Critical Steps to Design, Make, and Sell Your Own Products

If you’re about to wet your pants anxious to begin making and selling your 3D printed ideas or knock-offs, there are things you should know. And who better to learn from than a hacker in the trenches? Me. I’ve been in my garage doing this for 1 year of nights and weekends.

  1. Walk and Talk. Learn tech language but do it while building the business.
  2. Learn to Design. Gain some Fusion 360 skills at ALL Costs. Use YouTube.
  3. There are things you simply won’t able to do.
  4. Accept the fact that with a unique manufacturing process, (to make your product “special” there will be certain price points and margins with which I can’t compete.
  5. Hire, Partner, Outsource.
  6. Get over the idea that if  You don’t make every product, there still YOUR PRODUCT.
  7. Get Ready for Success. Have the sense to research how your product can scale. Making 1000 parts daily is very different than 10.
  8. Fund your Products your self. GlowForge (USA based laser cutters) raised 27 million on there web site, don’t use Kickstarter.


1. Learn Some Maker Talk (Vernacular)

The biggest learning curve for 3D design is the vernacular and developing the ability to pre-plan. Extrude, Loft, Revolve are staples in the fabrication world but can be confusing to people who don’t have that skills. Once you have a handle on those design features and how they relate to real objects we use every day, the potential for innovation opens up.

2. Get Basic Training

The most differential thing of 3D printing right now is that people are making amazing things and DIY videos to YouTube. Users are proud of the things they’re doing and are pretty eager to help others.

3. Understand Your Limitations

Knowing the limits of a printer before you start designing is pretty crucial to success. I’ve wasted hours on a print to finally realize my printer was physically unable to do what I was asking for it. You may have to print the model in two sections and glue them together later.

4. The Riches are in the Niches

Some might say, ‘Go for the sure thing.’ I like the concept of doing one thing well. Being ‘the guy for [fill in the blank]’ is a nice position. If sales lull, make t-shirts to supplement sales. People always want t-shirts. And bags.

5. Learn to Delegate 

I tried to wear all the hats: I was the marketing department, design, tech, PR, finance, research and development, branding, and sales. But at a certain point, I had to be willing to let go of things that someone else could do better for the sake of growing the business. Last year, I made the decision that there was someone else who could cut sheet stock than I could, so I 1099 them (contract). Get over the idea that if  You don’t make every product, there still YOUR PRODUCT. This allows you time to focus on a rebrand and relaunch our website.

6. Quality Versus Quanity

You can save money by importing or outsourcing, but you risk getting lost in a sea of ‘Made in China.’ There’s a story that you can tell with materials today.

When you have zero sales it’s was hard to stick ethically conscious materials or process. To use the cheap stuff would fly in the face of what I wanted the products to be. I ended up finding U.S. suppliers for everything and brought costs down, but I’ve accepted the fact that with my manufacturing process, there will be certain price points and margins with which I can’t compete.

7. Set Realistic Expectations

Sometimes it takes a giant f@$K UP to get a sense of manufacturing realities. But hopefully, you have the sense to research how your product scales. Cranking out five to 20 widgets is easy peezy, but making 1,000 can raise base costs exponentially.

8. Fund Yourself. Don’t Use KickStarter

I know a new company that raised $150K-plus on a KickStarter campaign. It seems like a lot of money, but nearly every penny is going into production of the kits they promised. They priced the kits and rewards as if they were making them in their living room. But after they realized they had to hire six people to help manufacture, the margin got pretty slim. I think they fulfilled all their orders, but they still aren’t living large with the business they started. It’s not sustainable.

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