Shapeways: 3D-Selfies and Customization will grow this €2-billion industry

Peter Weijmarshausen

Peter Weijmarshausen, CEO of Shapeways was the keynote speaker in the recent Eindhoven Startup Summit. He shared some numbers of the success of 3D-printing within just a few years of opening two factories and what’s just around the corner. And he concludes with 2 important pieces of advice!

3D-printing is the bridge between the digital world and the physical world. As a result, everything we understand about how things get made will change. Individuals, rather than companies, will decide what gets made. It’s going from mass market to an infinite number of personalized products, and from a controlled environment with big factories to networks of local manufacturers. Time to market goes from years or months to just a few hours. Those are very profound changes and I’m convinced it’s going to really disrupt the existing way of manufacturing. 3D-printing is also following the path Broadband internet disrupted enterprises, creating all kinds of new startup businesses.

Big success in such a short time

As a company, Shapeways has grown very quickly. In the last 8 years we’ve grown from an idea when I worked at the High Tech Campus for Philips to a company which is now headquartered in Manhattan. Shapeways has factories and offices in Eindhoven, Long Island City and Seattle, Washington and we’re active in over 170 countries. We now have a platform with over 3.8 million models and business that is growing exponentially.

50% of our customers have never used 3D-printing software before, yet they are clearly so empowered by the fact that they can make their own products, that they learned how to use the technology successfully. The number of people who have managed to sell their products to others has grown by 100% in the last year. I think that’s amazing.

More and more people are satisfying their own passions, building gadgets, making jewelry, scale models, parts for drones, industrial designs to replace obsolete parts, or inventing totally new products for new businesses; think about Raspberry Pie or iPhone cases, beautiful home décor printed in porcelain, and so the list continues. We’ve printed a bikini, a fantastic dress, and a product for Victoria’s Secret. That’s on the fashion side. We also printed an ion-plasma engine for a spacecraft that’s now in orbit, built by a company in Boston.

It shows you how influential you can be with a great idea — that 3D printing is not just for prototyping, it can be used to turn designs into physical products that everyone can use.

The stats from our platform are impressive. You can not only use the Shapeways platform to make something, but also sell it. Here are some top sellers. Nervous Systems, who make jewelry — have sold over 22,500 products. Dutch designer Michiel Cornelissen has sold over 6500 products. And Ceramic Wombat, our most prolific producer, has made and sold no less than 38,500 dungeons and dragons models!

So Shapeways is evolving from a startup ourselves into an engine which empowers other startups. At this moment, 38,000 entrepreneurs have opened stores on the Shapeways platform and are busy changing the world of manufacturing.

Let me highlight two things that are happening in the world of 3D printing right now, which I think takes this industry to the next level.

One of the trends is 3D scanning. It turns out that people love to be scanned and have it turned into a “miniature me”. Think of it as the 3D selfie. If you give the power of 3D scanning to the community, with a €500 piece of kit and an iPad, they can go to events, parties, weddings. We’re working on a booth, rather like taking a passport photo. It takes 117 photos, knits them together and then we’re able to take the information and turn it into a physical product. Of course, you can put your head onto the body of your favorite superhero if you like. I personally believe this is a way to get the general public engaged in 3D printing.

The Netherlands have the premiere, but we will be expanding rapidly to other places. Anyone in the country who wants to get scanned simply has to visit one of 9 locations and stand still for about 60 seconds. It is even possible to scan multiple people at once for fun family portraits. After the scan is complete, a digital file is automatically uploaded to Shapeways via an app on an iPad. The customer receives a link to purchase a 3D Selfie on Shapeways.com, where they can select to have it printed in a variety of sizes or more than 50 materials including metals like steel, bronze, silver or even gold!

The other trend is customization. We’ve launched free technology called Custom Maker. It means we are able to customize most of the 3.8 million products on the Shapeways Platform and to do it in an easy way that everyone understands. Customization is in fact the golden key to the success of 3D printing, because every item has the potential of becoming unique. It wasn’t possible until very recently and the community started using it the second it was available. You can easily put your name on something, or upload a logo or a picture. Then every item becomes one of a kind.

Growing on both sides of the Atlantic

We started our company in the Lifestyle Accelerator on the High Tech Campus which belonged to Royal Dutch Philips. It was an important start and without it, Shapeways would not exist today. The accelerator gave me the right amount of coaching and feedback. And of course we got the resources to turn an idea into a physical product. We started in 2007 and we knew that we had to scale fast.

So within 9 months we had our platform up and running, so we were able to take orders from customers. We iterated for about 5 months using money from friends and family and then we started getting international publicity in online magazines like TechCrunch. It took us a year to spin-out the company from Philips which is a little more complex than if you start the company by yourself. Union Square Ventures and Index Ventures were our first backers so we were able to open our first factory in Eindhoven in 2011 and also establish our headquarters in the heart of New York City.

We have since opened a second factory of 2500 sq metres in New York — and that facility is nearly full to capacity. I’m delighted we managed to find Chris Dixon of Andreesen Horowitz to share our vision and join the board. Their investment has enabled us to expand to a new 2500 sq metre facility in Eindhoven. It makes perfect sense to manufacture close to the marketplace, which is why we’re expanding on both sides of the Atlantic. We do tours every month via meetup.com so you’re welcome to come and do the tour yourself. The most recent piece of news is that HP is launching a truly revolutionary 3D printer — 10 times faster and cheaper — and they saw Shapeways as the perfect launching customer. 3D printing is still in the early stages of development — it’s a market of €2 billion compared to 1 trillion in total manufacturing. So we have a factor of 500 to go before we dominate manufacturing. Let’s see what happens!

Can you share two important pieces of advice for other startups?

  1. If you get a chance, make full use of a mentor network. When we started out with Shapeways, we were fortunate to meet a guy who had experience at a European VC firm. Once he understood our goals and direction, he gave us a lot of introductions as well as advice on how to approach investors and tell the story. Forget about trying to cold call US VC’s. You will never get their attention.
  2. Make very very sure that you get the right investor, if you have the luxury to choose. You can do that by talking to other startup CEO’s to filter out the best. Word gets around — and if you talk to startups who have already built a relationship with a particular VC and are exited, you get very valuable advice on what works and what doesn’t. We had amazing help from Union Square Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz. So never stop networking, and as a CEO make sure you understand the world of investing. Because it is just as defining to your success as your product or services.
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