As most have noticed, 3D Printing Industry (3DPI) – one of the three major 3D printing industry news websites (together with 3DPrint.com and 3ders.org) – has changed a lot lately and, some would argue, not for the better. Mike Molitch-Hou, his wife Danielle Matich, Davide Sher, Tyler Koslow, Mark Lee, Andrew Wheeler, and others who have spent the better part of the past four years telling about the global 3DP industry through 3DPI’s posts, have all left. Now, the time has come to recap what happened with 3DPI since venture capital firm iMakrVC bought and took over the site in early 2016.
First, though, to better understand the dynamics of this shift, there is a lot to say about two of the main iMakrVC properties: the iMakr 3D print shops and service and the MyMiniFactory 3D model marketplace. Since the subject is a delicate one, where emotions are also involved, this report will try to stick to the facts and treat rumors as such.
Sylvain Preumont, the founder of iMakr and MyMiniFactory, began his adventure in 3D printing in 2012 with iMakr.VC, an investor fund for projects in the 3D printing and 3D scanning arena. While the domain is the country code top-level domain for the Caribbean nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, it is also used to stand for “Venture Capital.”
The first iMakr brick-and-mortar store was opened in 2013, making it one of the very first in the world. By Christmas 2013, it had grown to the point where it even opened a temporary shop at Selfridges, the huge department store in central London, to sell 3D printed statuettes. This clearly shows how Sylvain Preumont was among the first to fully believe in the the mass potential of 3D printing and also that he was ready to put his money where his mouth was.
That was 2013. At around the same time, 3DPI, which had been founded by Ari Honka and Eetu Kuneinen in 2012, really began to take off as one of the major sources of information in the 3D printing industry. The site was riding on the wave of 3D printing hype, thanks in very large part to the knowledge and abilities of its first editor-in-chief, Rachel Park. Through significant investments from Meckler Media and 3D Systems, the portal was able to bring on board professional journalists and bloggers.
3DPI gave its writers the opportunity to live a journalist’s dream: writing tons of fascinating news stories and having tens of thousands of people reading them and enjoying them all over the world. During the last two years, 3DPI’s senior writers were posting upwards of 50 news articles per month.
During the last three years at 3DPI, several of these stories covered MyMiniFactory’s and iMakr’s activities, often pointing out that they were great projects that should and could have been communicated more effectively. One aspect that was at the same time highly newsworthy and somewaht controversial was MyMiniFactory’s practive of creating designs that were covered by some kind of intellectual property.
These could be ancient historical artifacts from museums or popular properties belonging to video game publishers or brands, like LEGO. It was almost as if they were pushing the boundaries of legality in order to attract attention — a somewhat controversial policy that, however, can certainly be journalistically appreciated for raising the issue of IP rights in the new world of desktop manufacturing.
Facing the Music
As the hype died down – and, with it, the stock value of a primary 3DPI investor like 3D Systems – companies like Meckler Media began to encounter some difficulties in making ends meet. Meckler Media had divested from 3DPI even before declaring bankruptcy in late 2015. The money stopped flowing in and 3DPI itself began to run into difficulties in making payments. Its structure had changed and evolved over time, but not to the point where its business model (based almost entirely on advertising and traffic) was able to cope with the challenges arising from the downward slope of the hype cycle.
So, in early 2016, Honka and Kuneinen decided to sell 3DPI. In the meantime, iMakr had just completed its own restructuring, culminating in the hiring of Eric Savant as new CEO in December 2015 to lead the next phase of its expansion.
At this point – from an outsider’s point of view – it is still unclear how iMakr can become a profitable company. It owns two stores: a huge one in a relatively central part of London, and another in Manhattan. These are two of the most expensive real estate areas in the world and require a very important business volume to be sustainable.
MyMiniFactory certainly generated revenues from its MyMiniFactory Academy, where it offered graphic and physical 3D modeling courses (and often hired its own graduates as designers). iMakr also continues to offer a wide selection of 3D printing materials and desktop 3D printers, leveraging its recognizability to obtain very advantageous conditions from suppliers, according to some anonymous sources. Whether this is sufficient to sustain the large MyMiniFactory machine (at the moment of writing there were eight open positions on its Careers page), and all of its activities, is unclear.
At least one MyMiniFactory designer openly complaining about exploitative working conditions there. Other projects – such as the MP5 open source 3D file system and the Seedrs crowd funding campaign – have somewhat fallen off the radar and/or sold off (MP5 is now WeDesign).
In general iMakr and MyMiniFactory seem to want to pursue any and every opportunity that arises in the rapidly evolving 3D printing market, with no clear and unique strategy to integrate them into a structure that can grow organically. New projects are pursued for a limited time and, if they don’t seem to promise a significant return in a short time, they are abandoned. In the “new” 3D printing industry, this may not be such a wrongheaded approach, but the question remains: why not stick to what works? Does anything work? iMakr’s new project is now, for the first time, fully editorial, as it acquired 3DPI.
