Over the past few years, you’ve seen me write about Glowforge, the 3D laser printer that made history with their crowdfunding campaign back in 2015.
Glowforge launched that very campaign at a jam-packed World New York Maker Faire, where folks lined up for hours to get a glimpse at the shiny new machine. Over the next 30 days, they sold $28 million worth of pre-orders to an insatiable crowd of makers.
More recently, Glowforge was named Make magazine’s 2019 Editor’s Choice for a laser cutter. Their thousands of makers have already printed more than 3,000,000 amazing creations. And as a company, they have seen sales triple in just the last year.
So it was sobering when, last week, Maker Faire / Make Media closed their doors for good. In interviews, Make founder Dale Dougherty explains that the company wasn’t interesting to investors anymore, and that, frustratingly, it was failing as a business, but thriving as a mission.
As an investor in many businesses whose founders and customers count themselves among this maker movement, this gives me pause. I see the demise of Maker Faire and I know that an astounding 97% of seed or crowdfunded consumer hardware companies meet the same fate.
But I’m compelled now more than ever to invest in the maker movement, and I hope you’ll join me.
And in fact, now is a perfect time. This week is the kick-off to the National Week of Making, June 21-28. In 2014, the White House launched the Nation of Makers to “empower students and adults to create, innovate, tinker and make their ideas and solutions into reality.”
This is exactly why we continue to invest in new technologies that are leading the maker movement and making it accessible to schools, homes, small businesses, and many enterprises that embrace new innovation and experimentation. Companies like Glowforge, Formlabs, Sphero, littleBits, Modular Robotics, and others in our portfolio are the companies who are helping to drive this movement forward.
The team at Glowforge created an offer this week so that you could celebrate the Week of Making with us. This discount code is good for a $500 discount off a Glowforge Pro, $250 off a Glowforge Plus, and $100 off a Glowforge Basic.
Glowforge recently launched their 3D laser printers to the public, making their product line available within 10-day delivery. As an early investor (and a huge fan) this was an incredibly gratifying moment, as Glowforge is now shipping – in volume – the product from one of the most popular pre-order campaigns in history.
We’ve been a part of Glowforge’s journey to production since even before their record-setting crowdfunding campaign. But the campaign was the moment we knew that we’d found something special: the elusive product-market fit. People really, really wanted the product. Now that it has made its way into thousands of households, we’re seeing something even better. People really, really love their Glowforge.
Of course, all the numbers in the world can’t convey just how awesome their product is until you see it in action. I’ve used mine to make everything from luggage tags to wallets. It’s an incredible shortcut on the journey from idea to having something tangible you can hold in your hands – no matter your skill level. Trust me, I’ve tested the low end of the skill level personally (e.g. me …)
I’m not the only one excited about it, either. Everyone I’ve ever demoed it for is astonished at what it can do – even my partner Moody’s thirteen-year-old son can’t get enough of it and, admittedly, uses it much more effectively than I do.
Glowforge is taking another big step toward making their printers more accessible by launching their Glowforge Plus model with the Amazon Exclusives program. I waited several years to get mine and have no regrets, but now the next generation of Glowforge owners will be eligible to get their printers delivered to their doorstep in just two days with free Prime shipping.
The move makes sense from a product standpoint, but it also falls right in line with their underlying philosophy: with the right tool, anyone can be a creator. Today, it’s as easy to purchase as it is to use.
While I was in Seattle last week, I had a chance to stop by the Glowforge office and talk to the team during one of their biggest weeks since their historic 30-day crowdfunding campaign. An electric energy buzzed in the air along with the familiar low hum of anticipation in advance of a big product launch. Glowforge was about to launch their 3D laser printers to the world – their entire product line – for delivery in 10 days.
Foundry led a $9 million and then $20 million financing in Glowforge, the Seattle-based 3D laser printer, as it grew from just an idea to shipping a beloved product to their customers. Along the way, they’ve faced some unique challenges, not least of which was creating an entirely new product category.
Laser cutting/engraving technology has existed for many years, but it is not at all the sleek, superpowered item you envision. Instead, it has historically been an industrial, expensive, and hard-to-use piece of factory machinery. We invested in Glowforge because we were excited by what they envisioned – a way to harness the power of lasers that could be used right at home.
