Mar.29, 2012

For one month, Bilal Ghalib and Alex Hornstein were driving around the US with four cheap 3D printers in the trunk of their Prius, starting a business printing and selling things on these machines.

Bilal Ghalib is an evangelist of the maker movement. He has also been touring around the Middle East promoting hackerspaces. We had the chance to interview him about their adventure around the USA spreading the 3D printing vibe.

1. Could you introduce yourself and what's your technical background?

Hello! My name is Bilal Ghalib! I've been building since I was a quite young, I remember using a geared motor to sharpen my crayons with a 9V battery in 3rd grade. I've been interested in programming as a tool since college and I use programming / electronics to investigate problems I find intriguing, like face detection on skin.

2. How did you two meet?

We met online at I was trying to make a laser cutter and needed software to help run it and I found Alex was making similar software for his computerized etch-a-sketch. After we connected online, we met at a Maker Faire in Austin TX and later that year I lived in his basement in Cambridge. We knew we wanted to work together ever since.

3. What inspired you to start the journey?

We were on a mountain top in Hong Kong, both of us had just quit our jobs. Alex was working with these low cost 3D printers for his last project and I had just brought a Makerbot to Egypt for their new hackerspace. We saw their prices dropping and quality improving and started wondering why no one else saw these as a 2000$ investment in a new company. So we decided to experiment to see if it's possible, so we could tell the story and be a part of the conversation around 3D printing happening right now. This is exciting stuff and it's empowering! Maybe it's going to change the way people look at manufacturing and entrepreneurship and we just want to start that side of the conversation early on.

4. What is your goal to achieve?

Our goal was to sell enough product to pay back the cost of a 3D printer in a month. We think it's a really compelling thing to say that in a month we paid back the investment into our business. What could we do in a year? We know that we were only going to work for a month, but we think that packaged as a story more people will be inspired to investigate 3D printing as a business!

5. What products did you print on the way? Why did you choose these products?

We started off with things that people use every day. We really wanted to see these products hop out of the machine and into peoples lives. So we focused on wearables for people and their devices. iPhone cases, Belt Buckels, and acoustic amplifiers for the iPhones were our designs. We also printed 3D models taken with an Xbox Kinect as a photobooth like service. Pose, snap, print! $10!

6. Can you describe a typical day on the way.

Typical is hard to describe since we changed business models and tactics many times along the way. But here's a pretty average day:

After packing up our tent from last nights camp, we start phone calls to Cafe's, Universities, and businesses in the next town over trying to schedule a location at which we can print. Once we have a spot, the navigator starts navigating and we're off. Along the way we might try a new design, continue communicating or doing blog posts / twitter updates. We arrive to our destination and pull all of the equipment out. We normally take one or two printers into a shop and start printing. We gather a small crowd and we begin to engage with them, showcasing our previous models, explaining how 3D printers work and telling the story of our adventure. Depending on the city we might make a sale, or we might not. Portland and SF were great places to sell 3D printed parts, Victoria Canada.... Not so much :D

Later in the evening we go through a discussion as to what worked and what didn't. How can we change our approach, should we print different products? Switch to doing more service based sales. Should we hide the printer and only show the products? Alex has an extensive couch surfing profile so we go and spend the evening with our host. Once we get home we set up Adriana and Rancho (the printers) and experiment with new designs.

7. What are the reaction from the people on the way when they see your printers in the back?

People in the beginning had no idea what to expect and were skeptical and curious. But half way through our road trip the attitudes changed! Once Makerbot came on the Today Show (in the US) many more people had heard about 3D printing and were really interested to see one in person, they wanted to know how it worked! Sadly... They weren't always that interested in buying products! ;D

Continue reading Part 2...


Posted in Interviews



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KnightFire wrote at 3/29/2012 5:54:52 PM:

"Portland and SF were great places to sell 3D printed parts, Victoria Canada.... Not so much :D" Well... D'uh! Victoria is like Florida... lot's of old Canadians living there. Now if you chose Vancouver, sales would have been much better.

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