Most companies that seek to create a market or enter an existing one aim to come up with proprietary technology and techniques that will keep customers coming back to them, the sole vendor of that technology. Wrong move, according to Siert Wijnia, co-founder of Dutch 3D printer company Ultimaker.
If you really want to succeed in business, don’t hoard the tech, he says — give it away.
It’s just part of the Ultimaker way of doing things, which many Israelis will find different from their way. But hard-headed business-minded Israelis should forget their notions of how to succeed in business, Wijnia said, predicting that they’ll make more money doing it his way.
“For us, it’s not just about the money,” said Wijnia on the sidelines of the first-ever 3D printing conference held in Israel last month. “Our designs, hardware and software, are open source. The Ultimaker is open hardware, which means that the design files are published for you to improve and modify. This includes electronics CAD files, files used for laser cutting and the firmware’s and PC-software’s source code. We invite others to see what we have done, we want our competitors to catch up to us.”
This philosophy, he believes, is key to growing sales. While competitor are playing catch-up, he said, “we are motivated to move ahead, benefiting the user community, and ourselves, because customers will keep coming back to us for innovative technology.”
Wijnia, who attended 3DP, held in Tel Aviv in mid-November, was in Israel to introduce Ultimaker to the Israeli market. The printer is available in Israel from Ultimaker’s local agent, Mafil Office Solutions. With the Ultimaker comes Wijnia’s brand of community-based 3D development, which he believes will eventually have a major impact on the world economy – at least the way his company does 3D.
“Thanks to the Internet I can collaborate with people all over the world in designing a product, perfecting the final design that much more quickly using a crowd-sourced solution,” said Wijnia. “The proprietary system of doing things, in which someone ‘owns’ the technology, doesn’t fit our open world, and won’t work in the Internet era – witness what happened to the music business when its masters tried to prevent users from accessing the creative works they wanted to listen to.”
But those who embraced the digital age and made their music available to the masses – sometimes for free – are the ones that thrived in the new era of music downloading. “When people like the music they want to support the artist and willingly pay to support their work, even if they can get it for free.” It’s the same in 3D printing; by supporting the community with open source plans, Ultimaker builds up its “fan base,” developing strong support among 3D printing enthusiasts around the world.
That translates into more sales for Ultimaker, says Wijnia. “If I make a better product that people can use and integrate into their lives, they will come to me to buy their printers,” said Wijnia. “We are not a nonprofit and we are in business to make money, but the business model we advocate isn’t just nice talk – it works.”
Established in 2011 by Wijnia and partner Erik de Bruijn, Ultimaker is among the top five sellers of 3D printers (number one is Israeli-US high-end 3D printer maker Stratasys), and the printers are well-regarded in the industry.
Wijnia realizes that his ideas might sound a little foreign to Israelis, but they needn’t fear the competition. “Israel and the Netherlands, where we hail from, have a lot in common. We’re both small countries with limited natural resources and space, we both come from strong entrepreneurial backgrounds, and we both have a lot of start-ups and technology entrepreneurs,” said Wijnia.
“The world is changing before our eyes, and more people have a stake in the success of technology – which means they have a stake in our success. I believe that with Mafil, our Israeli partner – whom we chose because their values match ours – Israelis will begin to understand what we are talking about, and share in the success we have already experienced.”