The feedback around what they were doing was incredible. It doesn’t hurt that lasers are super cool, but people also really, really loved the idea. Now, Glowforge reaches yet another milestone as their produce is moving out of pre-order and into commercial sale.
During my visit last week, one of the questions Dan Shapiro, CEO and co-founder, asked me to address to the team was, “What makes Glowforge stand out from other companies?”
I’ve seen many cultures at companies, but the thing that stands out about Glowforge is their constant and relentless focus on their customer.
Every Friday, their office gets together for an all-hands meeting where Dan updates everyone on everything from financials, product, and shipping status to sharing the latest projects customers are making with their Glowforge. I get a copy of the presentation by email, so I can keep current on what’s happening with examples like this
I regularly share this presentation with my partners at Foundry, especially the projects. It’s a perfect example of customer-centric thinking: Did we make something that people actually want to use? How are people using it? And how can we make it better?
Over the course of the last three years Glowforge returned to this last question, “And how can we make it better” again and again. They refused to ship a product that didn’t meet their standards, even if it meant making customers wait longer than they planned. When the product was only good instead of great, they chose to invest more to make the product they had promised awesome.
That’s the kind of culture that produces amazing products – one that focuses every product, every meeting, and every decision around their customers. I’m excited to see where Glowforge’s focus on customers will take them next.
And if you’d like to see the results of all this so far – my referral code is good for a $500 discount off the Glowforge Pro, $250 off the Glowforge Plus, and $100 off the Glowforge basic.
Regardless of those childhood aspirations of Batcaves and Tony Stark’s high tech compounds, not every VC has an office (or a company portfolio) full of lasers. But I’m one of the lucky ones.
A little history: Foundy made our first investment in Glowforge, the Seattle-based 3D laser printer, back in June of 2015 after seeing the incredible product the team was building. A few months later, they launched with the biggest 30-day crowdfunding campaign in history, during which I spent more time than I’d like to admit refreshing their homepage and watching the numbers climb in astonishment. And before I knew it, we were leading a second investment round to help the team deliver to tens of thousands of customers.
As with many early stage hardware companies, Glowforge faced their fair share of setbacks during beta and pre-production, but the team’s obsession with delivering the product they promised has paid off. The product is completely magical. Finally, customers have it. And you can make incredible things with it, like a drone.
They’ve been shipping out thousands of units, and as of today, all US customers who’ve ordered a Pro have been notified theirs is ready. Since domestic units can’t be shipped overseas, and Basic units are still backordered, that means they have Pro units available for sale today, for delivery in 10 days!
Do you need new keys for your laptop?
One of the things I’ve always loved about Glowforge is that they are constantly trying to figure out how they can work with their customers, instead of just selling to their customers. It’s one of the reasons their forum is so active and such a terrific resource, and why their customers love the product so much. So I wasn’t surprised when they came to me and told me that they were going to launch Pro sales exclusively to their customers, with a really amazing offer. I get to share it with you since I’m a customer!
Finally, a Glowforge Pro without the wait! It’ll be on your doorstep within 10 days. (As a customer, I get $500 cash or $600 in materials if you buy – and yes, I’ll be taking the materials …)
One more thing. When I show people stuff I made on my Glowforge, I get one question: What made this? Glowforge is encouraging owners to share their own prints with #whatmadethis. Notice the Foundry and the Glowforge logos on my new wallet.
Proofgrade leather, stamped with engraved acrylic – made on a Glowforge. Get your own 3D Laser Printer at Glowforge, delivered in 10 days, for $1,500 off! #whatmadethis
You won’t believe what people are making. Check it out for yourself!
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.
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.
When we led a $9 million financing in Glowforge a little over a year ago, we were excited about the potential to do to the subtractive 3D printing world what we did with MakerBot in the additive / FDM 3D printing world. We were also fired up by the beautiful and practical stuff that the team made us to show what the product could do.
In June 2015, Glowforge had a prototype and a plan. A few months later, Glowforge ran a 30-day crowdfunding campaign, which ended up raising $27.9 million and is still the #1 30-day crowdfunding campaign ever.
By the time the 30 days were over, it was unambiguous that we had found the ever-elusive product market fit. We knew that all kinds of designers, crafters, artists, and makers wanted a 3D laser printer in their home. The feedback around what we were doing was incredible and awesome. Oh – and lasers are super cool.
