Last month, at World Maker Faire New York‘s 3D Printer Village, I had the pleasure of meeting two enthusiastic, bright makers, Jenny Kortina and Brett Cupta, who were sharing their brand new creation with the community: Blokify. Their custom block-based 3D modeling software makes it easy for folks, especially kids, to build object models, which they can then send directly to a home 3D printer or get printed through Blokify’s service. Giving kids easy access to designing and printing their own toys has great impact on creative potential. I was impressed with their clean, slick, approachable interface, and they had a steady stream of engaged Fairegoers interacting with their displays all weekend long. We chatted with Jenny to find out more.
1. What inspired the creation of Blokify?
I started playing with Arduino a few years ago. I built everything from a internet-controlled treat machine for my dog to an internet-controlled door opener. Every time I built a project I would have to custom-make parts. For example, for the treat machine I replaced the coin mech with a custom-built servo controller. I had been reading about 3D printers for a while and thought getting one would allow me to make perfect parts for my project, but the price point was too high.
When I was walking around the the tent where you buy stuff at Maker Faire New York 2012, I bumped into Brook Drumm and the Printrbot Jr. It was $400. I was sold. I got home, unpacked my Printrbot and spent the next two days finishing assembly and getting it working with my computer. My first test print was a companion cube from Thingiverse, and the moment it was done, printing changed my life. I saw and was holding the power of 3D printing. From there I started downloading and printing loads of things from Thingiverse. After a few months I wanted a more refined printer (better prints and better/non-hacky slicer software), so I bought a Replicator 2.
Once I had the Rep it was time to start to learn how to model. I did my internet research and decide SketchUp was the way to go (looking back I should have used SolidWorks). After many hours of self teaching and a weekend class, I was able to make basic models in SketchUp that were printable.
After seeing open source software and getting the Printrbot to work, then using a Rep 2 and seeing how much better the slicer/hardware was, it was clear that the hardware and slicer software were getting there, and will be better and better. The huge gap is in the modeling software — it’s way too hard to use, and that’s where Blokify comes in.
2. What was the R&D process like?
We are building something no one has ever built, so the entire project is R&D. We have an agile development cycle, so we are constantly prototyping, tweaking, scratching and rebuilding things. Our goal is to deliver 3D modeling software anyone can use, which means there are no tools in our software, just blocks. Every motion is a gesture — we spent weeks building our gestures, making sure each one is a natural way to interacts with the blocks.
3. Who is involved in the project and what are their roles?
I have a co-founder, Brett Cupta. If we had titles he’d be CEO and I’d be CCO. Brett handles the business end and I’m products. Brett and I have known each other since high school. We also partnered with a 3rd party dev firm from Australia, Two Bulls — they are building the actual product.
4. Tell us about yourself: what is your background and how did you get started making?
I’ve been making since I could walk. My mom used to call me her little MacGyver, Mac for short. I guess it really started with Duplo, then Lego, then taking apart things in the house, etc. — the typical maker story. As I got older I got into writing computer software, then Arduino.
Professionally I worked at Sesame Street in the digital department for four years, helping design their digital products — iPad apps, websites, etc. Brett, my cofounder, worked at Deloitte for five years, then another startup, AirWatch, for two years.
5. How was Blokify received at World Maker Faire New York?
Amazing — once people understood what we were up to, their faces literally lit up. One thing we noticed was that there were a lot of teachers who were super interested in our product. Schools are receiving 3D printers either through grants or just buying them outright, but the teachers aren’t trained in CAD. Since our software is super simple, the teachers can easily learn it and pass the knowledge on to their students. We aren’t making educational software, but would love to see our product used in schools and believe it’s a perfect match.
6. Tell us about your favorite part of the weekend.
I was at my booth the entire time, but my favorite moment wouldn’t have changed had I been able to walk around. Hands down my favorite part of the weekend was seeing the look on peoples faces when they realized what our software does. It was as though watching their smile form synced to them understanding — it was one of the proudest moments in my life. Maker Faire affirmed what we knew — we are onto something great.