History you should know and what the “Maker Movement” really means for entrepreneurs

There is no doubt the Internet & Personal Computing have changed the world. I’d like to discuss why the Internet & 3D Printing will change the world, with some observation in the last two decades, as a professional editor in the 1990s and as an executive of a blogging company in the 2000s.

First of all, let’s look back on what has occurred.

How “media” changed

Printing press in the 16th century

Phase 1: Printed Media → Online Media (1990s)

This change was quantitative — mainly brought by cost reduction. It is obvious that the printed media requires significant investment in printing processes and logistics. The introduction of the Internet and the personal computer destroyed the existing cost structure of the industry.

Phase 2: Professional Media → Social Media (2000s)

This was not only quantitative but a qualitative transformation. The cost of content creation decreased nearly zero and more importantly, the consumer has become the creator of the content.

Transformation from the professionally-produced content to the user-generated content happened.

Imagine how the user-generated content is produced — Average people take photos of the phone, utilize free apps and open-sourced data to edit the content, and upload social media. People who love these photos taken by amateur users may download and print the data, as well as customize the content using an intelligent app to finalize the content to display in their photo frame.

How “production” is changing

Mass production introduced by Henry Ford

Phase 1: Manufacturing → 3D Printing (2010s)

This change was quantitative — mainly brought by cost reduction, as happened in the media industry in the 1990s. It is obvious that the manufacturing of parts requires significant investment in factories and logistics. The introduction of the Internet and the 3D printing is destroying the existing cost structure of the industry.

Phase 2: Professional Manufacturing → Social Production (2020s)

This will not only be quantitative but also a qualitative transformation. The cost of content creation will continue to decrease. But more importantly, the buyer will have become the producer of the part.

Transformation from the professionally-manufactured part to the user-produced part will inevitably happen.

Let’s imagine how the user-produced part will be produced in, say, ten years — Average people scan objects with the handy 3D scanner of the wristwatch, utilize free apps and open-sourced data to edit the 3D model, and upload to the 3D model exchange. People who love these models produced by amateur users may download and print the data, and customize it using the intelligent robot to finalize the product to display in their living room.

A big disruptive change will be happening really soon. So, are we ready for the change? I don’t think so. It seems to me that people, especially investors, are still heavily focused on the web and the mobile app.

Learn from the shift

As a person watching high-tech industries in Japan and the U.S. in the 1990s, the situation today in the U.S. is risky. People look at things in short-term, like investors putting smaller money in more web startups and founders eager for instant exits. Each party goes after its best, but industries as a whole are not ready for the shift of the production, as Japan failed taking on the media shift.

Sinking of the RMS Titanic

In the 1990s, Japan did not realize the disruptive change and its investments were focused heavily on manufacturing such as in the automotive and electronics industries, where Japan once thrived in the 1980s.

Even today, Japan is probably best known for manufacturing. Its preference in investment is clearly hardware oriented.

The U.S., on the other hand, shifted their efforts in software, especially personal computing and the Internet in the 1990s. Prosperity of the U.S. in the 1990s was brought by the foresight in this disruptive change — the Internet and the personal computer.

Microsoft, Netscape, Yahoo, you can name more. These companies led this computing revolution in the 1990s, and it was succeeded by Google.

The “social media movement”, however, was started by emergence of blogging, which many would agree. The first place that non-professional users wrote content online was on their blogs. At first, professional writers downplayed the blog and many of them tried not to blog at all, or at least, prepare different content for the blog than what the paid media would pay them.

User-generated Content Championed

For social media services, the community they build and maintain is one of the most important elements for success. Hiring the great Community Manager is critical for social media startups to go to the next level.

You can name great social media services who have great communities. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.

The breakthrough component that made the social media championed was, I believe, innovation on the mobile phone.

As most of you probably cannot believe it, but Japanese mobile technologies led the global mobile market in the early 2000s. NTT Docomo’s “i-mode” service was widely adopted in 17 countries until the smartphone had taken over it.

The majority of the mobile phones sold in Japan were connected to the Internet since the late 1990s and lots of content provided by the professional providers was available to mobile users for a few dollars per month. Actually the monthly subscription model for the mobile apps and the content was first introduced in Japan for mass audiences with great success.

So, why did the Japanese way fail? Their way downplayed the impact of user-generated content. Japanese mobile phones were designed to receive the content that only the professional media providers created, and the content end-users created was not available except for private communications among friends and families. Japanese mobile phones were prohibited to access to user-generated content and social media services until the late 2000s.

The smartphone, on the other hand, is ultra friendly to users who create and share their content to the public. Users are more than welcome to create, share and access the user-generated content.

Prepare for “social production”

As we quickly overviewed above, “Change in Making” is already undergoing. In the last several years, prototyping and “not-mass” production are shifted to 3D printing instead of traditional manufacturing processes due to 3D printing saving both time and money.

This summer, GE was rumored to acquire 3D Systems. 3D Systems was once a $10B company offering products ranging from desktop 3D printers to industrial 3D printers. This sort of move clearly indicates that the shift in manufacturing, or Phase 1, is maturing in the U.S.

So, what should we do to get ready for the inevitable Phase 2 transition?

