Bre Pettis, the CEO of 3D printing company MakerBot, wants to change the world by making it easier to make things.
A former puppeteer and art teacher, Bre Pettis launched MakerBot Industries, a maker of 3D printers, in January 2009 with “three guys, a laser cutter and a dream”—and just $75,000 in seed cash. After four years and a $10 million investment round, Maker- Bot now owns more than 20 percent of the near $2 billion market for 3D printers. Pettis is convinced his company will change the way you think, create and do business
Q: First off, what is a 3D printer?
A machine that can create things. It’s that simple.
Q: Why is it important?
3D printing is the next industrial revolution. In the first revolution, the emergence of machinery and factories changed the way people had access to things. We are taking that factory and putting it on your desktop.
Q: So how did MakerBot come about?
I had known about 3D printing for a while, but for a public school art teacher in Seattle, it was out of the realm of possibilities because it is so expensive. When I moved to New York in 2007, I started a hacker space called NYC Resistor, where people got together and shared tools, materials and experiences. It was there that I started working on a 3D printer because we wanted one and couldn’t afford one.
Q: How do you make your own printer?
I’ve always been a tinkerer and somebody who loves getting people together to make things. I started by building bikes from scratch—that’s how I got hooked. That feeling that you get when you make something from scratch is such a rush.
Q: How does MakerBot manifest that attitude?
Users of MakerBots think about the world that they can make and not buy. That shift empowers them to change the world.
Q: Can you explain how a MakerBot works?
You start with a design. You can either create your own with any type of 3D modeling software, or go to our site, thing verse .com, which is our place for downloadable 3D objects. It’s an amazing library. Once you’ve got your model, you open Maker- Ware, which is our software for MakerBot. It is the same kind of interaction you have when you want to print a document. Then you just press “make,” and it builds it layer by layer.
Q: What are some examples of things your printer can make?
I made my Christmas ornaments on a MakerBot. We’ve had somebody make a four speed manual transmission; a really popular one is an ear bud holder for your iPhone. People have even taken MRI scans and made models of their own skull. You just make things from your imagination.
Q: How long does it take?
My Christmas ornaments probably took an hour, whereas a bottle opener would take about 15 minutes. It depends on the size.
Q: What type of skill level does using a MakerBot require?
If you’ve changed a tire or operated a washing machine, you can figure it out.
Q: How do you see businesses using MakerBot printers?
A company called Rest Devices makes a baby monitor that let’s you know that your baby is breathing while it’s sleeping. They produce that with MakerBot. All sorts of businesses use MakerBot for prototyping. And both NASA and GE are figuring out the future of space and manufacturing using 3D printers.
Q: And how is business going for MakerBot Industries?
When we started in January 2009, there were three of us. A year ago, we were 40 people. Now, the business is 165 people. So we’ve doubled twice in the past year.
In total, we’ve sold about 15,000 MakerBots, all made here in Brooklyn. The Replicator 2X, our latest version, is targeted at a more advanced user and came out in January. And our store, which opened in Soho last November, fulfills a dream for me. People can go see MakerBots in action. It’s an exciting time.
For more information, visit makerbot.com or contact Bre Pettis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 347.334.6800.
This article originally appeared in the February/March 2013 issue of Worth.