I am a bit of a grinch around the holidays as I really don’t like getting more stuff. As a result I am also not all that excited about buying stuff for other people. Thankfully this year there is a terrific solution — gift cards from Skillshare and from Shapeways. With these you can give the gift of learning and discovery! What could be better? The recipients can of course take any class or buy any item but when you give both, they can first take the Introduction to 3D Printing on Skillshare and then design and print their own item on Shapeways.
When we invested in Shapeways at USV, one of the trends we liked was that 3D design tools were getting cheaper and more accessible. I am happy to report that Tinkercad is now an amazing entry level and free tool that runs right in your browser.
This Sunday afternoon from a standing start all five of us (Susan, myself and our three kids), each took the excellent Tinkercad tutorials and then designed a model, uploaded it to Shapeways and ordered it. All of that in under two hours and you could probably compress it into 60 minutes if you were in a real rush.
Here is what I designed — a ball trapped in a cage (word of warning: it involves one shell (a ball) trapped inside another, so I am not sure yet how well it will print in materials other than strong & flexible plastic). I am excited about the upcoming unboxing event where we all receive our products from Shapeways!
In 2008, I wrote a mini series about Kaizen and Software Development. Kaizen or continuous improvement asserts the centrality of quality as the only way to achieve the trifecta of quality, speed and cost. Simply put incremental improvements around quality will result in lower cost and higher speed. Much of agile development has really been the re-invention of techniques long known in manufacturing. In my series I cover lot size one, no inventory, visualization, root cause analysis and customized tools.
I am excited to be facilitating a workshop this morning for the team from Shapeways about all of these topics. For Shapeways continuous improvement is doubly relevant because it applies not only on the software development side but also for their own 3D printing, their network of third party printers and their logistics operations tying it all together. In addition to the topics above we will also be covering statistical process control, which I somehow forgot about in that series of posts.
So what is statistical process control? The basic idea is simple: try to decompose variation in process measurement between inherent variability and excess variability that indicates a problem. A key tool used for this is the control chart which allows for the visual detection of excess variability and also of patterns that suggest systematic sources of variation.
An obvious example application in software development would be to measure and graph a web site response time. Response time will show natural variation because of the variability of the many underlying systems. But a big spike outside the 99% confidence interval should be investigated. Similarly a pattern where the site slows down in a predictable fashion — say every 10 minutes — should be investigated (even if that slow down stays well within the 99%).
I am often surprised by how little of the performance data that companies collect these days winds up actually being used that way. That may be another example of where we have to relearn the lessons from manufacturing. At many companies we have had the luxury of simply letting Moore’s law take care of things for us. Throwing ever more hardware at a problem is in many ways the equivalent of having inventories.
If you are an expert on continuous improvement or know one, please send them my way. Also, Shapeways is still looking for a Global Director of Production and Distribution.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am a sucker for the command line. Hence I was smiling yesterday, when I saw the Duck Duck Go Terminal hack. But I realize that it is not mass market behavior. So I am happy whenever a bit of command line like goodness finds its way into broader usage.
The rise of @mentions and #hashtags on Twitter is one such example. By adding a tiny bit of syntax to an expression we wind up with a lot more value without requiring a lot of extra work on behalf of the user. Imagine for a moment that instead you had to click on each username to identify it as Twitter handle and then link it. Or type the hashtags into separate fields.
So I was thrilled to see Shapeways support @mentions for conversations in their marketplace for 3D printed goods. This is just the beginning of a number of additional social features coming to Shapeways soon.
A couple of years ago Shapeways was a tiny company based in the Netherlands with a big idea: providing 3D printing as an on demand service and marketplace. Following an investment from Union Square Ventures and Index Ventures the company relocated to New York City (and recently raised more money including from new investor Lux Capital).
Today marks a critical milestone in the growth of Shapeways: Mayor Bloomberg presided over the groundbreaking for a large 3D printing facility in what used to be an old manufacturing building in Long Island City.
