populations are going to be very different. IMO you probably need to be in a city like New York or London for things to work out in a net-positive way for employees who are laid off.

Not only that, but you'll lose your best people, since they're the ones who can get another job. The ones who struggle to get a job will be the ones who leave.

Regardless, firing 20% will be probably make the best look around anyway.

It's worrisome to me that I'm now getting in my emails offers for extreme discounts on their printers as part of customer loyalty (I've bought PLA filament from them, but not a printer). I mean, that's not generally unexpected, but 40% discounts? That does not instill confidence as a buyer, unless they're now going for the "always on sale" model.

It seems weird that they'd put their software engineers and even customer support all the way down in Industry City. Unless you live off the D/N/R in Brooklyn already, or maybe in lower Manhattan, that's a horrid commute. Unless you actually need the industrial space for your job... why?

Space in Industry City is _cheap_

Read an article a while ago where they did an analysis of the amount of printers a company needed to sell to break even (based on the parts cost). The conclusion was that there were just too many players in the field to ever make money (given the limited market atm).

You know we're in a bad situation when machines are firing humans.

I quite like thingiverse.

Niche market is niche?

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