Like the social media movement, the “maker movement” was started as community-driven activities. In the beginning, many D.I.Y. enthusiasts were devoted to evangelizing the movement and promoted many events including Maker Faires.

Eventually, the maker movement including the Maker Faire was hosted at the White House last year for the first time, and the White House hosted it again this summer. The White House said “Today’s D.I.Y. Is Tomorrow’s ‘Made in America’”.

The true reason the White House lead the maker movement is probably due to the fear that American industries were not taking this movement seriously enough, or at least did not take enough actions to lead the movement, they needed a catalyst and the White House was trying to be that catalyst.

Is U.S. behind the Maker Movement?

Outside the U.S., people and companies started fostering local communities for makers and designers, by providing not only maker-spaces but collaborative environments to increase the number of people who get used to social, collaborative making experience.

This summer, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) wrote an article “Try a 3-D Printer With Your Cup of Coffee” to introduce the maker movement in Asia and Europe that coffee shops provide the environment for social production. In this article, coffee shops such as DimensionAlley in Berlin, makersCAFE in London, and FabCafe in Barcelona and Tokyo were introduced. Some of them are franchises and are preparing to expand throughout Asia and Europe.

According to this WSJ article, this movement is not yet popular in the U.S.

3-D-printing cafes haven’t gained as much stream in the U.S. as they have internationally. That’s due in part to the widespread availability of 3-D-printing services within the country, says Mark Hatch, co-founder and CEO of TechShop, a chain of facilities known as makerspaces that offer members access to prototyping and fabrication machines for a monthly fee.

However, I assume that the strong presence of membership maker-spaces in the U.S. keeps those interested in 3D printing from casually joining the movement due to high barriers-to-entry such as a monthly fee and the prerequisite knowledge to enroll in a membership and use the hardware.

To catch up with this movement and create a strong community to get ready for the era of the social production, I co-founded a company called “FabFoundry”, a global startup community for makers & designers, in New York. We are introducing the “3D printing cafe” concept to New York with a popup 3D printing service at a coffee shop in the West Village of Manhattan.

New York — City for Global Maker Startups

Why did we start in New York? There are also reasons. First and foremost, New York is the biggest metro area in the U.S. with more than 20 million people. With the density of design studios, fashion brands and design schools, New York has the most population of designers in the world.

Also, New York is the second biggest city for startups. According to a TechCrunch article, New York has been the fastest-growing technology startup ecosystem in the U.S. over the past 10 years and currently ranks No. 2 in the country behind Silicon Valley in terms of the total amount of venture capital invested.

A success of WeWork, the biggest co-working space provider who raised nearly $800M in the last 12 months, clearly shows that New York has lots of potential to grow with its huge startup ecosystem. The co-working business was an untapped market until the early 2010s, but once some startups capitalized resources, the co-working business has become one of the fastest growing businesses and is expanding globally.

Of course, there are lots of challenges, too. New York is a very competitive market. New York City alone has more than 1,700 coffee shops. WeWork has already 19 co-working locations in New York City alone. Expensive commercial rent is a burden for small startups like us.

But the startups who build and run physical locations to provide communities to millions of people in New York can find ways to scale their businesses by not only taking full advantage of the big population but also transplanting their business model internationally, as what is happening in New York leads the business trend in many countries. Examples of WeWork and General Assembly, who was once the leader of NYC’s co-working space and then pivoted to focus on educational services to entrepreneurs and founders and just raised $70M, prove that this strategy works.

Cafe is just a beginning

FabFoundry’s goal is to help people get ready for the era of social production. Opening a cafe with the digital fabrication equipments such as 3D printers and laser cutters is one of the ways we provide to the startup ecosystem.

As a member of the startup ecosystem, we will NOT build everything by ourselves. Rather, we prefer partnerships and collaborative relationships, especially with international businesses who share the same passion and vision.

We are having serious conversations with some global initiatives such as FabCafe Global, a global platform that helps local creators connected to each other. Born in Tokyo in 2012, FabCafe is expanding rapidly to many cities in Asia and Europe such as Tokyo, Barcelona, Taipei, Toulouse, Bangkok, Singapore and more to come.

FabFoundry also participates, as one of the affiliates, in a New York-based startup accelerator for the next generation of disruptors in the retail and consumer goods sectors called XRC Labs, located in the Parsons School of Design at the New School and co-founded by Parsons, Kurt Salmon, and the Harvard University Innovation Lab. We expect XRC’s in-depth network and influence to the design industry in New York as well as internationally.

FabFoundry also has some unfair advantages the co-founders have built in their career as well as through their networks. Experience in building the social media community between Japan and the U.S. is one of them. Leading the New York maker community is another. Also, we are able to help makers & designers understand and take advantage of the subscription model instead of the one-time payment model, as the software industry has already experienced this big shift in the last fifteen years.

As a result, we will be able to introduce not only a 3D printing cafe in New York, but also make resources available to help people and companies ready for the era of social production. The 3D printing popup service in New York is just a beginning of what we will have contributed to the ecosystem.

The 3D printing popup cafe is starting shortly through December 30, 2015. If you are an entrepreneur who wants to get ready for the Phase 2 of “Change in Making”, please join us at FabFoundry.net or follow our Twitter to come join the movement.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.