It’s 2013, MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis and 3D Systems CEO Avi Reichental have become accustomed to the attention coming their way.
Whether it’s from peers in the industry, the ever-monitoring trade media, or the film crew now hovering just over their shoulder, they have – consciously or otherwise – assumed the roles as the faces of 3D printing.
Some 30 years after Stereolithography was invented by Chuck Hull, 3D printing is being hyped to the point of oblivion. Netflix, rolling news channels and consumer magazines have all taken an interest in 3D printing. Pettis Reichental and Pettis are the leaders.
Netflix’s Print the Legend documentary will be released in 2014. It provides a platform to co-directors Clay Tweel, Luis Lopez and producer Steve Klein to explore the 3D print movement. They begin by tracking Pettis, as well as Formlabs founder and CEO Max Lobovsky, but soon rope in Reichental, who in his ten years working in the 3D printing sector, has become somewhat of an evangelist – and an outspoken one at that.
That the start-ups (MakerBot, Formlabs) seem to be making headway with their desktop-sized 3D printing technologies has caused the legacy players (3D Systems, Stratasys) to pivot. And while these businesses find their way, Netflix is there to capture it all, with the filmmakers keen to explore the impacts on company culture.
Much debate surrounds the quality of the documentary and its consequences. While some suggest the movie acts as a time capsule, others (such as Pettis) disparage its branding and focus. Some proffer that the period built up expectations that couldn’t be matched, while others (such as Reichental) suggest the investment and talent present in the market today wouldn’t be so prevalent without the aforementioned hype.
No matter the truth, it was clear that there were valuable lessons to be gained. TCT, which had just released its 100th Additive Insight Podcast, wanted to find out how the Print the Legend participants reflected on the period, what actually happened during filming and what they took into their most recent ventures. Pettis, Reichental and Lobovsky were willing to share their opinions despite Lobovsky declining to be interviewed.
Highlights from the podcast are included:
About halfway through the movie, I realized they were portraying me as the villain. And the stories that they were focusing on were the most dramatic ones so that they could sell their product. Whereas we were doing so many cool things and there were so many stories, they really focused on this story of me shifting away from open source as like a betrayal of my roots. And it was such a disappointment to me because we were doing all this cool stuff. They had hundreds and hours of footage. And I guess they had to have their drama.” – Bre Pettis in the Print the Legend documentary.
“I would say, to a large degree, that if it wasn’t for the hype, maybe half the companies who are in the market today wouldn’t be there.” It’s likely that if it weren’t for the hype, billions upon billions of dollars in investment would have gone into other industries. “If it weren’t for the hype, maybe elementary and high schools still had only woodshop but not 3D-printing as part of their digital skills.” – Avi Reichental explains the benefits of 3D Printing in the long term.
“The sort of populist consumer product and that dream that we talked about, we really only talked about that in like 2009, 2010, and by 2011, we had pivoted to talk about engineers and solving problems. It’s interesting that people still remember the first message that we sent about MakerBots. I still find it very compelling. The idea of having our own factories on our computers is very, very interesting. – Bre Pettis on mass 3D printing adoption.
“I’m my worst critic. So, I never miss a morning. You start to think, “I should have done this or that.” It’s not just about the past decade, but also about what happened yesterday. So, it makes me who I am i good and then in failure.” – Avi Reichental discusses his approach to responsibility as a CEO.
“I’m talking about the most difficult part of growing a business is making decisions that impact other people’s life. A company in many ways is an organic life form that has a life of its own. We all work at the company. We all do it for different reasons. For some, it’s to make money. For others, they just want to see the world change. So, I think the hardest part is was having to make decisions that involve letting people go or changing the team. In 2013, MakerBot went from 100 to 600 employees, and we changed 500 of them. We hired 1000 people in 2013, and then we cycled through many more people. And we were just trying to hold on, like we had too many orders, we couldn’t meet demand, people were criticising us from all directions, and we’re just trying to meet the demand of what people want. I still have a lot to learn, but it’s hard to let people down by making business decisions. – Bre Pettis talks about the challenges of running a growing company.
“I believe that you must persevere when you are given the chance to follow your passion. I don’t want to win in the court of public opinion. I try to do my best to achieve what I think is right and what I know I can do. “And God willing, I hope to be doing this in 10 years, if I am still healthy.” – Avi Reichental explains his mission to make 3D printing accessible to everyone.
TCT recorded an interview with Bre Reichental and Avi Pettis in December 2022.
The first ever episode of the TCT Additive Insight podcast also focused on Print the Legend, with Laura Griffiths interviewing Tweel, Lopez and Klein in November 2014.