Kickstarting a Disruptive Technology

Yesterday I introduced you to Michael Joyce, and the concept of 3D printing and why I thought it would change global manufacturing forever.

If there was ever a disruptive technology, I believe 3D printing is it!

Michael is an inventor. He designed his own 3D printer and funded the development using Kickstarter. The first units will be shipping shortly. So far it’s been a huge success.

I wanted to talk to him so we could get some insight from someone who has successfully implemented a project via the Kickstarter platform, and see what advice he could give to those who might want to fund their own projects via crowdfunding.

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Mark: Michael, thanks for taking the time to chat with me, you have to be incredibly busy with all of the things that you are involved with, which we’ll get to a bit later. First, tell us about your background.

Michael: Thanks for reaching out Mark! I’ve always had a love for making things. Growing up in the late 60’s, early 70’s I was a child of the space race, which made a lasting impression upon me. I wanted to both design and pilot spacecraft, and back then that seemed a reasonable dream to this young teenager, so I set out to do that.

I ended up flying aircraft in the US Air Force for several years. That was great fun, but it became apparent that NASA wouldn’t be sending me to space anytime soon so, I went back to civilian life and enjoyed coding software for several years. I’ve always loved sc-fi robots (especially “Space Robots”) and in 2005 I started a small business making and selling the “Lost in Space” Robot Model “B9″ from the old TV series (www.lostinspacerobot.com).

Space exploration caught my attention again in 2007 and I founded team “Next Giant Leap” to compete in the $30M Google Lunar X PRIZE. (I just sold Next Giant Leap to another team, MoonEx  and will continue to be involved with this effort).

Mark: How were you first introduced to 3D printing and why did you decide to get involved? I imagine as an inventor the urge to “tinker” with the technology was just too irresistible?

Michael: I first heard about 3D printing probably 10 years ago now, I saw an article about how it was being used to rapid prototype parts in various engineering fields.  Of course the machines used were insanely expensive.

Robotics and 3D printing are key enablers to the future of space exploration, and during my work with Next Giant Leap the concept of advanced manufacturing as a long term enabler of space exploration kept coming up. That led me to thinking seriously about the level of the current technology and how it might be useful to the average do-it-yourself (DIY) entrepreneur as a prototyping tool. I knew I’d love to have a magic box that could replicate something I had designed on my computer and so I figured many others would as well.

The B9 Creator

The B9 Creator

Mark:I really think this technology can revolutionize manufacturing and help cure the disease of globalization. This whole idea of making things in one part of the world, shipping them to another, selling them into yet another, etc. is just dumb, period. It’s a massive waste of resources, at the least. What’s your opinion on how this technology will change the manufacturing paradigm?

Michael: The ability to download an online product “file” and then “print out” that item in your own home would obviously be a huge a game changer. The technology isn’t there yet, but the tech is advancing incredibly fast and so we must consider this as a real possibility in the next 5-10 years. Distribution of materials to feed these printers will still be needed so they won’t eliminate the shipping industry just yet, but they do hold the potential to increase efficiency.

Mark: Other than the obvious things that can be “printed”, what do you see this technology being used for that might not be as obvious to the casual observer?

Michael: There’s a lot of research being done in the medical field such as custom implants and even the “printing” of organic parts printed from cells. Other applications to research include visualization of complex systems. But back to the DIY market, which is my focus, I’ve been surprised by the great response from artists, especially those that create jewelry. The parts created on our printer can be used a patterns for investment casting techniques.

Mark: The machine you built is really impressive Michael. I imagine that you could have gone to any number of VC’s or traditional technology backers with this. Why did you decide to fund it using the Kickstarter platform?

Michael: Finding seed funding for new ideas is not that easy. Rather than wasting valuable time pitching the B9Creator concept, I decided to use Kickstarter to go straight to my potential market. Kickstarter allows for a type of “crowd sourced seed funding” without loss of equity, what could be better than that? I’m now in the enviable position of being able to grow my company without answering to outside investors.

Mark: You’ve been extremely successful with Kickstarter, raising a multiple of the funds that you intended. Can you tell us your strategy for using the platform? Did you purposefully ask for a lesser amount than you needed to raise? I ask that because there are a few projects that look really ambitious, like yours, that seem to ask for very modest sums. Is that really all you needed?

