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Quora Answer : 3D Printing: Do you think that investing 30 million in Shapeways was a good long term move?

Apr 24, 2013

My personal belief is that one obvious way that 3D printing is going to play out is that it will be bought by major online retailers. Shapeways is definitely worth 30 million to someone like Amazon who can slot on-demand fabrication and a design library as one more product range behind their standard online shopping interface and start to reduce supply-chain and squeeze out some of their suppliers, much as their self-published ebook service now challenges traditional publishers.

So, if this investment is with an eye to selling on to Amazon (or Walmart) at a later date then it might well be worth it.

If you plan to build-up Shapeways as a serious independent fabrication facility then you need to acquire those retail chops. Unlike Facebook and Google which kind of sell themselves, I don't think 3D printing will ever be "viral" in the sense that one customer pulls in another.

So you have to decide, are you selling one-offs to end-consumers? Or fabrication facilities to small-run independent designers / product startups who handle the customer relationship? You'll need to develop different capabilities for the two scenarios. And you'll need to be prepared for when Amazon does come into the market. Shapeways + 30 million may or may not be able to do that. From what I've seen, they're doing a lot of right things so I don't want to rule them out. But it's a challenge to stop being a niche player for the maker community and to go mainstream.

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