When I was in college, I spent every waking moment building things or learning how to build things.
It was ironic that I learned the most not in school, but waking up at 6:30AM to be the first one in the machine shop, and then camping outside of the Electrical Engineering shop waiting for the EE professor to drop by. I found a certain joy in taking an idea that was previously just a handful of my neurons and then transforming it into a physical product. For some reason, that was more interesting than studying for exams or doing problem sets.
I was so addicted to making, that I decided I was going to collect all the keys to the Makerspaces around campus. I eventually finagled my way to four keys to the big labs around campus, even the Ph.D physics lab which had the most expensive equipment out there. With those four keys, I spent the entirety of my junior and senior year building products, from electrical skateboards to customized wooden watches.
My addiction with getting all the keys for Harvard Makerspaces was kinda like a merge of Thanos and Pokemon.
But when I graduated, I had to relinquish those four keys. So I tried to find another place to build my crazy inventions. I discovered a makerspace nearby, and joined, excited about being able to build cool things again.
But now I was competing with hundreds of users, all with their own agendas. So if a 3D Printer was taken, I had to wait another day or find another one, if only it weren’t broken. Making became so much harder than it had to be.
I found that with four keys, I always had a 3D Printer, laser cutter, or a CNC machine available. But now, instead of all of them being within a football field of each other, they were miles apart. I would bike to one makerspace, only to have their 3D Printers broken, and then go to another, only to have theirs being used.
And so I stopped inventing. Not because I wasn’t filled with ideas, but because I became increasingly more jaded by how long it took to make my inventions into a reality. And looking around at how many hardware startups were failing, I at least took solace in knowing I wasn’t alone.
There wasn’t a Eureka moment for MakerFleet’s idea, more of just a growing frustration with the way things were. I greedily wanted access, the ability to go from neurons to product. CAD software allowed your ideas to be realized in the virtual world, yet the manufacturing sector was still in a pre-Internet era.
That’s when MakerFleet’s key idea was born: the Internet of Machines. The company would bring you machines to your fingertips and make it addicting to make and engineer. Makerspaces could focus on making and less on repairs and logistics. There could be a community of inventors who share their 3D Printers with their friends, excited to wake up to a friend’s fresh surprise print.
But there was a lot of engineering to make this future happen. We had to be sure about our main assumptions:
1. That the demand for 3D Printing would increase once they were accessible through the cloud.
2. We could decrease the failure rate or repair cost of existing 3D Printers.
One year of questioning and software writing later, we’ve found that 3D Printers connected to the cloud are utilized 30X more and that our software decreases the failure rate and repair cost of existing 3D Printers by over 50%.
We’re still now on the same mission, to provide everyone the key to equipment access, but it’s crazy to look back and see how far we’ve come.