Nicholas Giovinco

[geō-VEEN-koh]

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[Discussion] An open letter to Makerbot. Why should I buy your printer today?

This is a good discussion on the Makerbot Operator's Forums.  Essentially, the business model of Makerbot Industries is examined and met with mixed emotion.  Given that Makerbot is an "Open Source" company, how can that paradox mean that they are permitted to have a profitable business model.  Essentially, why are permited to monetize on other people's sweat.  This is a frustration to many.  The post started with Neotetric posting:

OK, so if I bought a cupcake a year ago, as I did (actually May 2010)
it pretty much will cost me a fortune to have any of the features of
your new product.  Now, I know that Makerbot wants to be on the
cutting edge, but why in the heck do I feel at this point that I would
have been better off funding some other 3d printing start-up that
would have made me feel good about my purchase?

What I don't understand is why Makerbot continues to offer new
features/products, and almost immediately forgets their entire
existing customer base.  In my opinion, you should pay as much
attention to us as you do to getting press, for your own survival.  As
soon as you release something new, your marketing, especially on your
website and product descriptions, almost insults me for buying
something from you previously.

 I have never seen an offer of a trade-in or upgrade.  Look, I gave
you $1300 in start-up capital for a 3d printer that has spent much of
that year in repairing, fiddling, calibration, etc..  Now, I knew this
was a hobby getting in.   But I look at the prints I am getting after
all that, and the prints new customers are getting, and I feel I
should have gotten get some help in getting there.  Like a little tiny
bit of help in getting a new extruder.

But now I am ready to buy a new printer.  Here is what I know.  If I
buy from Makerbot today, Makerbot will likely not help me with
upgrades when you improve their product.  So why should I buy today as
opposed to wait?

I almost bought a thingomatic a month or so ago.  I didn't get around
to it.  If I had, I would be offered no upgrade or special pricing to
use your new extruder or dual extruders.  I know you are probably
working on thin margins.  Could you give up even a little bit of that
to existing customers who upgrade.  Actually, even upgrade is a kind
word.  The real word should be repurchase.  Repurchase a new hot end.
Repurchase a new extruder.

I might fund Makerbot further right now, but I am sure you are going
to be offering a bigger printer very soon.  I am not asking for a
refund or anything, but if I buy a Makerbot printer today could I
maybe get 10% off the next one?  Could you sell me the next kit
without paying for the parts from the printer I buy today that are
duplicated in the next kit?

 I would like to be loyal.  I have enjoyed the printer.  But how do I
know that if I buy your new printer and new hot end today, that
tomorrow you will not be offering a new set of electronics, that I
need to repurchase at list price.

"Look at it this way - would you rather they spend their resources
maintaining legacy support, or that they were taking that effort into
making the next generation?" < posted in another thread.

Well, I would prefer both. I don't know that one negates the other.
When I look at what I am losing out on by not waiting half a year or
so from my last purchase, it's pretty hefty.

I certainly can afford a new 3d printer every year.  Where I buy it is
my choice. I would really appreciate some inkling of appreciation by
Makerbot for  being an early adapter and funding their research.  Why
is it that you can't even throw us some crumb of interest?  Why cant
you offer us a trade in deal?  Or parts?  Or try to offer something
like RobG is going to offer?  Or put up a really good page on how to
add a stepper to the cupcake, instead of what got put up?  Where is my
discount on the new extruder? As soon as you offer a new item, your
marketing immediately makes me feel sorry for buying from you.  They
need to talk about how your existing products are still good, but can
be upgraded at a discount.  Especially when there is less than 12
months between changes of this type. If you did that, you would hold
off competitors, and build strong brand loyalty.  With new investors,
it is more important to get market share through brand loyalty than to
get market share through feature improvements or immediate profits.

I was in the PC industry as a consultant for Apple when they first
offered a kit, then apple II and so on.  They were always concerned
with offering things at a rate that did not cause rage amongst those
who funded their growth.  For example, when they released the Mac,
they also released a board that offered upper/lower case, graphics,
and a mouse for the apple II.  Contrary to popular belief, Apple was
not the first personal computer out there.  There were many.  And they
paid attention to that.

And no, I have not been happy with support from you in any way.  Like
when I damaged my HBP and had to buy a whole new one instead of just
the part I damaged.  Ridiculous.  Many of your products are offered
for sale by you, but specifically say to get support from the
community.  How do I pay the community to support your products?  And
why should they make all the upgrades?  Why have you never offered any
upgrade for the cupcake?  Not a repurchase, but an upgrade? To improve
upon your flagship item instead of just replacing it.