“When Sylvain and iMakr were going to take over 3DPI, I initially felt that it would be a great fit,” says former 3DPI senior writer Davide Sher. “Even though I had heard rumors about the unpleasant working conditions at both iMakr and MyMiniFactory, I believed that those rumors could be due to a lack of a common goal. When I first spoke with Sylvain, he assured me that 3DPI was going to remain a fully independent industry news source and not just a loudspeaker for iMakr and MyMiniFactory activities. After just a few days of working with the new team it became clear to me that it was not going to be so. So I left.”
According to Sher it became clear that 3DPI was going to be run as other iMakr and MyMiniFactory activities were run. Little or no value in human resources; a race full speed ahead to obtain immediate returns (whether in terms of visibility or financials) and a confusing strategic vision. All of the original writers have now left. Preumont and his team seem to fail to understand that the number one asset, in this knowledge-based digital manufacturing economy, are the people that work for you or, actually, with you.
This Is the End
The new owners took over management of the site in late February, though capital had not yet been transferred to the old owners. At the time that iMakr purchased 3DPI, none of the writers had been paid for about two and a half months and at least one partner had not been paid for five months or so.
While the new owners did ensure that the acquisition agreement would include covering unpaid wages for the current writers, the closing took longer than expected. Writers were pushed to write during this time, with some of them reporting an exacerbating of their already stressful circumstances. While the old management was reported to leave the majority of the editorial decisions up to the editor, the new owners would suggest leads for stories that, it would become evident, might benefit their other businesses. For instance, 3DPI ran a story about 3D printables community Pinshape. After publication of the story the conclusion of the article was changed to a call to action to visit the MyMiniFactory site.
After the acquisition, iMakr announced its new 3D printing, scanning, and design services. Through a program dubbed UrbanManufacturing, iMakr now offers design on demand, scan on demand, and 3D print on demand services out of its London store, positioning them as a potential competitor to other more established services such as Shapeways and 3D Hubs.
This sense of competition may have been reflected in a published story suggesting that distributed manufacturing network 3D Hubs was stagnating in terms of growth, with author “Samuel Adams” writing, “3DHubs does not verify the information, hence the total number of actual machines available is certainly much lower than the 29,500 declared at end April 2016. From my discussion with the company I expect the number of actual 3D Printers available on 3D Hubs to be under 15,000.”
In an article on Materialise, a publicly traded software developer and large 3D printing service provider, Samuel Adams argued that the company’s recent financial earnings also reflected stagnation, writing, “Based on the current market capitalisation of $320M and net cash available of €29M, Materialise valuation of €250M implies a multiple of 31 times the mid value EBITDA forecast for 2016. Considering the risks faced by the company to maintain its margin, current share price could suffer significant downward pressure. The lack of liquidity may exacerbate any price movement. Finally the company will keep investing significantly in the coming years, limiting the capacity to generate net cash.”
“In fact, many of the leads that Preumont suggested were related to the potential failure of other companies within the space,” says 3DPI’s former editor Mike Molitch-Hou. “After Pinshape, he suggested that MakeXYZ and MakieLab might be the next to go under.” A famous Italian politician used to say that “to think negatively is a sin but you are often right”: truth be told, in the case of Stratasys CEO David Reis resignation, writer Samuel Adams actually made the right prediction before the event occurred.
It’s difficult to determine whether or not these speculations regarding 3D Hubs and Materialise are accurate, but, if 3DPI’s stories are part of a larger pattern to diminish and possibly discredit competing companies, the state of the 3DPI as a reliable source for new information regarding the state of the industry is called into question.
When it came to reviews, the line between journalism and business blurred as well. While 3DPI previously reviewed printers as a service to its readers, and published any 3D printer review that was submitted, according to Mark Lee, a former 3DPI contributor based in Seoul, South Korea, that was no longer the case for his highly positive review of one specific 3D printer, which was turned down without offering any valid explanation.
A Falling Strategy?
Although at this time there is no clear financial information available, there are some questions that some would like to ask about iMakr’s own financial stability. Contacted, iMakr declined to answer, claiming the questions are referring to rumors without any solid foundation in reality.
Immediately after declining to answer the questions, however, iMakr did publicly disclose the investment into 3DPI. The article is written as a news item although the acquisition was actually concluded before April 2016. The questions (below) still remain, and iMakr is invited to offer their response anytime.
- What is the company’s objective with 3DPI?
- Is iMakr/MyMiniFactory profitable?
- If not, when do you expect it will it be?
- What are iMakr’s main sources of income?
- Why is iMakr obsessed with other company’s possible economic woes?
- Why doesn’t the company want the link between iMakr and 3DPI to be made public and why did it not make it public? (They did make it public in a disclosure article on June 15th)
- Does iMakr/MyMiniFactory value its human resources?
- Who is Samuel Adams? Update, as per the disclosure article, Sam Adams is 3DPI’s industry expert who correctly predicted David Reis resignation (but incorrectly spelled his last name).
- Does iMakr want to grow with the industry or in spite of its failure?
In conclusion, although this article did take a critical position toward some of iMakrVC’s policies or commercial practices, it should be 100% clear that – as far as any of the authors of this article know – the company did not, in any way, commit any illegal action or severe wrongdoing towards its employees or its commercial partners. The hope of the 3D Printing Business Directory staff is that the entire 3D printing industry – in all of its many expressions – succeeds. That includes iMakr, MyMiniFactory and the new 3DPI as well.