Dan Shapiro is determined to reinvent the laser cutter. He is CEO and co-founder of Glowforge, which he calls “the first 3D laser printer.” With $9 million already raised, the company garnered an additional $5 million in sales in just the first week of a 30-day, half-price preorder promotion for the $4,000 machine this September. Housing a 40W laser (45W “pro” edition available), Glowforge packs a wallop, cutting plywood and acrylic up to ¼” thick, and features a cloud-based software package that may finally make laser cutting intuitive.
Previously, Shapiro created Robot Turtles, the best-selling board game in Kickstarter history, which teaches programming fundamentals to preschoolers. He has also served as CEO of two earlier startups, experiences that have informed his recent book, Hot Seat: The Startup CEO Guidebook.
This is your third time as a founder and CEO. What’s changed because of the Maker revolution?
For a long time, the path to go from inspiration to product was incredibly short for software and atrociously difficult for hardware. In the past five years there’s been a revolution. Suddenly hardware’s become achievable.
A huge part of that is the amazing work that the 3D printing community has done, a huge part is the work that pioneers on platforms like Arduino and Raspberry Pi have done.
Once it starts to become easier, more people do it, and as more people do it, it becomes easier. So we’re in this magnificent feedback loop where the Maker community is building the bridge as they’re walking across it.
Has the definition of “homemade” changed?
Yes, we’re reinventing homemade. We’re not just making things, we’re making things that make things. And we’re doing that because we want to upend the notion of what it means to make things.
The Industrial Revolution brought us low cost and speed and convenience — which are not to be trifled at — but at the cost of losing quality and customization, and the longevity of the product. I don’t want to take mass production and put it in my house.
What I want is to combine all the lost benefits of “homemade” with all the value that we got with low cost and convenience.
Plastic was the star of the 3D printing revolution. Will low-cost laser cutters showcase other materials?
Yes. When I think about the products that I use every day and that I care about, somewhere between few and none of them are made entirely of plastic. Most of the products that make up my day come from sheet goods. I’m standing in my office now looking at my desk, which is made of plywood, looking at my bag which is made out of leather, looking at my jacket, fabric — all goods that are made out of sheets, or assembled from precision-cut pieces.
As a three time startup veteran, do you have any advice for Makers who are thinking of going pro?
It’s about starting at the end: figuring out who is going to be as excited about what you are doing as you are.
The reason Robot Turtles was such a success was that it was a thing the world wanted to exist that did not yet exist. When I asked, “Who wants to teach their preschooler to program?”13,000 hands shot up in the air and said, “Yeah!” That was what pulled a successful product out of what I was trying to do. I didn’t have to push something that I was excited about to an apathetic audience.
Figure out who will pull the wonderful product out of you, rather than how to push the product you care about to an audience.