Zach Kaplan, CEO of Inventables, a Dundee portfolio company, was recently featured in a Chicago Tribune article on the release of his recent Shapeoko 2 milling kit as well as the 3D printing industry.
As part of the release, Zach reflected on the changing economics of his and many other industries. Digital tools have increased competition and spurred innovation, driving economic growth. “Big hit” products are nonexistent and the magnitude of hits has gotten smaller and smaller over time. The digital manufacturing industry has been described as a long-tail manufacturing sector, where the sales of products, when graphed, look like a long tail. Now, millions of firms worldwide make different products for different customers daily, and flexibility is a necessity for long-term viability.
Zach gave three pieces of advice to his peers leading the Third Industrial Revolution.
1) “Successful digital manufacturers (entrepreneurs) focus on serving niches.” You can’t be everything to every one right away, make a product people need, no matter the market size.
2) “Build a community first.” Zach says to think of yourself as a rockband, not a factory. It is better to have a vocal group of 100 customers just as crazy about your product or service as you are than to have 1,000 lukewarm customers.
3) “Cash flow immediately.” Easier said than done, but revenue generation is critical. Cash in the door solves a lot of problems.
Zach’s take on digital manufacturing’s role in the Third Industrial Revolution rings especially true as Inventables rolls out the Shapeoko 2, allowing anyone to manufacture consumer products on their desk at home for under $650.