Formlabs $35 Million Financing

We just led a $35 million financing at Formlabs. In case you were wondering, lasers are super cool.

In 2010, when we invested in MakerBot, the maker movement was just beginning. While 3D printing technology had been around for 30 years, there were no desktop 3D printers. The concept of using an additive process for 3D printing, where you built up a 3D object from continuous extrusion of a material such as ABS or PLA (plastics) was well understood. But this technology had not been brought to the desktop at a $2,000 price point. MakerBot did that and created an entirely new market segment within the 3D printing industry.

Last year we invested in Glowforge, a company playing into the same trend that made MakerBot successful but in an inverse way. Instead of an additive process, Glowforge uses a subtractive process to create objects. Glowforge has a product that uses lasers to perform the subtractive process. In the same way that MakerBot completely disrupted the 3D additive manufacturing industry, we believe that Glowforge can completely disrupt the 3D subtractive manufacturing industry. Last week we announced that we led a $22 million financing for Glowforge.

In 2011, at about the same time that MakerBot was starting to scale, another new company – Formlabs – was founded with the vision of also creating a desktop 3D printer. However, unlike the technology that MakerBot used which was called FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling), Formlabs used a technology called SLA (Stereolithography) which has many advantages over FDM, but is more complicated to implement. As a result, it took Formlabs longer to get their product into the market.

In the fall of 2012, Formlabs did a $2.95 million Kickstarter campaign. In the early summer of 2013, around the time Stratasys acquired MakerBot, Formlabs started shipping their Form 1 printer. By the end of 2015, Formlabs shipped their Form 2 printer, which is a spectacular product.

While we knew Formlabs because of our MakerBot investment, we didn’t meet Max until after Stratasys had acquired MakerBot. I knew Max from a distance because we were both in the Netflix documentary Print the Legend. Even though there are many cringe-worthy moments, it’s a powerful story about the creation and emergence of MakerBot, Formlabs, and desktop 3D printing.

In 2014 Max hunted me down at a talk I did in Boston hosted by Katie Rae and Reed Sturtevant with my uncle Charlie about his book The Calloway Way: Results and Integrity. We talked for a little while and he made a powerful impression on me that I tucked away deep inside my brain.

This spring, Max and his cofounder Natan Linder reached out to me about having Foundry Group lead a financing. The company had only raised one major round of $19 million, led by Barry Schuler at DFJ Growth. Barry had a long history with 3D printing and he had put in a term sheet to lead the round Makerbot was considering. When Stratasys acquired the company, Barry invested in Formlabs. I’m on the board of littleBits with Barry and have loved working with him so between Barry’s encouragement, Max’s direct approach, and my love of lasers, we dug into Formlabs.

In the past two years, 3D printing has gone through the classic Gartner Hype Cycle bottoming out in the trough of disillusionment.

hype-cycle-for-3d-printing

At this point, we think there is an enormous void for a new market leader as we move into the slope of enlightenment. We are honored to get another shot at this with our investment in Formlabs.

Oh – and lasers are super cool.


Also published on Medium.

  • I’m very excited about this, you’re helping shape the future! As a proud owner of a MakerBot, I’ve been incredibly impressed with how easy it is to print things (I use the software Simplify3D). Mostly, I make toys for the kids but occasionally I do something actually useful to justify the purchase! It feels like the beginning of a profound social change, and its fun to play around with the future today 🙂

    • JoeMckinney

      Mike – if you like making toys with kids and 3d printing check out Ziro (www.ziro.io). Future is really fun and it is here 🙂

  • I’m liking this new Feldian phrase, “lasers are super cool”. 😀

  • James Mitchell

    Brad, is there an article that explains the pros and cons of additive vs. subtractive printing? If not, how about a guest post from one of the CEOs?

    • There is endless comparisons on the best. The basic difference is that additive requires specific materials whereas substrative can use virtually any material. But there are then many different types of additive (MakerBot was a technology called FDM while Formlabs is a technology called SLA).

      • James Mitchell

        Thanks. I don’t really care about the waste material.

        Bottom line, if I want to make X, is one better than the other? Or does it depend on what X is?

        The theory is interesting, but ideally I want a Consumers Reports article when just tells me what type of machine to buy.

    • Jon Soong

      I’m not sure it should be called “subtractive printing” – you’re not really printing, you’re removing material.

      Substractive printing is probably simpler in many ways, it is like taking a block of wood (or WHATEVER) and chiseling out what you want it to be. This means the options for starting material are HUGE (anything, as long as you can cut it), and there are very advanced tools to do this that have been around for a while – CNC. The Glowforge mentioned in the post is a laser cutter that removes material using lasers.

      Additive manufacturing is quite different, you’re creating a brand new object layer by layer. The materials science behind it becomes much more important – you have to make sure each layer can be somehow bonded to the layer beneath it. Brad mentions two types in his post – FDM (usually melted plastic) and SLA (resins set using lasers or light). The ‘holy grail’ will be printers that can print multiple materials that can stick together, or not (e.g. think about printing a full sneaker – laces and all!)

      There are many examples 3D printing with people using – metals, ceramics and even paper (http://mcortechnologies.com/) to create 3D objects.

      One advantage to additive over subtractive is materials – in theory an additive approach will have less or ZERO waste, whilst a a subtractive approach will always have left over material.

      They are two quite different ways to make things!

  • My sci-fi novels were published five years ago, and they still seem remarkably prescient, with one glaring exception. Nobody told me about 3D printing. Grr…

  • Linda Brodsky

    Great job! Congrats!

  • Steve Coulton

    very neat stuff Brad. I see this technology completely changing my business (selling golf balls) as i imagine this would be an easy product to 3d print. I guess it comes down to who has the best design file/s, and how does one access that file? through a central purchasing site like amazon or itunes? directly from the designer? Interesting to see how this field shapes up. Also would wonder about patenting process implications for designers who create the files.

    Also considering where you think the industry is along the Gartner cycle how far are we from an advanced golf ball being made? that is durable and competitive enough to play? Now i know a few have already made golf balls with 3d printers but have not heard any real success stories yet. Thanks, in case you’re curious my company is OnCore Golf.