It has been less than nine months since the pre-order campaign and I’ve seen the product and the company move at a lightning quick pace. In Q2 they brought a full beta unit to our office in Boulder and it blew our mind.
My partner Ryan’s son Quinn (who is 12) was in the office so we sat him down in front of the Glowforge, gave him an iPad with the Glowforge software on it, and he went to town making stuff in our conference room. After 30 minutes the grin on my face was so huge I had to go sit quietly in my office for a few minutes to calm down.
Units are now coming off our US manufacturing lines and we are starting to get them into beta user’s hands each week. We are trickling them out slowly to make sure that we’ve got the manufacturing process nailed for the hardware. The software is continually improving, so a short passage of time as we dial in the manufacturing before scaling just results in an even better end product.
Dan Shapiro (the CEO) and his team is obsessed about having the highest quality possible product. While they didn’t need any additional money at this point, they were willing to let us do a financing to have major cash on the balance sheet that would allow them to weather any challenges. Given the extreme demand we had from the pre-order campaign, we are expecting this to accelerate once we start shipping, so it made sense to raise more money right now to support growth so the company could focus 100% of it’s energy on customers and product.
We proactively offered to lead a financing rather than have Dan and team run around few a few months. As part of our overall strategy, we have long described ourselves as syndication agnostic. We are happy to invest with others, but we are also happy to lead rounds ourselves in companies we’ve already invested in. At Glowforge, we already had a great partner with True Ventures and were able to agree on terms with Dan and his team that allowed us to quickly do a round.
As Glowforge printers make their way out into the world, I’m super excited to see what people do with them. Oh, and lasers are super cool.
Yesterday, Dan Shapiro and I did a video of me creating a Foundry Group coaster out of a piece of wood. It was done remotely – I did all the design work on my computer in Boulder, uploaded it to the Glowforge cloud, and printed it on a Glowforge in Seattle. As a bonus, you get to see a VC (me) struggle with Adobe Illustrator, which – while being ubiquitous – is one of those pieces of software that can only be described as “a beast.”
If you haven’t ordered a Glowforge yet, use my referral code to get 50% off + another $100 dollars off. Given my experience with Dan and team so far, I think this is going to be one of the amazing products of 2016.
As I read about the unveiling of the Tesla Model X, I have two thoughts. The first one is “I want” (hint: Amy – you need to replace your red Range Rover.) The second is that price of admission is an amazing product.
Indulge me while I go on an amazing product rant from our portfolio.
- Glowforge is turning 3D printing inside out by using a laser to cut and engrave, instead of an extruder to, well, extrude. They just crossed the $4 million mark in day five of their thirty day pre-order campaign.
- Sphero has sold more BB-8’s in the month since they launched than even I thought possible. I have one on my desk and it gives me joy every day I’m in the office.
- Accenture just launched their Connected Analytics Experience’s immersive environment which is enabled by Mezzanine. As a daily user of Mezzanine, it actually makes video conference and collaboration tolerable.
- The demand for the 3D Robotics Solo drone is off the charts.
- Rock Band 4 comes out next week. Yesterday two new U2 songs were added as exclusives. Enough said.
- We closed an investment yesterday in a company that will announce next week. I’ve been using the product for sixty days along with their competitor’s product. Their competitor has raised 10x the amount of money so far (prior to our investment), and the product from the company we invested in, from my own head to head comparison, is amazing, compared to the “meh” product from its competitor.
- We are issuing a term sheet today to another company that I hope accepts our offer. Your mind simply explodes when you use this particular product.
I could keep going but you get the idea. When I reflect on our successful investments, regardless of the form factor (software or hardware or both) that they take, they all are amazing products. And the founders come from a product first mindset – their goal is to unambiguously create the best product that delight users every time they come in contact with it.
I’ve heard the discussion about how important product is for over 20 years of being an investor. But it’s not important anymore. Instead, an amazing product is simply price of admission. If you don’t have an amazing product, you don’t get to play, at least in my little corner of the world.
Glowforge has started taking pre-orders with an expected ship date of the pre-orders of before the end of the year. It’s one of the most magical products I’ve ever been involved with. It’s in the “show, don’t tell” category, so spend three minutes of your life and see what you can do with it.
