A few days ago, we posed a question to the Hackaday community. If you could ask the CEO of MakerBot a question, what would it be?
It’s an interesting proposition; there is no company serving the maker community – and those of us who refuse to call ourselves part of the maker community – more hated than MakerBot. They’ve patented ideas uploaded to Thingiverse. They’ve turned their back on the open hardware community they grew out of, They’re undercutting their own resellers, and by all accounts, they don’t know how to make a working extruder. MakerBot was the company that would show the world Open Hardware could be successful, but turned into a company that seemed to reject Open Hardware and Open Source more than any other.
Needless to say, the readers of Hackaday responded. Not with actual questions for the MakerBot CEO, mind you, but oh how you responded. This effort by MakerBot was likened to the hail Mary thrown by Radio Shack a few years ago. We know how that turned out.
Nevertheless, questions were collected, The MakerBot CEO was interviewed by Lady Ada, and a summary compiled. You can check that interview, originally posted on the Adafruit blog, below.
MakerBot and Open-Source – There’s an opportunity to patch things up with the Open-source community, is MakerBot interested?
Jonathan said they’d like to promote the open parts of Thingiverse, the API, how those can be used. He was very interested in how MakerBot can communicate clearly what is open and what is not. He said they haven’t been very clear about this and part of this road trip is to address that. All summer, Jonathan will be meeting with customers, prospects, and power users to listen to their thoughts and learn about their needs. These meetings will give him an amazing view of the landscape and help inform our future plans. The tour will cover 22 states in about 12 weeks.
We suggested looking at some examples (http://www.apple.com/opensource/ etc.) and talking to Open source organizations, people and projects to find out what’s important to them for 3D printing in general. Ladyada suggested open-sourcing the Gen 5 motor controller/driver PCB because it’s not protectable anyway – it would be way to say “this part is open” these parts are not. Also, previous versions of MakerBot are open source, we suggested that can be promoted and made clear.
MakerBot and Material lock-in
Should people be able to use material in printers that they own? There is a concern that MakerBot is planning DRM and material lock-in. Does the new CEO think that people should be able to use material in printers that they own? We understand the benefits to users in knowing where their materials come from and that they are all going to perform as expected, however, what about the people out there like our customers who understand the tradeoffs using 3rd party filament? In a recent Copyright Office hearing MakerBot was mentioned, a lot. A majority of our customers and community believe they have the choice to use their printer as they see fit. Regardless, we’re concerned that using copyright as the legal mechanism to force material lock-in is a bad-scene for the 3D printing ecosystem. Stratasys owns MakerBot and currently chips materials.
Jonathan said at this time he sees no value in DRM’ing filament for MakerBots. It would be expensive, hard to enforce, cause less sales – there’s not a lot of compelling reasons to do that.
We said Stratasys should not speak on behalf of MakerBot if they’re going to talk to the Copyright Office regarding DRM protection/issues because it’s not helpful for the MakerBot and 3D printing community.
He agreed and said he would talk to Stratasys about that including Johan’s help (PR manager).
MakerBot Replicator 5th gen
The MakerBot replicator 5th Gen units had some challenges and mixed reviews at launch, we know you’ve been working to fix the issues such as the Smart Extruders, we decided not to stock them at this time. What’s being worked on now to address the previous issues, what type of testing and assurances will the customers and community have that if they trust MakerBot again that they will not be let down? For resellers, would we be able to thoroughly test units before launch as part of a private beta program for example?
Jonathan reports a lot of progress with this and the quality has improved. Recently, they’ve seen a 74% satisfaction rate among Smart Extruder users and a 40 percent decline in Smart Extruder customer support cases since February 2015. Average support wait time is now 34 seconds. Six months ago, it was 11 minutes.
Analytics on Thingivese
We’d like granular analytics on our designs.
Eric will help make that happen and request what’s important to us to see for analytics.
Spam becoming an issue on Thingivese
Thingiverse has some spam issues… maybe a report spam button is necessary.
Eric said they could make the button bigger, etc and will work on this.
Promotion and celebration of designs on Thingiverse
Specific ways to get featured placement. Will email Adafruit to get our designs featured more.
Reselling MakerBot products
Generally speaking, dealing with the MakerBot distributor(s) was not as easy or as profitable as when we were able to purchase directly from MakerBot. For Adafruit we need better margins if we’re going to resell 3D printers. The return policies were not reseller friendly. Over the years the price of MakerBots seems to have gone up, while the price of other 3D printers of good quality went down, this made it a challenge to stock. For the Digitizer, MakerBot was selling them below the cost we purchased them, that was really rough on us.
Jonathan did channel sales and will specifically address this on the road and with us if we choose to stock MakerBots again.
General questions and comments
Are there areas you feel you can make the most improvements in user experience and printer output? Do you see any major technological changes in the near future or small incremental changes? What Stratasys technologies do you see making it into the MakerBot lineup of products? We’d like to see more MakerBot blog posts, people from the company making and sharing things, MakerBot has a long history of not only making 3D printers, but content themselves – we’d like to see that again.
We talked a lot about ideas and how MakerBot can state what it’s cause is and getting more of a face out there for this “relaunch” of sorts. Blog posts, videos, covering the 3D space. We suggested they consider “Make a Difference with a MakerBot” – Jonathan was receptive to the suggestions and is totally OK with talking to us again about these ideas if MakerBot wants to jump back into the 3D printing community.
Jonathan specifically said patents are necessary, but not the only way to win, it’s about innovating fast, great service, support etc. Specifically you do not maintain leadership through protection, you maintain leadership through innovation, specifically in the world of high tech. He pointed us to this video as an example of his thoughts in the space where he said the same thing.
Related to patents, we’d like see a defensive patent pool that manufacturers can opt into. That would be really great, we didn’t get a chance to bring that up in the meeting, but we’re mentioning it now here.
-Ladyada and Adafruit