If anyone was suffering under the illusion that Makerbot had suddenly become an evil company that was plotting evil and evily being evil, then Pettis’ new post should put those fears to rest.
Pettis, on behalf of Makerbot, tried to rephrase his original message to the community.
For what it’s worth (I’ve never run a million dollar business), I agree with Makerbot’s business decision(s). The hacker community just isn’t big enough, by itself, to allow Makerbot to grow. Also for what it’s worth (I won’t pretend to speak for anyone else), I agree with Makerbot’s ethical decision(s). Open source means releasing your work for other people to do with as they will. There are no takesies-backsies. If you were a big enough person to use an open souce license (or no license) in the first place then don’t suddenly become a small person when somebody actually does something with the work you released.
What I have a problem with is the thing that illustrates that Makerbot actually IS fumbling their way through uncharted terrain: even with all of his experience as a teacher, and a geek-media personality, and the face of Makerbot, and with a couple days of feedback…Pettis still can’t figure out how to talk about the Replicator 2 being closed source.
This shouldn’t be interpreted as a condemnation. I think these contradictions illustrate that Makerbot really is unsure of its position, both economically and philosophically. There are some real issues here. But, Pettis’ failure to deal with them clearly comes of as Machiavellian. I still put enough trust in Makerbot and Pettis to assume that they aren’t being Machiavellian, but apparently they jumped over that shark in the eyes of a significant percentage of the community.
I don’t think it was really the closed product that did it; I think it was the bush-league way Makerbot handled (and is still handling) the community’s concerns. There’s no way they would have done this much damage to their reputation on purpose; the only plausible explanation is that they are legitimately confused.
I think this quote sums it up, “If we are not entirely clear, it’s because we are searching ourselves!”
However, Pettis should probably find someone else to write his Open Hardware Summit speech.
An interesting bit of history is this interview with Make Magazine right after that infamous $10M of VC funding. For what it’s worth, here is what Pettis had to say at the time:
It looks like damage control is the first thing on today’s to-do list. Bre Pettis responded to many of the comments on his original blog post.
His overall point seems to be that he’s not going to be, or can’t be, more specific because there just isn’t a clearly defined business model for what they’re doing.
Folks really want a black or white answer, but in my experience, it just doesn’t work that way when combining open source, hardware, and business. There is an open hardware definition, but it’s a far throw from a business model.
I’m not convinced that open source hardware is actually a business model.
I’d rather experiment and develop a business model that shares obsessively while still being sustainable and creating jobs…
I totally get that people wish we would fail or die trying. You are catching us at a moment where we are trying to figure out how to share as much as possible without failing
I used to think that open source automatically meant winning. I’m not convinced that is all it takes any more. I believe that tenacity, growth, collaboration, hard work and being able to compete with non-open competitors are all critical in being sustainable as a business.
There is an open hardware definition, but there isn’t a clear business model. Sorry for the orwellian feel, I’m trying to be clear about where we’re at and the challenges we have.
Zachary Smith (aka Hoeken) was on of the three original founders of Makerbot. He’s posted a response to the recent scuffle over the release of the Replicator 2, Josef Prusa’s public questioning of its open source credentials, and Bre Pettis’ “load of corporate double-speak bullshit” response to the community.
Check it out…it’s a little depressing (and not just because of the sad kitten).
In 2009, I invited my friends Adam Mayer and Bre Pettis to go into business with me building 3D printers. Thus, MakerBot Industries was born. Fast forward to April, 2012 when I was forced out of the very same company.
MakerBot was built on a foundation of open hardware projects such as RepRap and Arduino, as well as using many open software projects for development of our own software. I remain a staunch supporter of the open source movement, and I believe the ideals and goals of OSHW remain true.
I’m trying to contact people to find out what the real scoop is but so far nobody is talking, and my ex-partners are not returning phone calls or emails. It certainly doesn’t look good. The best information I have found is a load of corporate double-speak bullshit that has come to characterize my interactions with MakerBot in recent memory.
For me, personally, I look at a move to closed source as the ultimate betrayal…I had assumed that Bre would continue to follow the principles that we founded the company on, and the same principles that played a major part in the success of our company. Moving from an open model to a closed model is contrary to everything that I stand for, and as a co-founder of MakerBot Industries, it makes me ashamed to have my name associated with it.
