Monday, January 5, 2015

(The Big Disrupt) The Carnage Reports Talks to founders of Comakr Mike Bratter and Frank Woll

Could you tell our readers more about your background?

My name is Mike Bratter, I am fairly new to 3D printing but have an entrepreneurial background. I was a co-founder of an online digital design firm named CyberSight in the 1990s which was ultimately acquired.  In the 2000s I ran a real estate business that invested in land during the housing boom.  In both cases I luckily managed to get out before things imploded.  I see the 3D printing space in the earliest stages, similar to what the Internet was like in 1994 when the first graphical browser was released and I want to be part of this industry as it gains credibility.   

My name is Frank Woll and I’ve been involved in 3D modeling for real world objects since the 1990s. Primarily my work consisted of CAD modeling large boat hulls to be CNC machined for the yachting industry.  There’s nothing like the fear of a full size 150’ “print” of your 3D model starting up.  Any mistakes would be… not good. Since those early times and the advent of 3D printers and small CNC machines, prototyping right from the desk can be done to review and test shapes which has had me very excited about the 3D printing revolution.

What got you interested in doing a startup?

Mike: I have been following the 3D printing space for a few years but just as an investor, watching stocks like 3D Systems and Stratasys and trying to keep tabs on the industry.  This past year I joined a local 3D printing group where Frank and I met and that led me to seriously think about how to get involved now that there are many low cost printer options and interest online is  really starting to percolate. 

Frank: As Mike mentioned, we met at a local 3D printing group and we both happened to have similar interest and awe at the potential this new development in technology has to offer.  I’ve always had more ideas than I can manage for products and know that there are others out there with the same desire to create better objects.  Without the barrier to manufacturing of the past, I believe a better living experience through design needs to be made available.

Can you explain to our readers what Comakr is and how it works?

Comakr is going to be an online community where 3D printing makers and 3D designers join forces to crowdsource digital files for cool and practical real world objects and products.     

The format we envision will work like this:

The best concepts for unseen products and objects will be discussed and hashed out publicly on the site and the best ideas will be  “upvoted” to the top of the page, think of how the site reddit works.  Once the crowd has democratically vetted out the favored ideas, a designer will be selected to actually work on the project.  This user could  be someone  who actively participated in the discussion of the concept or it could be a designer who bids on the project, either way the crowd will decide by vote who is chosen.

The winning designer names his or her price to design the 3D file.

The ball is then back in the community’s court to crowdfund to the designer’s designated fee.
Once the requested design fee is met the designer will then go off and create the file. The greatest thing we think about the site is going to be that once the file is released it will be available to everyone in the Comakr community free of charge.  The files from all funded campaigns will be archived so anyone who uses the site can access a digital file repository and select which campaigns they want to try out and experiment with at home or with the fancy office 3D printer.

What was the spark or inspiration behind Comakr?

Well it’s just an assumption but we think the more talented designers are holding back from sharing their 3D designs because there is a glut of free files already online for trinkets and figurines.  We are hoping that if the designer is adequately financially incentivized to share his or her creative genius we might see some really wonderful digital blueprints for truly innovative and useful 3d printed objects shared online.

Who would you say would be your main competition to your company?

Well our idea is kind of like a reverse Kickstarter so they could try to stamp us out.    We don’t see the dollar amount of what we raise for each campaign being anywhere near what Kickstarter raises though so I don’t see a financial reason for them to try and specifically compete with us.  They are more about raising money for products, like 3d printers, than digital property anyway.

What obstacles or challenges do you think may get in the way of Comakr being a success?

The biggest challenge is makers are used to downloading files for free and there is no shortage of files available online.  We also think the current 3d printing community is still very much a DIY group who likes to figure out how to design and print their objects on their own.

So far, people interested in Comakr can sign up to the site, when do you plan to go live?

Good question.  We want to have something working by February. To be honest we are bootstrap funding this ourselves so we are debating a secondary concept that may or may not be part of this site.  We can probably only afford to proceed with one idea right now so we are still trying to assess which will be more popular and interesting as a first project.   Our other idea we are calling for now and it’s essentially a web app that 3D designers can use to sell their 3D designs and objects on their own blog or online shop. 

We would be targeting people who sell customized objects, like eyeglasses, for example which require a user to finalize their product using a customized interactive design palette.  So we would offer a platform that a single shop owner couldn’t afford to create alone and requires a software developer to create, but would be a great tool on any 3D designer’s ecommerce site. 

The thinking behind this idea is that huge sites like Shapeways require the designer to have their objects printed through them.  If we allow the designer to decide who does the printing, like a 3D hub for instance, they might be able to sell the object for less money to their customers and also increase their own profit margin since their overhead is so much lower.  They can still use the big sites to generate traffic to their work but they can use our web platform as another way to sell their 3d objects just like a person who sells products on Amazon usually has their own company website as well. 

What’s your take on the state of the crowdfunding and 3d printing industry today?

This is Mike speaking and I think there is still a lot of hype going on which at least is putting 3D printing on the radar of the average person. I see printers on Kickstarter raising millions of dollars and who knows if they will ever even be made.  I think of the saying “sell the sizzle and not the steak” when I see what is being promised right now on crowdfunding sites. I don’t see as much attention to practical uses for 3D printing but I know that is on the way.  The big issue is the printers that make objects out of cool materials like different metals cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to own so the rest of us are still being forced to make plastic cubes. 

Where do you see the both industries going in next five years?

Prices of printers are dropping without a doubt and that is going to mean more widespread adoption. There are promises of affordable metal printers in 2015 which would be awesome.  Gartner says there will be over 2 million printers in homes within 3 years and most of these will cost under $2,500. Right now there are under 100,000 printers owned by consumers. Our crowdsourcing idea will really take hold when the consumer and small business owner steps in.  We are probably still a little early but it will happen.

Where do you see Comakr in the next five years?

We are starting this out on our own without any investors and want to grow at our own pace so we will be focused on what is best for the community that joins us on the journey. We want to be a really successful online 3D printing community or even an eCommerce marketplace for 3D objects and since this space is still in it’s infancy it might not mean we are primarily about crowdfunding in the future. We might become more of an incubator of ideas or an online laboratory. We want to stay flexible so whatever direction this movement goes we go can tag along for the ride.  

Connect with Mike on Twitter @3dprintingwow and sign up with Comakr here.

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