We have great news to share with you. Shapeways recently raised $5 million from Union Square Ventures in New York and Index Venture] in London. This means that Shapeways is now an independent company with Philips, Union Square and Index Ventures as shareholders. The investment enables us to grow the team, add more features even swifter and open our new Headquarters in New York!
Three and a half years ago (the 1st of March 2007) we started working for the Lifestyle Incubator of Philips Electronics in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. The Incubator is a great environment that enables entrepreneurs with new ideas and business concepts to grow those into companies. It provides the experience and resources of a big company like Philips and the benefits of a start-up environment. When the company is successful it becomes a part of one of Philips’ divisions or spins out to become an independent company. The idea we got money from the Incubator management to work on, was enabling mass customization using rapid manufacturing. This was the birth of Shapeways.
Initially we had to do a lot of research, including visits to RAPID (getting to know the 3D printing market) and SIGGRAPH in San Diego looking for upload validation and creator software. In September of that same year the software development started on the first elements of the Shapeways service. In December, the first, albeit very conceptual, creator was running enabling us to convince Philips to continue.
In February of 2008 it happened! The first part completed the upload – test – manufacture – ship cycle. We were holding the first Shapeways manufactured piece in our hands. Now we had to start testing, first with friends and family, later with friends of friends. Finally in July 2008 Shapeways launched with a press announcement – a unique service enabling everybody to make, customize and sell unique products made using 3D printing.
At first, we offered one material, but 2 months later we already offered 3 materials. In the meantime, we also launched our first “creator” the Lightpoem, at SIGGRAPH 2008 in Los Angeles. The creators were the first step in making unique products very easy to make for everyone. This is one of the core elements of what we want to do at Shapeways, making it easy and fun for everyone to make whatever they want. Either for a hobby, as a personalized gift or just something really nice for yourself.
Since then, we have built on that initial platform: In January 2009, by adding the Shops, where everyone can sell their products. Then in August 2009 by adding the Co-creator platform making customizing products really easy. And on a regular basis by adding different materials, including metal and glass, materials that have only recently become available. Last, but not least, Shapeways has a vibrant, friendly and helpful community, that shares our passion, of more than 50,000 members! As a result, there are now more than 20,000 makeable products publicly available on Shapeways and lots more privately. There are more than 1,000 shops and close to 800 customizable products. On a monthly basis, we produce more than 10,000 unique products and these numbers are growing fast.
As early as 2008, we discussed with the Lifestyle Incubator management what the future of Shapeways would look like. Would we become part of a division of Philips – we could not stay in the Lifestyle Incubator forever – or an independent company. Both are great options to choose from, but we decided we want the ability to maximize our growth and do business with anyone as an independent company. This implied looking for outside funding to grow Shapeways, as we are currently not able yet to pay all of our bills ourselves. So we had to go and find investor money. This was a first for us and also not easy, as the concept of Shapeways is so different and new. Therefore, it is really great to have found great partners in Albert Wenger from Union Square Ventures and Ben Holmes from Index Ventures together with Simon Levene. They believe in Shapeways and have funded us. Shapeways has now become an independent company, which we are really excited about.
So what are we going to do in the future? We are passionate about improving our service. We have been doing that and we will continue to do so, perhaps even faster than ever. Expect the Shops to improve based on feedback and the Co-creation platform to become a lot more powerful. We will make uploading models easier and we will add more materials, reduce lead-times and lower prices.
Since the start, Shapeways has been located in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, which has been great for us with the Technical University and the Design Academy providing both technical and design input. However, with our ambitious growth plans we also had to look at moving to a place where we could really find all the people we need both from a design and a technology perspective. With a big chunk of our community in the US we also wanted to be closer to them. That is why we decided to move to New York, the great melting pot where media, design, culture and technology come together. Our office in Eindhoven remains with our great service team and supply chain management.
Do you want to help? Perhaps you can! We are looking for enthusiastic, talented developers, a UI specialist and more, to come and join the team in New York. Do you feel as passionate about creating as we do? Check out our job page.
We would also like to thank a few people who gave us the opportunity as early as 2007 to work on Shapeways and make it the company it now has become. Without their vision and coaching this would not have been possible. Thanks to Carlos Zwikker for your patience and coaching on all aspects. Thanks to Steve Seuntjens for your help on the financial side, with your knowledge of venturing and your support to get the deal done. Last, but not least, to Jos Burger for your advice and coaching.
kind regards, Peter Weijmarshausen & the Shapeways Team