In the face of competition, rather than spend their capital on transactional marketing, they built resources for a community of both semi-professionals and large corporations which resulted in much better NPS, retention and radically lower acquisition costs for new users, and as a result greater loyalty from suppliers too.
3) Building broad then building deep
In fast-innovating hardware cycles, such as 3D printers and CNC machines, we at Balderton believed it was better to be in the software-layer than trying to picking the winning hardware. Despite a frenzy of funding into new machinery in 2012-2015, the promise of personalised home 3D printers struggled to match the quality and consistency needed, and it was clear that in the immediate future, the supply side of the Hubs marketplace was best served by professional and semi-professional suppliers who had access to higher-end machines. This market was growing fast, but it was more concentrated than the global community they had built initially, and as a result, it was clear that the product would have to adapt too.
Holding on to the demand-side of the market was an even greater challenge because of its breadth. 3D Hubs was now helping people from bedroom-designers to rocket-scientists to prototype and ship parts in metals, plastic, wood and other materials. Having a strong community alone wasn't enough, and so they started to build depth into the platform using the millions of data points generated in the previous years. From an initially static site, 3D Hubs built an incredibly powerful platform which could help creators render, test, share and dynamically price almost any part in almost any material for production anywhere in the world. The users came back to the platform not just because of the need for a product, but because of the depth and quality of the services on top of that, giving the company an increasingly deep technical and data moat, strengthening the company's economics and improving customer's feedback in the process.
4) A 20-year plan
One of the biggest challenges when starting a business is balancing the beautiful dream with the messiness of day to day operations.
Almost every board meeting at 3D Hubs started with a reminder of the company's mission, to be the biggest, most accessible factory in the world, without owning a single machine. Much of our last board meeting was focussed on the strategic decisions and product launches required to drive the future of automated and distributed manufacturing in the coming years. It was only after we spoke about the big product vision we had that we ever got into the immediate details of the business. We had big plans for 2021 after a very solid 2020 despite global disruption, and had not planned for a merger of the company. However, in ProtoLabs the team found a partner that had a similar vision of the future and one that could radically accelerate their plans.
Having a dream isn't enough to build a hugely successful company, but it is a necessity, and Bram, Brian, Filemon and the entire 3D Hubs team managed to balance a 20-year vision with a day-to-day practicality which has made 3D Hubs such a success.
We look forward to watching the future of the company as they continue to give everyone the access to create whatever they can dream of too.