This weeks Designer Spotlight focuses on Alex Delderfield, creator of Delta Edge, a shop specializing in Minecraft figurines. Here he shares his story of how to build a successful shop and internet following. Read on for some great tips for shop owners!
Tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? Where are you located?
My name is Alex Delderfield (I go by the online persona 'AD-Edge'), I'm from South Australia, 23 years old and currently studying a Bachelor of Computer Science at Adelaide University.
What brought you to 3D printing with Shapeways?
Working with Shapeways and 3D printed objects was a natural progression for me, I'd been prominently working in 3D (for the most part with Blender) since high school. I first heard of Shapeways (and 3D printing) during my 2 years writing articles on Blendernation for Bart Veldhuizen (one of the community managers at Shapeways). Bart would write up the occasional news article about an object made in Blender which had printed via Shapeways.
After hearing about 3D printing, in particular how easy and accessible it was with Shapeways, I joined up on the forums and started browsing around occasionally looking at the things people were creating.
At the start of 2011 I decided I couldn't wait any longer and produced my first 3D print. It was a 3D figurine of a character (Mew) from the well known Pokemon series I watched as a child.
Fast forward to the end of that year and I'd started to come up with some ideas that people would potentially really like. The final push for me, after I had some ideas forming, was when the full colour sandstone material was released and I could see the quality. It was the material I was most interested in because it printed in full colour, meaning I wouldn't have to paint a hundred models by hand. I started to get serious about my main Minecraft idea and started working on some new objects to print.
What's the story behind your designs? How did you get the idea to make Minecraft figurines?
Since I started with a figurine, most of my initial ideas continued down that path. I wanted to do something a large amount of people would recognize and say "I want that!". So I focused on trying to find something which I would really want, which didn't yet exist (not easy!). I was heavily into Minecraft at the time (and still am) and really appreciated the minimalistic retro graphics, not to mention one of the most infamous gaming bad guys of all time - the Creeper, which was gaining a reputation almost as quickly as the game itself. I was also seeing some other Minecraft 3D printing starting up, but no one had printed the popular animals/mobs from the game at that stage.
The Creeper model turned out to be the first model I had ready to print (early Jan 2012) - modelling the creeper, getting the textures working right, making it hollow and working out the whole process to get the model from Blender onto the Shapeways website ready to print, took several months of work.
After the Creeper was ready, I whipped up a couple of other figurines to also include in the order. I'll be honest, at this point I was nervous about how they would turn out. Either way, the day came when the models arrived, the first thing I thought when I pulled the Creeper figurine out of its tomb of bubble wrap was "This is amazing!". The quality and look of the model far exceeded anything I was expecting, and I knew I had to buckle down and finish the idea.
So from then onwards I was set on the plan and started getting more efficient at producing print-ready models, at one point I made 8 in one day, which was a bit of an improvement on the 3 months it took to get the Creeper figurine done!
How did you learn how to design in 3D?
Mostly self taught, but I have to credit a lot of it to the community which surrounds Blender. Without the community there wouldn't be the amount of support, documentation and tutorials there are these days. Especially now with the more serious sites that have popped up, focusing on providing high quality tutorials. So when 3D printing came along I was pretty much setup to get right into it.
How do you promote your work? What would you say are good tips for other shop owners?
This is where I probably spent the most time planning and working. I had a very strict plan to follow right from the start, with several phases and milestones to complete to make sure I was on track. The main thing was that I didn't want was to just dump some models in my Shapeways store to see how they went. I wanted prototypes of the models printed, pictures for galleries ready, videos, various other networking and popular sites covered and a website all ready for the first day of my designs going 'public' to the world. Ed note: This is a great approach, as then the first time people see your work they are blown away by a finished product, not just a work in progress.
The video advertisements for Youtube were probably the more interesting part to work on. Even before working on them I worked on a more 'viral' based Minecraft video with lots of flares, slow motion, and papercraft figurines going up in great big explosions (no Shapeways prints were harmed here! I promise).
This video started getting thousands of views, and was uploaded well before I had the videos complete for the 3D printed figurines. It helped me establish a 'presence' in the Minecraft community before the figurines went public, so I felt like that was a good way to start. It also meant that as soon as my shop and advertisement videos went live, I could just add links right to the start of this already popular video which is currently getting about 6k views a day alone.
I put together a quick little website to act as the central host for all the information and I also set up Twitter and Facebook pages, which are starting to gain momentum. I wanted to have them setup from day one as well and I plan to host give-aways and contests later on when there are more followers to interact with.
How did you get your designs on reddit? How did you find out about the Minecraft Monday show and get your figures on it?
One of the trickiest things about posting something on Reddit is posting at the right time to get a lot of exposure, choosing when something's likely to be popular (25% guess work, 75% luck!). I'd been browsing the /r/gaming subreddit for a few days prior and had seen several 3D printing related posts (mainly 3D printed characters from games) becoming very popular.
Originally I posted my album as a reply comment in one of these other topics. Within a few hours I had 2,500+ views and a bunch of comments, all of this when I posted in someone else's topic. It was at that stage I thought I'd throw the album up in its own topic to see what happened.
The response was crazy, the topic rocketed to the front page of the gaming subreddit within a few hours. When I went to bed that night the album had 80,000 views, I woke up the next day and refreshed the page - 500,000 views and a ton of comments. By the end of that day (48 hours since the album was initially posted) it had flown past 1,100,000 views. Later on it would reach almost 1.5 million.
I'd been following the Minecraft Monday show since earlier this year, I think I actually found it when I was scoping out places where I could potentially show these figurines off. I even submitted the 'viral' Minecraft video Id made, which really helped it get up and running on Youtube. I've kept in contact with Keith, the guy who runs the show, ever since. He is really supporting of the entire Minecraft community.
I recently shipped a bunch of figurines his way, to be given away on the show. They haven't yet appeared on the show, but I'm hoping they will arrive in time to be show on the upcoming Minecraft Monday show in a day or two.
What did it do for traffic to your shop?
Shop traffic was 10-12 times more than normal over the weekend they were on reddit.
The website got, in 2 days, more than the previous months total views.
Sales over that weekend were also impressive, and for the week following I've been having sales every day.
How are you handling the increased volume of sales?
Its business as usual at my end, I get the usual emails notifying me that there has been a sale, general questions for customers or notifications when a model has been produced and shipped, but as far as the logistics go its been pretty much the same for me, with Shapeways producing and shipping my orders! There was a lot of emails, PM's and comments/questions on Reddit back when it was super popular, so that did take quite some time to manage, but it was great hearing what people had to say about the figurines, and all the enthusiasm was quite motivating.
He's also lucky that so far Mojang hasn't complained over IP issues. They seem easy going, but the more successful his shop is the more they might be tempted to go all Games Workshop on him, or demand a cut.
I have actually tried to contact Mojang a couple of times, but I'm yet to get a reply. They do seem to be pretty relaxed about this kind of stuff, as you said, theres a lot of people out there making a lot of money from minecraft. Whether its from servers, video series or creating unofficial products (search for minecraft on etsy!), I'm certainly not the first to be doing this kind of thing. Theres plenty of people who have 3D printed and sold minecraft things before I started too, ie Minetoys and those guys who take data from the actual game levels and print out sections of terrain.
I understand your concern though.