From 5 employees to 500: Craig Broady on engineering at a fast-growing tech company
Craig Broady joined Formlabs as our fifth engineer. He interned at the company twice, and ended up skipping graduate school to work at Formlabs full-time. Craig has seen Formlabs transition from a small team launching its first product to where we’re at now, multiple products, close to 500 strong, and still growing. Read on to hear more about his journey.
You joined Formlabs over six years ago, what brought you here?
Back in college, I worked with one of our co-founders on his master’s thesis about robotic desk lamps. He introduced me to Max (Formlabs CEO) and another co-founder. In 2012, I interned at Formlabs for a month and returned the summer after I finished undergrad. Before graduate school, I was supposed to go to a different internship in Germany. I pushed it back and ended up canceling so I could work on the Kickstarter project and have stayed ever since. I basically did my graduate degree at Formlabs.
How has your role evolved since you started?
My role seems to evolve by the year. My first full-time role was a mechanical engineering technician. I helped build the Form 1 printers and early prototypes. It felt like my baby.
I worked on some parts for the Form 1+ and moved quickly into Form 2. I spent a lot of time in our factory as we ramped up; I got to see the printers from early stages to shipping thousands. I then transitioned into post-Form 2 R&D. I think a lot about what we are going to do next, new technologies, and future products on our SLA line.
What does it mean to be a formling?
Within engineering, we can be wacky and weird. Everyone is dedicated, smart, and passionate about what they do. Most people do not treat Formlabs as a 9 to 5 or just a paycheck. We have a community of people who are truly invested in what we do.
When did you know you made the right decision to work here?
The first early moment was seeing the response on Kickstarter. We set a $100,000 goal and hit that goal in 2 hours, then it was a million two days later. I saw that we could be onto something special. Shipping the Form 2 solidified that feeling even more.
How has the company grown since you’ve been here?
Exponential is the best way to put it. We are over 500 people. It’s crazy to see the company grow since we were four people when I started. We found a product people reacted to, new markets, and people who became our primary customers.
Now, we have many teams, people whose job it is to sell the printer, and we can do so much more when the company grows. We’re also not too compartmentalized.
While the company has grown, I have grown too — from building machines, calibrating and equipment to leading a team of six people and setting product direction. I practically get a new job title every year.
Any good job titles?
I’ve had Code Chief Zookeeper, Grant Admiral of Formlabs Navy, Printer Whisperer, Calibration Wizard, and Snail Enthusiast.
Possible titles for my autobiography:
- Welcome to Organized Chaos
- Resin Resin Everywhere
- The Printer That Broke the Internet
- Mystery of the Desk Pickle
- I Messed Up Everything and Then I Fixed It
What does it take to be successful in your field and at Formlabs?
I would say it is important to have foresight on what’s going to happen next. People are not handed opportunities here. People who succeed find opportunities, take them, and then succeed.
The people who tend to do well solve a problem before it becomes a problem.
How do you spend your day?
I make my coffee in the West Wing. I might be meeting with people to check on work in progress, figuring out our technical direction, putting on gloves and building stuff, working in CAD or spreadsheets, or putting together a presentation. There’s no easy way to describe a typical day because there really isn’t one.
What are the top 3 lessons you’ve learned at Formlabs?
- Building one of something is very different from building ten, one thousand, or ten thousand of something.
- Things can take time and that’s not always bad.
- Successfully growing, organizing, and succeeding in a company that is four, forty, or four hundred people is very different. Being aware of the growing pains before they become growing pains is useful.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the Form 2 because it is our flagship product and has worked very well. I had a big hand in a lot of its parts. It felt good to ship something successful that made people happy.
I can point to the tower which is the backbone of the printer and say I built it.
What is a unique challenge or problem in your role?
A big one is striking the right balance between moving quickly and adding structure. It’s also a tradeoff between being scrappy and fast or structured and slow.
You’re known around the office as the snail guy. Where did that come from?
Yes, I am. Years ago, we were working on improving material files for the Form 1. Parts would print on some parts of the build platform. We needed something small and quick to print. We could print many snails on a build platform. Within a few days, I had hundreds of snails at my desk.
What hackathon projects have you worked on?
I printed my future apartment, which ended up being a blog post for us. I didn’t know what furniture I needed and rearranged it like a doll house to see what looked best. This year, I worked on employee trading cards. Each employee would get a baseball-style card with their picture, bio, how long they’ve been here, and what they do.
Formlabs has a lot of events, social activities, and a vibrant community. What part of the community speaks to you?
Everyone is empowered to plan events, activities, or things they are passionate about. From Tough Mudder to Soft Mudder to the summer trips, renting a cabin, going out on a weekend, or the impromptu Smash Bros tournaments, there are a lot of options. For example, WhiskeyLabs was started by someone who likes whiskey and that has become a regular tradition. It creates a community atmosphere of people inside and outside work.
Tough Mudder is an annual tradition at Formlabs. What is Soft Mudder?
When I heard about Tough Mudder, the idea of running and climbing obstacles in the mud did not sound fun to me. I presented the idea to the company: You could sleep in, watch a movie, eat brunch, or run and climb obstacles in the mud. It became a rivalry between me and Luke, our Chief Business Officer. Who would get more people? Soft Mudder won by one person the first year. Both have become a tradition every year.
Interested in mechanical engineering or joining Craig’s team? We’re hiring!