Konstantin Ivanov, 3DPrintus: “We are trying to shake the market”
3DPrintus CEO Konstantin Ivanov, talking about the personal 3D-printing prospects, how to search for reliable people and explosive growth sources.
3DPrintus is a personal platform for 3D printing. The company helps users create a model, regardless of their professional skills, and then places a print order and delivers ready-made samples. The 3DPrintus founders are Konstantin Ivanov, Eugene Ginzburg and Dmitry Maslennikov. “Slon“ talked with Konstantin Ivanov and learned about the prospects for the 3D printing development. Interview by Zlata Nikolaeva.
Zlata Nikolaeva: How did you come up with the idea of 3D printing?Konstantin Ivanov: Everything began with the comprehension of personalization — the trend, which is now starting to grow fast. People have begun to get tired of mass production, for example, clothes: we are fed with the same things for everybody, so the services to create something individual appeared. My colleagues and I thought that personalization in 3D printing is also interesting. This is a rapidly developing sector: materials are becoming cheaper, technologies are becoming more accessible to the usual users, and, of course, investors’ attention is focused on 3D: three international funds came to us just to talk while we did not have anything. Of course, it was not about investments, but they were actively interested in the topic.
At first we thought to print figures of people, we believed that such a service would be popular among show business stars, and its marginality would be quite high, as 3D-printing was still quite expensive. But quickly we realized that we needed to have a wider view and act for a wider audience.
Zlata Nikolaeva: Let’s look even deeper into the past. How did you all get to know each other?
Konstantin Ivanov: Dmitry and I worked in Creative Inspiration Bureau for three years on client projects: advertising on the Internet, turnkey projects and so on. Then we met Eugene Ginzburg and started working on his agency Lebrand, which by that time had existed for nine years. At some point, we realized that we need to move on and it’s time to do something different.
We connected to the project of creating a virtual business incubator Crowd Synergy which received a lot of investment, built a large team, worked for a year — and screwed up. The project was closed in January, 2013. However, all the experience we got during the work was not in vain and we used it in the current startup.
Zlata Nikolaeva: So, did you start working on 3DPrintus after the business incubator was closed?
Konstantin Ivanov: Yes. We studied the topic for several months: who our competitors were, how technologies worked. In April, we launched a website with a description of the general idea and the subscription form. For a couple of months, we collected about four hundred subscribers and realized that people were interested in that story. In parallel, we were searching for people to join the team and tried to make orders. It was important for us to see immediately how this could commercialize.
My colleagues Dmitry and Eugene are currently doing the MetaBeta startup accelerator, they helped Yandex organize the Tolstoy Summer Camp, a startups competition. Our project also participated and became a finalist. This helped to develop useful connections and find mentors, such as Michael Gere from Dream Industries. It was necessary to push the project.
By the end of September we built a full team and launched the website you see now. We already had about a hundred orders, which we fully and manually conducted. By the same time, we selected production partners with various industrial 3D printers, where we manufactured absolutely everything.
Zlata Nikolaeva: Tell us about the industrial printing. What is the difference between it and conventional 3D printers?
Konstantin Ivanov: All simple home 3D printers are small desktop devices that you can see at a lot of events. But the product quality is not very high. Industrial printers are dimensional devices with different technologies, and do more or less the same thing: create objects layer-by-layer on a 3D model from different materials: colored gypsum, polyamide and photopolymer, rubber-like plastic, metals, both simple and precious. You can create an object of any complexity in an amount from 1 to 500 copies. This is the difference from mass production, where millions of identical products are cast from one form.
We have connections with many manufactures in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Latvia, so the client has the opportunity to choose which material and technique to use, there is no production that has all the materials and printer types at once.
Zlata Nikolaeva: How many partners do you have now?
Konstantin Ivanov: About 20 productions, but there are five main partners, we have worked out with them business processes and the best prices, which we also broadcast to customers with their margin. And in our turn we handle all the marketing and customer service.
Zlata Nikolaeva: Do you actually work as an agency?
Konstantin Ivanov: Yes, but that is a more complicated story.
Zlata Nikolaeva: Do you think about having your own equipment?
Konstantin Ivanov: Well, we are not going to buy it for the next year for sure. We did not want to attract $10 million investments to buy our printers, it will be impossible to recoup in a few years. We rather try to shake the market, invest in the 3D printing design community development. This will be the growth driver for us.
Zlata Nikolaeva: How does your business model look like?
Konstantin Ivanov: For now, we have its first part operating, which we conditionally call the “bureau”: we process the incoming customers requests. Someone has a ready model, and someone just has a picture and a desire to make a figure from it. We create a 3D model, discuss it with the client, give advice on the necessary print material, send it to production, control the process and quality, pack it, deliver it to the customer and, of course, continue to maintain relationships with each of them, helping to make new orders.
