The Harvard Innovation Labs Contract

"One year isn’t long enough, we’re going to need a three year’s contract.

Nine months ago, the Harvard Innovation Labs was kind enough to provide a six month beta contract.

We didn’t have a working prototype when it started, and the software was littered with bugs.

 From the beginning, we asked one of our engineers if he could work a part-time shift at the i-labs, training people and managing the space, so we could get feedback on how to improve the software.

This entire time, we were coding with one mission:

Make 3D Printing accessible to the masses.

And so we started coding on that mission, making it easier to upload models, print immediately, with a clean interface, etc. People that were using our software compared to our competitors said they loved it.

And as our software improved, so did the numbers of hours passing through our printers.  

In August, no one in the iLabs was really 3D Printing, but once MakerFleet launched we onboarded hundreds of users, which really tested our platform.  Please note that during times before MakerFleet started, we had to estimate printing numbers by looking at the printer’s own logs and the operation team’s useage of filament.

In August, no one in the iLabs was really 3D Printing, but once MakerFleet launched we onboarded hundreds of users, which really tested our platform.

Please note that during times before MakerFleet started, we had to estimate printing numbers by looking at the printer’s own logs and the operation team’s useage of filament.

 But what happened in March? And why was printer usage so low in February?

 In the beginning of February, we realized something important from eating our own dogfood: the engineers working part-time in the labs grew to hate that more people were 3D Printing. People were breaking 3D Printers, starting prints without supervising them, sending in jobs that were slightly off the bed due to some bug.

And trust me, we’re all very passionate about 3D Printing and making. But we wanted to check if this was true everywhere, so after interviewing all of the makerspaces around us, we found one simple truth:

            We were all terrified of having to fix our 3D Printer for the 50th time. Our software’s promise of a 30X increase in 3D Printing was a nightmare to those who had to repair the 3D Printers.

This is a picture that we found online. It’s an R-rated picture that can trigger PTSD in many 3D Printer users. Please beware.

This is a picture that we found online. It’s an R-rated picture that can trigger PTSD in many 3D Printer users. Please beware.

Let’s be honest, we all love 3D Printing, but we hate 3D Printers. They’re unreliable, break all the time, and are likely the reason why we engineers have trust issues.

So in February, our entire team sat down and refocused. We knew our software got people 3D Printing more, but we needed to pivot our mission. Our motto changed:  

Make 3D Printing less of a headache.

From that motto, we derived one simple truth in how we engineered our product:

Because we had the power to fix it, everything was our fault.

Student forgot to add supports and now it’s spilling filament everywhere? Our fault.

Student didn’t watch the printer and let it kill itself? Our fault. 

Students are stressed at finals because they don’t know if their print would make it in time? Our fault.

Makerspaces need to pay for filament and printer repairs and no one ever actually pays? Our fault.

And so we set out to solve those problems.

With that mission in mind, we relaunched in the middle of April and our engineers working in makerspaces were much happier and were much more excited about inviting people to print on their printers. Overall, that kind of attitude reduced the Innovation Labs’s number of failures by 20% and total failure costs by 80%, and what eventually secured the contract.

The Harvard Innovation Labs’s Operations Team stopped hearing “The Printer is broken, can someone fix it?” or getting emails: “Can someone please tell me if someone is using the printer.”

And they wanted that peace of mind for three more years. And that’s the peace of mind we’re hoping to provide to everyone, making 3D Printing less of a headache.

Harnek Gulati