eqtventures

Meet 3D Hubs CEO Bram de Zwart

Lucy Wimmer

3D Hubs recently hit the huge milestone of the 1,000,000th part printed via its online 3D printing platform. The company has certainly come a long way since its launch four years ago, providing manufacturing services across 6,000 locations in more than 140 countries. The team has also launched a book on 3D printing best practice. EQT Ventures sat down with 3D Hubs’ founder Bram de Zwart to find out more about his entrepreneurial journey and his advice for other founders.

Tell us a little bit about yourself Bram and how you started 3D Hubs?

My passion for 3D printing developed during my studies. I saw the potential of 3D printing and how - if the technology continued to develop at pace - it could be used to produce end products and not just prototypes. This then progressed to the idea that if we could use 3D printers to make end products, we could basically move away from centralised production. Products could be created in the countries where they were actually used. I wrote my thesis on the topic and then joined a startup, which was the first company in the world to use 3D printing to create consumer products. Here I met Brian Garret (3D Hubs’ co-founder) and we started to spend our evenings and weekends exploring the idea of decentralised manufacturing.

At the time, online platforms such as Uber and AirBnB were becoming more popular and we wondered if we could build something similar, connecting all 3D printers globally via one online platform. This would help fulfil our vision of decentralised manufacturing and linking customers to the printing facility closest to them. We got increasingly excited about this and quit our jobs on the same day, which was a scary moment - we gave up our salary and benefits. We then luckily got accepted into an accelerator programme and started to build the business! Engineers and designers can now create 3D prints on-demand through 3D Hub’s online platform.

Looking back at your journey, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given that you’d like to share with other founders?

I’d say that as their business starts to grow, it’s extremely important for founders to free up some time to think carefully about the future and their company’s strategy. It sounds simple, but it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day running and operational side of the business as it’s satisfying to check boxes. As a founder, you have to step back and think about the bigger picture. You should spend a lot of time looking at what’s happening in the market, talking to customers to get feedback and think about where your company needs to go next. You also need to make sure that your strategy is clearly communicated to the team, everyone is aligned around one vision and knows what the company’s trying to achieve.

What advice would you give founders who are looking to raise investment?

Firstly, ask yourself if you really want to raise investment. It’s not for everyone and means you’ll then be on the path to building a really big, scalable business. You have to carefully consider the type of business you want. Many entrepreneurs are happy to build a business that brings in a few million dollars revenue a year and doesn’t grow much beyond that. When you take investment you have to be committed to building a global success story.

It’s also very useful to participate in a Startup accelerator programme to get more insight and experience when it comes to fundraising. When Brian and I started 3D Hubs, we had lots of 3D printing knowledge, but almost no experience of building a tech company and raising investment. The startup accelerator we joined - Rockstart Accelerator - really helped us learn more about these areas.

Finally, look very critically at your market, product and team and consider what’s really interesting for investors. This will help you to create a much better pitch deck.

What do you know now about building a business that you wish you’d known when you started?

I wish I’d known just how much you can push yourself - you can really reach unexpected heights. Creating 3D Hubs, I discovered parts of myself that I didn’t know existed! When you start a company, you’re constantly pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone and learning very quickly. Starting your own business is an amazing journey.

3D Hubs has come a long way in the last four years and the team has also launched a book. What prompted this?

With 3D printing being a relatively new technology, there isn’t a lot of documented information on how to use it. It’s also a very fragmented technology. There are many different processes, machines and materials with no practical handbook available for the people who use it. So, we decided to create a book for engineers and designers on how to go about 3D printing in the best way.

3D Hubs’ book is available here