I will continue to complain in the hopes that early adapters are not
ignored by you.  Why is all my support coming from third parties while
all my money goes to you?  Believe me, if you don't change your ways,
you will always have direct copy competitors.  Right now, the
thingomatic with dual extruders is the best game in town for a buy it
and use it home printer.  But tomorrow, this option will be available
and possibly improved upon by your known and unknown competitors.
What do I get for brand loyalty?

Makerbot, I am ready to buy a new printer, tell me why I should buy
from you?  What will you do for me when you offer something entirely
new in six months?  Such as a bigger printer, which is obviously on
it's way from you?  If we all waited six months to buy our next
printer, what would happen to your cash flow?

Come on guys, throw us a little appreciation for gods sake, so we will
buy from you.  Even if it is only mostly symbolic.

This inspired an outporing of people's frustration as well as overal support for the Makerbot effort.  Overall, I think Bre Pettis has done a good job informing the community of his stance as well as responding to these points raised:

The main thing that I think you want is for me to give you a deal on
the next generation printer. We should have raised the price on the
MK7 Thing-O-Matic and we didn't so it's a better value than before. We
regularly have challenges and give away printers. Here's the one we're
doing with GrabCAD. http://grabcad.com/challenges/the-makerbot-robot-challenge
and here's one we're doing with the New Museum. http://www.thingiverse.com/NewMuseumChallenge
Go enter. As a MakerBot Operator, you know best what is printable and
have a leg up in the challenges! Full speed ahead!

Ok, there are a lot of issues here. I'm going to try and address
them.

1. We release things: It's part of the open source philosophy to
release early and often. We have tried to be as future compatible as
possible We sold the cupcake for two years and modded the crap out of
it and pushed that poor power supply to it's limits if not past it. We
originally put a bunch of extra stuff on the gen3 extruder controller
that we didn't know how we would use and then we ended up using all
those extra pins and mosfets.  We kept shipping it with upgrades until
it didn't make sense to upgrade it anymore and then we launched the
Thing-O-Matic. End of lifing (EOL) things is something we have to do
to literally make room for new things.

2. Deals for loyal customers: We include a special deal in every
newsletter that we send out. Read all the way to the bottom! :)

3. Support: we have an awesome support team. For the first year and
half it was just me answering support emails 4-6 hours a day. We're
leveled up now. Email them at supp...@makerbot.com. If you email them
in all caps, you won't get a kitten in return, but I hired them to be
helpful, supportive, and help you get your bot working.  I have a paid
support contract for my laptop and so I expect them to fix it if the
electronics fail, but I paid $400 bucks for that policy. At MakerBot
we don't have apple store like locations (yet) and are not at the
scale to offer support contracts so for now we just offer friendly and
awesome email support for a decent price: free!

4. Appreciation: We love MakerBot Operators. We do our best to shine a
spotlight on the awesome things you share by blogging about you!
Checking Thingiverse for the latest awesome designs that you have
uploaded is my favorite thing to do every day. No kidding. I go to
Thingiverse and I get so inspired by the community. You all are truly
awesome because not only do you make awesome things, but you share
them and let others benefit. MakerBot is nothing without you MakerBot
Operators doing excellent things with your bots.

5. Competitors: Competition mean we're doing something right and that
we're on to something. We have dedicated a lot of resources to R&D to
improve 3D printing and then we share them so everyone can benefit. I
like it when competitors do the same. When I see repraps that were
printed on a MakerBot, that makes me particularly happy because reprap
is what inspired us to start MakerBot. As we go forward as an open
source company, you will choose what printer you want to buy and if
you choose MakerBot you're not just buying an awesome and affordable
cutting edge 3D printer, but you're supporting what we stand for:
sharing, openness, and a commitment to pushing the limit of what's
possible. You're also supporting the open source software side of 3D
printing which we offer for a great price: free!

6. What will MakerBot do for me when they come out with something else
in 6 months? You can always wait and see what happens, but that will
be time without a MakerBot. We strive to be future compatible. I
really didn't think folks could run MK6's on a cupcake, but because
MakerBot Operators are the smartest hackingest, most clever people in
the world, you all figured it out. Also, have you seen twotimes
backpack z-stage and lowrider. http://www.thingiverse.com/twotimes/things
OMG those mods are awesome. My suggestion is that when we release
something new, get it and give your old printer to a local classroom
and help the teachers print things with their students. Alternately,
MakerBots are rarely on eBay, but get a decent price that you could
apply to the latest and greatest. We won't stock everything we've ever
sold forever or be able to make everything we've ever offered
upgradeable to current standards. That's just not realistic as a
business, but our designs are open, you're invited to start that
business.

