Kids Are Helping Toybox Change the Consumer 3D Printing Playing Field
What’s in a game? For Toybox, it’s the creative potential of 3D printing
Before the 1980s, home printing didn’t exist. By the early ‘80s, you’d have to be prepared to spend three grand or more for a personal printer. Not ten years later and consumer printer costs were slashed by a third. Today? Best Buy and Amazon are selling them for as low as $30.
As it stands now, there’s a good chance you won’t come across a 3D printer as a dinner guest at someone’s home. They’re either too big (the printer, not the dinner host), too expensive, or too hard to use. Toybox is changing that, but they’re not starting with your dinner host — they’re starting with your dinner host’s kids.
According to Toybox Co-Founder and CEO Ben Baltes, “Kids love building things and parents want to get their kids more involved in tech.”
“The problem is, 3D printers are really hard to use,” he added.
Baltes and his fellow co-founders would know. As former Microsoft employees, they spent a lot of time around 3D printers. And when they weren’t at work with them, they’d go home and build their own humanoid robots, art, shoes, or even other 3D printers, according to him.
“One day one of our co-founders says to us, ‘Hey, what if we had this as kids? Imagine what we could have created.’”
— Ben Baltes
So, using their collectively strong technical backgrounds, the Toybox team set about empowering kids by lowering barriers to their own creative agency and providing them with a more imaginative way to build things on their own.
According to Exponential Creativity Ventures CEO Adam Huttler, “3D-printing remains a pretty nerdy hobby that isn’t broadly accessible. Toybox has done more than any other company to chip away at that and make the technology much less esoteric. That’s not through radical innovation as much as through lots of small but thoughtful and important design choices. For example, Toybox has a unique, flexible, magnetized printing surface that makes it easy for kids to detach a new print without using a knife.”
“They’ve really distinguished themselves by focusing on kids specifically. And that’s a pretty great market. Toybox appeals to the same creative impulses that made Minecraft, Roblox, or even Lego such massive hits,” Huttler added.
“It’s like the next generation of Legos.”
— Ben Baltes
Toybox is continuing to roll out new features and grow its user base, and the company’s five-year plan is to have a Toybox 3D printer in 10 percent of households with children six to nine years old.
And as much potential for creative agency as there is in the physical product itself, there is even more power in the community that Toybox hopes will spawn from the technology through the company’s online platform.
“That’s when kids can start sharing their creations with each other; they can start sharing their virtual goods. They can collaborate and build things in real life together. That’s when the platform will be really powerful,” Baltes said.
Baltes and Toybox’s three other co-founders have simplified their own technically minded micro-network of casual creativity, reached into their own playful pasts, and then catapulted the idea into the future, giving kids the same sense of wonder they felt during their corporate years as moonlight hobbyists.
“There is definitely an aspect of play in our company.”
— Ben Baltes
If these 3D printers are easy and affordable enough for kids to use, then who’s to say they won’t catch on with adventurously creative adults as well?
“3D-printing is still a few years away from going fully mainstream. What’s driving the innovation on a technical level are industrial applications, and we’re just now starting to see those in widespread use, as opposed to ‘demonstration’ applications. But there are enormous opportunities for creatives of all kinds. The low-hanging fruit is for designers and sculptors and folks like that who make physical objects. Some of the more exciting applications, however, involve things like wholly new kinds of musical instruments or cultural preservation of artifacts,” Huttler said.