Michael: I set my funding goal at the minimum needed to cover my development costs and fulfill the promised rewards. Resulting final funding at or below this minimal level would have indicated to me that I had misjudged the potential of my B9Creator and after delivering the promised rewards I would not have pursued the concept further. Of course, my expectations were that it would do much better than the minimum, and the response so far has been very gratifying.

I saw no point in setting a goal greater than needed to complete the project..? By meeting my funding goal early, I gave potential backers confidence that the project is going forward and they are not wasting their time waiting to see if the project reaches its funded level.

Mark: When I reviewed your project, the FAQ, etc. I was really impressed with your transparency and the detail you provided on the steps you took. It was really methodical. The attention to detail is something that I think is important to point out. Is this just a natural part of your personality… an expression of your scientific and engineering background perhaps?

Michael: I guess so, I never really considered doing it another way. The goal of the project is to create a new type of 3D printer technology and I’m smart enough to realize that success ultimately depends on a lot of folks that are smarter than me working on it.

Mark: So will you use Kickstarter, or platforms like it to fund future projects? Would you recommend it to others?

Michael: I’m going to be very busy with the B9Creator for some time, but when that future project arises I’m sure I will. I’d certainly recommend it to others.

Mark: You mentioned it a moment ago, but tell us more about The Next Giant Leap? Was it formed solely to get involved in the Google Lunar X Prize competition? For the benefit of those that don’t know, maybe give us a brief on the competition as well.

Michael: The Google Lunar X PRIZE is a $30 million prize, funded by Google and managed by the X PRIZE Foundation. The $20 million first prize is to be awarded to the first privately funded team to land a robotic space craft on the surface of the moon and send back HD video and images. I formed team Next Giant Leap to satisfy my passions for space exploration.

As I stated earlier, we were recently acquired by another team, MoonEx and it’s my hope that our combined efforts will not only lead to winning the prize, but also to the development of long term commercial space activities.

Mark: I reviewed your team and a bit about the project… a “Hopping Moon Lander”, pretty cool stuff! I’d ask you to tell us more about that, but it may be easier to direct readers to the site.

Michael: Right, there’s so much to tell that I can’t really do it justice here. I had the privilege of working with some great people and organizations that are really dedicated to opening up space for everyone. Folks should check out Next Giant Leap for more info.

Mark: As a guy whose been involved in a few successful endeavors, you seem to be the rare combination of a “technologist” that can also wear the management and project leader hats. You’ve started a few successful ventures and you’re foray into the Google Lunar X competition is ambitious, to say the least. What’s your advice to young entrepreneurs in the technology space who want to go it alone and bring their ideas to market? It seems that now, more than ever, it’s possible to do that..?

Michael: My advice is to find your passion and stick with it. There will be plenty of forces acting to distract you, learn to identify and ignore them. In the end you will only regret the things you wanted to do but didn’t attempt. With today’s availability of information and access, your opportunity as to contribute and succeed has never been greater.

Mark: So what’s next for Michael Joyce? Do you really have enough energy and bandwidth to continue doing all the things you’re currently involved with, or is there a focus that is coming into view for you?

Michael: I used to spend a lot of time planning “what’s next” but now I don’t waste time on that anymore. What’s next is today, making B9Creator a success and creating a community of support around it. I know that will lead to something else, and I’m excited to learn what that will be.

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Michael gave us some real nuggets in this interview. Advice like “identify and ignore” distractive forces, and “What’s next is today.”

Often times entrepreneurs and investors spend too much of their time dealing with distraction, whether it’s the naysayers if your an entrepreneur, or it’s “analysis paralysis” if you’re an investor. Successful people know how to do what Michael does. It’s obviously worked for him.

I wanted to point out as well that Michael’s project is still open over at Kickstarter. Here’s the link.

Neither Chris nor I have pledged to the project. This is largely because I don’t have a home to ship the printer to, and Chris is in the middle of an international move. As I stated yesterday, as soon as I have a workshop, the B9 or whatever comes next will be front and center. It’s amazing stuff!

– Mark

“Pursue your God given passions, anything less is a waste of his time.” – Michael Joyce

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