7. What about 5 pound coils and spindle boxes? We replaced those by
upgrading the filament to come on spools and I suggest printing this
out: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:7105 You'll have less tangles.
It's a better solution. Again, this is our strategy: we strive to make
the best products possible and when we come up with something better
than we had before, we share it. We could have spent years and years
developing a perfect 3D printer before launching, but that isn't our
style. Our style is to continue develop MakerBots that are better than
what we had before and keep them affordable and hackable.

Ok, epic email responded to. I think I hit most of the issues you
brought up. Fire away with more if you have em!

Bre

Neoteric, In the first one, I could hear your frustration and in this one I
hear your advice. Thank you.

The thing I haven't addressed is the upgrade path for the cupcake to mk6.

For the record, we didn't document an upgrade path right away from the
cupcake from the mk5/gen3 to the mk6/gen4 beyond just buying a mk6 and gen4
and looking back, we should have. It came later, but it made cupcake owners
that didn't want to jump on the Thing-O-Matic train feel left behind. I get
that.

When we launched gen4/mk6, we reckoned that you could come up with a pretty
messy hack to get the motor drivers to work in tandem and run a stepper
driver, but to be honest, we looked at that solution and really thought it
was messy and could be a really frustrating upgrade and so it wasn't our
highest priority. We also knew that with how messy it would be, it would be
a nightmare to support it when people had problems with it and so it's clear
now in the docs that you're on your own to do this so that you know that
you're going into severe hack mode to get it to work. Really for those of
you who have done it, I've seen the spaghetti on your modded bots. It's one
of our goals going forward to continue to reduce spaghetti!

When we launched the Thing-O-Matic, we didn't do a good job of supporting
cupcakes growing and using gen3/mk6 combos. We made the mistake of having
something shiny in our hands and really loving the huge upgrades that came
out with the Thing-O-Matic. It kinda blinded us to upgrading the cupcake
because in our hearts we found the Thing-O-Matic to be so much better than
the cupcake in so many ways and we imagined that everyone would want to join
us in moving towards the new platform. That was naive, but all I can say as
an excuse is that we were intoxicated on the shiny new Thing-O-Matic and the
wonderful automaticness that the actually working endstops brought to it. We
wanted everyone to join us in that shiny new world.

The documentation is there now:
http://wiki.makerbot.com/stepstruder-mk6-with-gen3 and has been for a while
but it wasn't there from the beginning. We didn't ship Thing-O-Matics/MK6
till December of 2011 and this documentation doesn't start until February.

So to be clear, looking back, I regret that we didn't jump in and document
an upgrade path to stepping extruders for the cupcake right away. I hope
you'll understand that we had something shiny in our hands with gen4 and
really wanted to push forward with that. If I could go back in time, I
wouldn't have delayed the Thing-O-Matic to get this documentation done, but
I might have burned a few weeks of engineering post launch to make mk6 work
with gen3. It's hard, if we had done that, we wouldn't have made the Maker
Faire launch date for the MK7. It's easy to say, "you could have just gotten
more engineers to get it done faster" but I'm not so sure that's the case.
Thinking about it, if I could really go back in time, we would have just
made gen3 more friendly for stepper drivers but we didn't have that
foresight when Zach designed those boards in 2008.

This is all not an excuse, but an apology and an explanation and I hope that
this gives you some insight into why we did what we did in regards to the
gen3/mk6 issue.

Thank you to everyone who took time to respond to this thread, your comments
both positive/negative were presented in a thoughtful and constructive way.

Bre

Overall, I feel it's safe to say that capitalism is changimg in the face of the Open Source everything revolution, and that service is the only real value, which we either can choose to pay for or choose to not pay for.  The disussion continued, but it was overall well put.

Bre, thank you for your great response to my second post.

For me, my second post was not showing up, so I posted it again just
in case people wanted to see it.

I am humbled you took the time with us.  Thanks again!  I hope the
discussion was fruitful for all.

I like some of the suggestions you have for how you might have done it
differently, and think that was great.  THANKS SO MUCH.

PS, I was never trying to get a discount on a new printer as some have
said.  That was not the point at all, so I let that go.  I was looking
for some brand loyalty stickiness, that was only one suggestion.