Who are our customers?
Next up was finding our product market fit. Originally, I thought our first market would be with schools that were focused in engineering, like Harvard Engineering, but after conversations with them, we found they were hesitant to move away from their own 3D Printers. People who were already using the SEAS 3D-Printers didn’t want to get started on another platform, which we understood.
However, we later found that students who didn’t have prior experience were starting on our platform, and constantly printing. Harvard Hackathons and classes were reaching out to us for their overflow needs. There was a movement towards using our printers, but there was also the frictional hesitancy to move away from their own 3D Printers.
Testing the frictionless hypothesis
We found that schools like MIT had lots of printers but you had to be a mechanical engineer with training to use them. If we could showcase that even people who weren’t mechanical engineers could use 3D printers, then we had a product market fit even in places like MIT.
So we launched to Harvard’s student body, offering “Free 3D Printing” to students. In essence, we were offering a parallel service to what Harvard already offered, so students had to choose one of two options: our platform was frictionless to start, but you had to come pick it up from across the river, while Harvard’s was difficult to start, but easy to pick up since it was on-campus.
One week later, we found that our experiment worked; our printer farm was getting more attention from students than Harvard’s. Many students that were interested in 3D Printing, from theatre performers to computer science majors, began using our platform.
So the frictionless start was working and was more effective in getting students to start building their ideas. Once they were on the platform, it was “addicting” (quote from our users) and people didn’t need to wait to make their ideas into a reality.
This made for a cool experiment, but a free service doesn’t really tell us anything about who would pay for our services. A model of “Have the school pay for students to print unlimited amounts” was something that would require a lot of momentum before it was possible.
Meanwhile, Harvard startups at the Harvard Innovation Labs had abandoned the other printers. Even the FormLabs printer was only getting sparse use by a medical devices company (but when they didn’t need to use the FormLabs, they used us).
However, we still had non-recurring customers, people that were printing only once or twice. We decided to email those customers and get their feedback.
We stopped testing and started interviewing. You can see our customer reviews individually here:
We had lots of bugs we had to work on for the software. In terms of marketing and sales, we understood where we needed to focus our efforts and where we just weren’t a good fit. We could provide lots of value to startups and people wanting to get started with 3D Printing, but our UI needed more work before we could handle the “New to 3D Printing and Making” market.
Furthermore, outside of the people we directly knew, we realized that few people understood the service we offered. Calling us a 3D Printing Service implied that we did all the work, while calling us the Amazon Web Services of Manufacturing was more appropriate, but was difficult for people to comprehend.
From our feedback, we decided to focus on two major initiatives:
- Focus and clean up all the bugs so we can improve the UI
- Invest in a good WordPress front end that explained who we were, what we do, and what is our mission.
Coming Soon: Part Five: A Small Launch