How I Started A 3D Printing Business and made money marketing my products
I worked at Shapeways for two years as their social media specialist from 2013–2015. Shapeways is currently the world’s largest 3D printing service and marketplace where anyone can upload a 3D file to have printed on demand in many different materials and shipped to you. You can also make products and sell them on the Shapeways marketplace.
During my time as the Social Media Specialist at Shapeways, I lead the brand voice on social. I created content, engaged with users, managed relationships with community members whether they’re a shop owner, a shopper, a investor, and everyone in between. I moderated our community on forums, blogs, and social media channels.
I also became a successful shop owner on Shapeways managing a 3D printing business I started called Raw Legend Collaborations that sells incredible 3D printed memes, corgi figurines, and wireframe animal products. I used my knowledge as a successful shop owner on Shapeways to educate our community through educational marketing tutorials, content, and tips and tricks.
In this post I want to highlight some of the processes, steps, learnings, tactics, and marketing strategy behind building my 3D printing business and brand. To start, I knew nothing about 3D printing before joining Shapeways and I still do not know how to 3D model or use any type of 3D modeling software. Did that stop me from starting and growing my shop into one of the most successful shops on the Shapeways marketplace within 10 months? Nope!
After having my first year at Shapeways under my belt, I’ve met and engaged with hundreds of designers, shop owners, and makers in the Shapeways community who are masterful 3D modelers and have ran successful businesses online. My hiring manager Savannah Peterson came from the crowdfunding space and had a background in product launches and working with small businesses, she had already written many of the shop owner content for how to be a successful shop owner on Shapeways which I also became familiar with best practices, and later written additional content on how to market your shop based on my experience as a shop owner.
I come from a very unique background, I have sales experience from my time as a health insurance agent for AFLAC and also business development experience from my days working at PLYFE. I am a self-taught social media and digital marketing expert and when I decided to start my business on Shapeways I already had all the business skills, sales skills, and social media marketing skills to promote any product I decided to make.
Not knowing how to 3D model did not stop me, in fact, I felt not knowing how to 3D model forced me to make friends and connections with those who can 3D model and can do it better than I could ever will. I became close friends with one of the most talented 3D modelers and designers I have ever met. His name is Kostika Spaho. Kostika is a world class elite 3D modeler and digital artist based out of NYC. He has a Master’s Degree in Architecture. He possess a complete mastery of all 3D modeling software and 3D printing, he is a full stack digital sculptor. Kostika can design anything and create a 3D printable model off a 2D image or a descriptive description of a product idea. Lets just say Kostika was my secret weapon.
I have gotten to know Kostika through his work on Shapeways as well as several meet ups and company events, he specializes in jewelry and shoe designs but his work never really took off selling on the Shapeways marketplace. I have a talent for spotting consumer trends on social media with mass consumer appeal such as memes, gifs, cats, and super niche trends that are wildly popular within specific interest groups. I felt that with my knowledge of predicting winners and what sells well on Shapeways, along with Kostika’s superior 3D modeling abilities, that I would tell him what to make, he would make it, I would market it, and we’d just split all profits 50/50.
The first hit product we decided to make was a 3D printed figurine of a Tardigrade (Water Bear) in full color sandstone. The Tardigrade became wildly popular after it was featured on Neil Degrasse Tyson’s COSMOS. I became a big fan of the extremophile and I knew the Tardigrade was wildly popular amongst the science community, it is essentially more popular than Grumpy Cat for science lovers like myself.
Immediately upon uploading the file and render to Shapeways and promoting it on Twitter by tweeting folks mentioning “Tardigrade” on Twitter search, we began to see a positive reception towards the design and within 24 hours had our first few sales, we hadn’t even had the print ordered yet to take photos. That moment became my gateway drug to entrepreneurial power that Shapeways 3D printing had to offer, to be able to upload a model and have it for sale and a product can start selling within hours. I was hooked!
The 3D printed Tardigrade would essentially go on to sell like hotcakes and it would get featured in several media outlets such as BuzzFeed and 3D Printing Industry. It was also shared amongst many scientist on Twitter including Richard Dawkins. My collaborations would not stop with Kostika and the Tardigrade, I decided to scale up and work with another talented 3D modeler and animator named Corretta Singer.
My collaboration with Corretta Singer would give birth to several legendary products of heroic proportions, most notably the famous Thorgi, The Corgi God Of Thunder. It was this collaboration which opened my eyes to how big the Corgi market was and I began to put more of my time and resources designing Corgi products which would make up the majority of my sales.
How Do I Market My Products?
I already had a large social media following before starting my business, I had over 80k Twitter followers and 2k Instagram followers. I began by pushing my products out to my personal network just to gauge general interest, some of my early customers were co-workers, friends, and family. Next I used the power to Twitter search and begin jumping into conversations of people talking about a specific topics for example Corgis and Tardigrades. I joined every single Facebook group related to Corgis and began sharing my work there, I made sure to include photos of my products and introduced myself, who I was, what inspired me to make this product, etc. Learn more about joining a Facebook group in this previous blog post of mine.
Instagram has become one of my favorite platforms to promote my work, follow me on instagram @EricHoRaw to see how I’ve been promoting and marketing my work. Also read my blog on Shapeways on the Five tactics I use for promoting my work on Instagram here. A super effective tactic for outreach on social is direct messaging, especially direct messaging Facebook fan pages relevant to your product and asking if they would feature or share with their audience. Here’s my blog post on using social media to generate sales leads.
So far here is a running list of the press and media outlets my 3D printing business have been featured in. Getting blogs and media outlets to feature your work can add serious velocity to the word of mouth of your products.
The Coolector : Raw Legend 3D Printing
Printing Everyday Podcast: Raw Legend Collaborations
ThisIsWhyImBroke: Heavy Breathing Cat
QuarksToQuesars: The Microworld Meets Macro World
Super Compressor: The Poop Emoji Bottle Opener Is Everything It Claims To Be
Cool hunting: Poop Emoji Bottle Opener
Arts and Science journal: Ode To The 3D printed Tardigrade
The Daily Corgi: The Story Behind the 3D Printed Corgi God Of Thunder
I am currently making around $800-$1500 a month in sales through my Shapeways shop. The reputation that I have built through my shop has lead to several request for commission work which is another side of the business I am beginning to build out. I have recently launched www.TheEricHo.com, a 3D modeling and design service for custom 3D design work ready for 3D printing. I currently charge $300-$500 per 3D model. Design requests have varied from pets, figurines, to jewelry.
Interested in learning more about my 3D printing business, artwork, or custom designs? Feel free to reach me on any of these digital touch points below.
“Always remember to be a Pugtato amongst Potatoes” -Eric Ho