A lot of smart people have wasted a lot of time wondering what open means. At least…in my opinion a lot of the discussion is wasted…because I don’t think it’s all that complicated.
It’s a simple matter of priorities. You are open if your top priority is being open. If your top priority is anything else, then you’re not open. You might be a big fan of open, you might even make it a high priority, but if it’s not your top priority then you are open in name only. You’re openwashing.
For example, a year ago the three founders of Makerbot all signed a statement that opened with this:
We make it open source so that you will have all the information about the machine. Our goal is be as open about the machine as possible! If you want to improve or hack the machine, you can do so…
Today, Bre Pettis was the lone voice who’s statement opened with this:
…we are going to be as open as we possibly can while building a sustainable business.
The old team perspective was:
The possibilities that we can’t imagine yet are one of the wonderful things that makes us stay up all night hacking on code, working on prototypes, and dealing with supply chain issues.
We’re not big fans of anything proprietary
We’ve been in the “eating ramen” stage of building a business this year because we want to get as many of these out there and grow the community…
We are doing this because we are dedicating our lives and our savings and our minds to the dream of bringing the tools of manufacturing to all.
The new Makerbot perspective is:
I’m looking forward to having conversations with folks at the Open Hardware Summit to talk about how MakerBot can share as much as possible, support it’s 150 employees with jobs, make awesome hardware, and be sustainable.
From a business perspective, we’ve been absurdly open, more open than any other business I know.
I don’t plan on letting the vulnerabilities of being open hardware destroy what we’ve created.
This isn’t the first change we’ve made to become more of a professional business, and it won’t be our last.
That’s absolutely a shift in top priorities and, to be fair, it makes perfect sense. Back before their $10M round of funding nobody knew if Makerbot would even be around in a year. But they are, and they’re doing more and better, and that’s all thanks to the money that was invested with them. Investment isn’t charity. Makerbot didn’t grow because the community gave them money in exchange for printers; Makerbot grew because they kept managing to convince professionals that they would be able to produce a significant return on seed capital.
It doesn’t really matter what their original priorities were, because the only way for them to be successful now is to focus on maximizing profit. You have to play the ball where it lies.
Yes, it is possible that they could be successful while remaining devoted to open, but it would be a hell of a gamble. There aren’t any relevant case-studies that I’m aware of; Makerbot is the first. New businesses, and new business models, are notoriously likely to fail. When you’re just a little guy plugging away at an idea, failure isn’t a big deal. When you’re using $10M of someone else’s money, failure becomes a real issue.
The thing is that I don’t see how anyone loses. Even if Makerbot goes totally closed source, and cuts off all the old printers, the community still benefits. Whether we like it or not the community suffers as long as 3D printing remains an unknown niche for a specific subset of geeks. There isn’t anything about the current state-of-the-art in open 3D printing that is inherently expensive or complicated. What is keeping it in a place where it costs too much and breaks too often is the lack of a market. Grow the market so that scale will bring prices down and quality up. That will help the open hobby community do more and more exciting things because there will be a bigger supply of commodities to work with.
And I don’t think Makerbot will go totally closed source. I think what they’re doing is moving up-market as fast as possible so that they can establish themselves as a brand that non-hackers buy. Believe it or not, but even most geeks get tired of wrenching on their projects and would appreciate it if they’d just freaking work for long enough to get something else done. There are an order of magnitude more people ready to buy a turn-key 3D printer than a turn-allen-wrench 3D printer. Those people are not being served by existing 3D printing companies. It would be fiscally foolish of Makerbot to ignore that market in favor of the tiny hacker market. But that doesn’t mean they will abandon open source designs. I think they will keep doing open source work, it will just slip into second or third place.
They need to pay their investors back, which means they need to establish a brand and cash flow that is lucrative. The open source hobby community is not lucrative. Of course it would be nice if they would be more up front about their shift in priorities, but I suppose using corporate double-speak is part of that shift.
Give it time. The open hardware movement is still very young and, unlike software, there is no way to ignore money. You can’t pay for hardware by eating cheap food and staying in front of your computer; you have to actually turn a profit. Even if Makerbot closes up like a clam, they will still have proven that a successful company can start open. Then the next hardware guys will try to stay open longer.