For the next 29 days, Glowforge 3D laser printers are available for 50% off the retail price. In addition, if you buy using my referral code, you get another $100 of the price.
There are many times when I love what I get to do. Watching a product like Glowforge come to life, and being involved as an investor, is one of them.
The other day, Mark Suster wrote a critically important post titled One Simple Paragraph Every Entrepreneur Should Add to Their Convertible Notes. Go read it – I’ll wait. Or, if you just want the paragraph, it’s:
“If this note converts at a price higher than the cap that you have been given you agree that in the conversion of the note into equity you agree to allow your stock to be converted such that you will receive no more than a 1x non-participating liquidation preference plus any agreed interest.”
I also have seen the problem Mark is describing. As an angel investor, I have never asked for a liquidation preference on conversion that is greater than the dollars I’ve invested. But, I’ve seen some angels ask for it (or even demand it), especially when there is ambiguity around this and the round happens much higher than the cap. The entity getting screwed on this term are the founders, who now have a greater liquidation preference hanging over their heads than the dollars invested by the angels. Mark has a superb example of how this works on his blog.
We’ve been regularly running into another problem with doing a financing after companies have raised convertible notes. Most notes are ambiguous as to whether they convert on a pre-money or a post-money basis. This can be especially confusing, and ambiguous, when there are multiple price caps. There are also some law firms whose standard documents are purposefully ambiguous to give the entrepreneur theoretical negotiating flexibility in the first priced round.
If the entrepreneur knows this and is using it proactively so they get a higher post-money valuation, that’s fair game. But if they don’t know this, and they are negotiating terms with a VC who is expecting the notes to convert in the pre-money, it can create a mess after the terms are agreed to somewhere between the term sheet stage and the final definitives. This mess is especially yucky if the lawyers don’t focus on the final cap table and the capitalization opinion until the last few days of the process. And, it gets even messier when some of the angels start suggesting that the ambiguity should work a certain way and the entrepreneur feels boxed in by the demands of his convertible note angels on one side and priced round VC on the other.
The simple solution is to define this clearly up front. For example, in the Mattermark investment from last year, I said “We are game to do $5m of $6.5m at $18.5m pre ($25m post).” When I made the offer, I did not know how the notes worked, what the cap was, or what the expectation of the angels were. But when Danielle Morrill and I agree on the terms, it was unambiguous that I expected the notes to convert in the pre-money.
In contrast, in the Glowforge deal, which Dan Shapiro talks about in his fun post Glowforge Completed its Series A with an Investor we Never Met, I was less crisp. I knew that Dan’s notes were uncapped with a discount and I knew his lawyer well, so I didn’t define the post-money in this case. Since the notes were uncapped, I expected them to convert into the pre-money. But I didn’t specify it. The notes were ambiguous and we focused on this at the end of the process after docs had gone out to the angel investors. Rather than fight about this, I accepted this as a miss on my part and let the post-money float up a little as a result. The total amount of the notes was relatively small so it didn’t have a huge impact on the economics of the investment but we could have avoided the ambiguity by dealing it with more clearly up front.
Recognize that this is simply a negotiation. In Mattermark’s case where there were a lot of notes stacked up, I cared a lot about the post-money. In Glowforge’s case where the note amount was modest, I didn’t care very much. And, while I care a lot about my entry point as an early stage investor, I’ve learned not to optimize for a small amount in the context of a pricing negotiation.
I think we are just starting to see the complexity, side effects, and unintended consequences created by the massive proliferation of convertible notes over the past few years. I’m pretty mellow about them as I’ve accepted that they are part of the funding landscape, in contrast to a number of angels and VCs who feel strongly one way or the other. As derivative note vehicles have appeared, such as SAFE, that try to create synthetic equity out of a note structure, we’ll see another wave of unintended consequences in the next few years. As someone who failed fast at creating a standardized set of seed documents in 2010, I’ve accepted that dealing with the complexity and side affects of all of the different documents is just part of the process.
Fundamentally, it’s up to the entrepreneur to be informed about what is going on. I hope Mark’s blog post, and this one, are additive to the overall base of entrepreneurial knowledge. And, if Jason and I ever write a third edition of Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist our chapter on convertible notes might now be two chapters.