But we are moving to the market place model, when the client comes to the platform we are developing, and everything he wants to do will not require any management from our side. He either uploads the finished model and immediately receives a calculation for all materials, presses the button and sends the order to the production; we only have to package and deliver. Or he/she hires a designer from the community, they make a model together and again we only deal with customer service. In addition, we create automated online services that would allow us to create a 3D model and send to print without any skills at all. The first of these is the vase designer. In both cases, our income is the margin from the completed orders.
Zlata Nikolaeva: What investments did you get?
Konstantin Ivanov: First we got pre-seed investment from the MetaBeta accelerator, which did not exceed $10 thousand. Now we have attracted a round from two business angels, we will be able to report about it in December. This money will go to the online platform development, marketing and team expansion for the next 9–12 months.
Zlata Nikolaeva: How many orders have been made at the moment?
Konstantin Ivanov: About two hundred. The orders are very different; one of the most interesting was a GAZ exhibition in GUM until November 29th. For our client and this exhibition we made the two cars “Volga“ models, 21st and 24th, about 48 centimetres in length — quite large!
We make interesting projects with designers. For example, there are LeraValera comics, they have 30 thousand fans, and for them the creators made their characters in 3D.
Zlata Nikolaeva: Let’s talk about the team. What task are the founders engaged in and how did you find people? KI: As I’m the 3DPrintus CEO, I do everything from the company’s operating activities to the team selection, product development management, partner search and so on. Dmitry Maslennikov is engaged in business development, Eugene completely took over the marketing issues, as this is his specialization.
During the brief existence of the project, people have begun to join us miraculously. They’ve told: “A cool idea, I want to work with you.“ So we’ve found the head for client service, a PR and SMM specialist, she used to work as a financier in PwC, but then she joined a startup community and wanted to do something interesting on her own. We have found a technologist who deals with all technologies related directly to printing; a financier and a lawyer. There is also a content editor, as our task now is creating a large number of good materials about the models preparation and technical parts, this is important for designers.
Zlata Nikolaeva: Where do the designers who collaborate with you come from?
Konstantin Ivanov: Most of all, they are industrial designers and they came to us as others, seeing our messages in social media. I mean, we found almost everyone either in social media, or people just found our website or came on the colleagues advice.
Zlata Nikolaeva: So what you made was basically to create a website without having a team, and people just piled up?
Konstantin Ivanov: Yes, and we did it consciously. We made minimal investments in the search for people to understand whether it was interesting to someone. It was an experiment: would there be demand? Only in this way it is possible not to burn down a lot of money, as it has already happened to us.
Zlata Nikolaeva: Okay, so here are people coming to your company, but how do you understand that these are the right people?
Konstantin Ivanov: Everything is very simple, we learned from the first startup experience, where we spent a lot of money. Including on salaries for employees. We should work with people whose priority is not a high salary, but the opportunity to develop and get new skills, to be involved in a big interesting project. We considered people from the point of view of this desire.
Zlata Nikolaeva: So the initial condition is a small salary with a prospect for the future, isn’t?
Konstantin Ivanov: That too.
Zlata Nikolaeva: So people from small towns who rent an apartment or room in Moscow will not be able to join your team simply because they can not afford it, as they need at least 20–30 thousand per month to pay the rent, right?
Konstantin Ivanov: On the one hand, yes. On the other, I’m talking about the backbone of the team, people who wanted to work with us themselves. We have excellent relations, and they are not built on high salaries. Everyone agrees that now, perhaps, we have low salaries, but in six months it will be different, so we are working for the result. Everyone understands this. At the same time, we hire developers and they have higher salaries, as it’s conditioned by the market.
Zlata Nikolaeva: How do you assess the work results now, at the moment when the project has no profit yet?
Konstantin Ivanov: Each team member has certain tasks and goals for each month. We constantly hold joint meetings, each has its own area of responsibility, but everyone knows what common goal we are striving to achieve this or next month.
Zlata Nikolaeva: Who are you hiring now?
Konstantin Ivanov: We’re hiring two or three developers, we are looking for a tech leader, a programmer, a designer and a planner.
Zlata Nikolaeva: What are your requirements, apart from professionalism?
Konstantin Ivanov: First of all, we need a lot of personal communication with people, because the project is not easy. We need to discuss how everything should work, it is important that people are maximally included in the team, attend the main meetings and understand what it is all about. So there is no thoughtless development. Therefore, I say to everyone that we need constant communication. Economically, the “remote team” is not bad, even good, because most developers are introverts. But to reach key goals, distance working is not suitable. You can find flexible systems, but you need to communicate constantly. We are looking for people who want to understand the topic and are ready for constant communication with us.
Zlata Nikolaeva: What do you learn from your competitors experience?
Konstantin Ivanov: Our competitors in the West have huge investments and they exist for 4–5 years. This is their strength, but also our competitive advantage: they have not recouped investments and are still looking for their niche. In general, there is no boom in our industry for now, we are at the experiment stage. It is in our interests to find what will cause explosive growth.