Next to the mayor are Peter Weijmarshausen and Marleen Vogelaar two of the co-founders of Shapeways. This is a big step forward in making New York City a center for Manufacturing 2.0 as I had hoped when we first invested in Shapeways. Congratulations to the entire team at Shapeways!
It may be a bit of a stretch to call a redesign and new brand identity a feature but bare with me for a minute. Earlier this week Shapeways launched a redesign of the site including a complete overhaul of the brand identity. This was designed to clear up several years of detritus that had accumulated and offer a more welcoming experience. I love it and it has been well received by existing community members.
Why do I call it a feature? Much the same way in which speed is a feature. You can have your team work on only so many things at once and improving speed or doing a design and brand overhaul come at the cost of working on other features. And in both cases an improvement will lead to more usage. Based on experience across many we startups I would argue that you should prioritize speed and design more highly than most features. And just to be clear, by design I don’t mean pretty pictures but visual look and feel *and* usability. Good design combines both. It invites the user in and makes the service easy and fun to use.
A big congrats to the Shapeways team which over the course of the last twelve months has delivered on dramatically improved speed and now on a great redesign all the while still rolling out other new features (such as much improved shop management).
I have not been writing nearly enough about many of the cool things that our portfolio companies are doing. To correct that I will start doing Feature Friday posts. The opener is the feed introduced earlier this week by Shapeways.
I love activity feeds. They are a fun way to see what’s happening on a site. But more than that, I have come use them in board meetings as way to think about what a company does (even if they don’t yet have a feed). It’s a powerful way to organize one’s thinking about existing and future features. And I guess we really have to thank Facebook for popularizing the activity feed concept (someone please correct me here if there is an earlier equally well known one).
Please go and checkout the Shapeways feed, which they cheekily call the “Feed of the Future” (as in: “the future of stuff”)
I usually take weekends off from blogging, but this one is just too good to pass up: Shapeways and Soundcloud have teamed up to bring out “the Vibe" an iPhone case which comes with a completely custom waveform as its back.
I love this because it shows off the power of the platforms that Shapeways and Soundcloud have created. It also represents a completely unexpected use case for a sound file. And it is a completely organic, API-enabled collaboration between two of our portfolio companies.
All of that launched at SXSW! Makes me wish I was there after all and even has me tempted to get an iPhone.
PS Some nice coverage over at Businessweek.
So here is a very rare opportunity: a truly exciting manufacturing job in New York City. Shapeways is setting up a 3D printing facility here in a super cool location and needs someone to own that. They will have a completely awesome lineup of machines there that all seem like they have arrived from the future. The challenge of the job is not just to push these 3D “printers” to their performance envelope but also to structure a highly efficient post-printing operation that can deal with thousands of different parts daily that need to be cleaned, matched to orders and shipped. Shapeways has a blog post also as as well as a detailed description of the opportunity on their website. If you know anyone who might be a fit for this position, please refer them to Shapeways. Also please help spread this opportunity via Twitter and LinkedIn!
When we announced the USV investment in Shapeways a little over a year ago, I pointed out the potential to make New York City a global center for 3D printing. Since then the Shapeways team has done a lot to make that happen. Here are just a few of the highlights. First, the founders relocated themselves and their families from Eindhoven in the Netherlands to New York City. Then they proceeded to assemble an amazing team here that is building incredible stuff and fostering a great community.
Team Shapeways also started a research collaboration with NYU that’s pushing the frontiers of analyzing 3D models for printability. With over 300,000 different 3D printable parts and thousand of new parts being uploaded, Shapeways has reams of data for analysis.
Now I am super excited that we are moving another step closer to making New York City a global center for modern manufacturing: in collaboration with NYCIF which is providing a loan, Shapeways will be opening a production facility right here in New York City. Oh and while they were at it, they launched a redesigned site with an awesome new tag line - the future of stuff! - and an awesome tool that lets you create a beautiful completely customized vase (sake size) in minutes.