In 2012, Maxim Lobovsky, the co-founder and CEO of Formlabs, decided to start a company in his boxers.
With the help of some friends at MIT, co-founders Natan Linder and David Cranor, he launched a Kickstarter campaign, which grossed $3 million (a record high for its tech category at the time) to manufacture 3D printers at a clip of the standard cost. The most expensive printers can cost up to $200,000.
Formlabs has since gone on to raise $23.7 million from investors like DFJ Growth. The company has sold thousands of 3D printers to customers all across North America, Europe and Asia.
On Wednesday, the startup announced an additional five, key partnerships with 3D printing distributors in new markets, including Israel (Systematics), South Africa (Build Volume), South Korea (3Developer), Sweden (Creative Tools), and Turkey (3bFAB).
The news comes just one month after the company's launch of its third product, the Form 2 printer, which retails for $3,499.
Luke Winston, Formlabs' head of Sales and Operations, explains that the company didn't initially want to take on third-party distributors. The move would limit the extent to which Formlabs can control the individual user experience. Still, "as we've grown more and sold more, and become experts, we're able to partner and train them [the partners]," he says. Winston notes that these are "add-value" resellers, meaning they make money by offering installations, training in Computer Aided Design (CAD) software, or other 3D printing-related services.
Some of the new markets made sense from a personal standpoint, as well as a strategic one. Linder hails from Israel, for example, as do several of the company's staffers. Other markets, like Turkey and South Africa, were selected for their demonstrably strong startup ecosystems.
Winston notes that South African makers reached out directly to the company, and Turkey, similarly, has a robust community of jewelers. The Formlabs stereolithography printer helps them, because it has the capability to print smaller details.
While you might associate 3D printing with MakerBot -- the 3D printing systems manufacturer based in New York City, and which laid off 20 percent of its staff this month -- Lobovsky insists that Formlabs caters more directly to entrepreneurs and freelancers.
"People have stopped believing in the technology," Lobovsky says. "We want to get really high-end technology and put it in a footprint that's more accessible to people."
Formlabs clients are of the scrappier sort, including freelancers and digital artists. But the company also caters to dentists, doctors, and large scale manufacturers. The Brooklyn, N.Y.-based startup Dame Labs, for example, uses a Formlabs printer to create prototypes for its couples vibrator. The founders explained that they can print the product cheaply, and inject silicone above the electronic hardware, in an interview with CNBC.
In addition to being less expensive than its competition, the new Form 2 printer is fairly easy to use, with add-on "peripheral" features. Makers can choose from one of seven different materials that range in durability (the previous printer launched with one resin). You can also command software to print via a "one click" option, and data is then transferred in real time over WiFi. Unlike a traditional 3D printer, which essentially uses a plastic glue gun, all Formlabs printers use stereolithography, a laser technique.
The Form 2 printer, in true smart form, will send the maker a text message once the item is ready, typically within six hours or less. Items could include temperature sensors, rings, rock-climbing equipment, or "anything that has to do with the body," Lobovsky explains, such as earbuds, cavity fillings or Invisaline braces.
Although the company would not disclose revenues, Winston nods to the fact that the Formlabs has ballooned from five to 120 total employees in three years, as it cements itself as a valuable resource to entrepreneurs around the world. Still, the 3D printing sector is less sexy now than it was back in 2012 -- and that could pose a challenge in continuing to acquire customers down the line.