Also…if Makerbot goes closed source, they will just get out-innovated by the remaining open source hardware community anyway…just like the companies they’re trying to beat to the prosumer 3D printing market. The only way for them to stay relevant is to stay at least somewhat open.
When I saw the Replicator 2, and Makerbot’s slick new marketing, and the glaring lack of ANY reference to providing the design files, I asked the question.
So did a lot of other people, including Josef Prusa, the guy who put together the Prusa Mendel and and sells the Ultimaker. In the tweet heard ’round the open source hardware world, Prusa reported that he called Makerbot support and was explicitly told that Makerbot’s new printer is not open source.
The silence from Makerbot was deafening. They obviously didn’t simply forget to mention that the Replicator 2 is/isn’t open. Unfortunately, when Bre finally did address the issue, it was to use 1,000 words to say “maybe.” Or, in Bre’s own words, “We’re working that out and we are going to be as open as we possibly can while building a sustainable business.” There’s a pretty good timeline over at Tales of a modern life.
What finally motivated me to write this article is a something very sad that happened today. Makerbot turned closed source, or at least all the signals lead to it…And you know what is the biggest, sneaky move? Not mentioning it while they announced it. My guess is, that they will mention it when first pre-orders ship out. Which is after OPEN HARDWARE Summit where Bre gives a talk (I wonder about what, lol) and Makerfaire and all magazines writes about them as Open Hardware heroes.
To put things into perspective, Prusa is so committed to the ideals of open hardware that he has an image of a RepRap infill-ed open hardware logo on his wrist, and he’s tweeting stuff like this glassdoor.com page with negative reviews of working at Makerbot.
It looks like this Replicator 2 release is shaping up to be a real turning point for the infant open hardware community. We’ve got comments going back and forth on slashdot, Make Magazine, and reddit. I wonder how much impact the community will have on Makerbot’s business decisions. Back when Makerbot was as just the team of Bre, Adam and Zach they talked a really good game about not only being part of a community, but being motivated by the goal of “as open as possible.” That Open Source FTW page was last edited back in October 2001 (325 days to be precise). I hope their goal hasn’t changed since then, but it’s hard to be optimistic when Bre (just Bre) says that building a sustainable business is more important than being open.
Joe Justice on inventing, innovating and executing at lean startups.
Marco Perry is co-founder of PENSA, a New York consultancy that designs and improves products. It wouldn’t be too far off to say that innovation is his business. A short while ago Pensa designed, demonstrated and then open sourced an automatic wire forming printer. In case you aren’t familiar with it, here’s an overview:
The DIWire has attracted a lot of attention and Pensa is even planning on unveiling an improved version at the 2012 Maker Faire. Openalia sat down with Mr. Perry for a quick discussion of the DIWire specifically, and open source hardware in general.
Teamwork is a wonderful thing. Frequently the world has to put up with 1) inventors who don’t market their product or interact with their community enough to be successful or 2) marketers who don’t engineer their product enough to produce something of real value. Occasionally the stars align and people have the sense to build a team with overlapping skills rather than try to go it alone.
QU-BD is taking the teamwork approach. They are a four-person startup, Chelsea Thompson is majoring in communication and is the (active and prolific) face of QU-BD, Nathan Meyers is a serial entrepreneur, Courtney Kinggard has a background in architecture and interior design, and David Mainard brings not only a 35 year career in machining and industrial design, but also his own machine shop. From the back-end David and Nathan bring experience, design expertise, and decades-long relationships with suppliers; from the front-end Chelsea brings an infectious excitement and real-time interaction with the community.
Their “little indie 3D printing and milling company” is 100% committed to being open source. not only does the philosophy determine what they design/build, it also informs their business model. They are pricing their wares at the minimum responsible margins. That way they can focus on high volume which will get open source rapid prototyping technology into the hands of as many people as possible.
More after the jump. Continue reading
Maybe you haven’t heard about Open Source Ecology (OSE) yet. I suppose that’s a possibility.
You’re going to be hearing a lot more about this amazing open source agriculture/infrastructure project in the near future. If you want to be a part of it, well, they’re making a big push to recruit team members right now! But first, the Indiegogo.com campaign (OSE is featured in this documentary).