Makerbot's wall of creation
Twice in the space of a week I've been mildly surprised by the latest in a series of high profile acquisitions in the 3D printing space. First 3D Systems swallowed up Phenix Systems to add metal AM into their portfolio, and then at around 11pm last night - with no consideration for the UK media who all stayed up late to blog about it - Makerbot and Stratasys confirmed the worst kept secret in the industry and announced they were merging.
Nothing wrong with mergers, or the reasoning for this one and its only natural in an industry which is barely mature, but it did make me reflect that that another personality is likely to be removed from the game.
Now, I'm not talking about individuals here, although clearly Bre Pettis is definitely a (much richer!) personality in the 3D printing space, I'm talking about the company personality, call it company culture if you prefer.
One of things that has interested me most over my years reporting on 3D Printing is the range of entrepreneurs that I have met, they have some similar characteristics but ultimately all very different, and all of their businesses are run in very different ways because of this.
Start up culture is exciting, risky, decisions are made on the fly. Innovation is high up on the list, business process and protocol much lower down. Highly frustrating if you are an advertising bod trying to lock an advertising schedule down with a company that has no marketing knowledge whatsoever or any real idea what their market is but fantastic if you are an observer or reporter.
There is always something to report on, something different about the approach of each company or the technology they are peddling. Something you can hang your story around that doesn't make every article sound like a corporate marcoms division have been at it with a red pen and nixed all the quotes that will make the stock market shudder and replaced it with corporate BS messaging.
As a result of this merger the culture and personality of Makerbot has to change, much as Z-Corp did when it became part of 3D Systems, and MTT did when it became part of Renishaw.
The PR from last night says Makerbot will stay as a business unit within Stratasys but they are still going to be part of a company that has investors to bear in mind..no more on the fly, no more off the cuff, new products will take longer to get to market, they are in with the big boys...bad press means lots of other people's money lost.
And therein lies the rub, this deal with help Makerbot grow and accelerate sales but it may well reduce their risk taking, reduce their ability to present their undoubted unique "cool" vibe to the press and I suspect it might also be bad for the speed of their innovation...and for an industry that is built on innovations and ideas this might be bad news for the end users and machine purchasers.
I challenge David Reis and Bre to not let this happen, don't lose the Makerbot vibe, they are good part of the reason the whole world is looking at 3D Printing right now - this is not something that should get lost when integration starts.