Marketing to Makers: Glowforge and Epilog
I recently sent out a Tweet showing two items from my Maker Faire NY swag pile and commenting on how they showed radically different approaches to reaching the maker audience. @TJMcCue asked me to expand on this topic. I am a little hesitant because I managed to hurt some feelings the last time I critiqued a maker related booth. I was hoping the photo alone would tell the story but here goes.
One of the great things about World Maker Faire New York is the opportunity to check out the hardware vendors. From brand new startups to well loved brands, checking out the latest gear and awesome new projects is very inspiring. As a teacher though, one of the things I notice are the interactions that take place at the booths. What are the vendors saying, how are they describing the products to new users, what are the unstated signals that are being sent? Vendors are marketing to makers at maker faire and trying to make sales but they are also educating about their company and products. The two laser cut giveaway items from Glowforge and Epilog highlight radically different approaches to marketing to makers.
Epilog represents the very traditional/industrial approach. (I should mention that my school has an Epilog Zing and I absolutely love the speed and capability of the laser cutter and frequently document my laser cut projects on social media.) The Epilog booth was fairly large with several machines and sales reps. In the back of the booth there was a shelf unit with some laser cut projects. I went up to the relaxed sales rep and engaged him in conversation about my school laser cutter and that I was looking for project ideas. He asked if I had checked out the Epilog Facebook user group for ideas. After a little bit of awkward conversation the rep showed me some job management software that is available for free. Before I left, I saw a small stack of samples and asked if I could take one. The laser cut Mayan calendar giveaway clearly showcases the incredible accuracy and detail that can be produced on their product.
So, what is the take away from the Epilog booth? “We are professionals. If you need a laser cutter, we will help you select the right Epilog model for your use case.” Both the Mayan calendar and the laser cut display models were the same as last year. The models demonstrate technical proficiency but there wasn’t anything that really fit the sensibilities or ethos of makers or maker faire. There wasn’t anyone at the booth to geek out about laser cutting. There wasn’t an artist or designer on hand talking about their laser cut product line. In many ways the Epilog booth experience felt like I was checking out the latest in copiers at an office supply convention.
Glowforge on the other hand represents the next generation of startups filled with funding campaigns, angel investors and Silicon Valley plot lines. Pre-orders started the day before, with a million dollars plus in orders reached in a single day. I was at the booth a few minutes after the Maker Faire gates opened to record a quick video but was quickly told to stop because they weren’t ready yet. (I think the guy who got upset with me for filming used to work at Apple.) I came back early the next day and jumped in line when my friends excitedly asked me if I had gotten a piece cut on the laser. The booth had two of the new Glowforge 3D laser printers on the end cap. The front of the booth was filled with a colorful selection of laser cut items, including a Settler’s of Catan board, wallets, wedding gifts and a keyboard stand.
The item on display were beautiful and well executed but also things that you could see yourself making as a gift or wanting for your office. The staff at the booth were full of energy, a little frantic, but with smiles from time to time that you could tell that they knew they were killing it, both in terms of interest at Maker Faire but also in the pre-orders that mean they can go ahead and start manufacturing. The booth folks were giving out squares of acrylic and makers were invited to draw a design in Sharpie and have the design cut on the Glowforge. The software recognizes the shape of the material and raster cuts the Sharpie design on top of the acrylic then vector cuts the outline. In a telling moment, the line itself was pretty disorganized to start with, the CEO had to stop to brief his staff on how to have folks flow through the booth.
The take away from the Glowforge booth? “Hey, we make cool stuff and you can make cool stuff too!” Makers were invited to go hands on and interact with the hardware and walk away with something they personalized themselves. The lines increased and wait times may have been up to 2 hours but people were willing to wait. (Hopefully not a sign of how long buyers will have to wait for their orders to ship.) Regardless, Glowforge understands the maker faire audience and how to market to makers. It is one thing to read about disruption but totally different to see it happening.
Which machine would I pick? Well for school, I’m happy with the tried and true Epilog. But for home use, I would absolutely love to have the Glowforge. The price with 50% discount is great for the initial ordering window, but the potential of the built in cameras with awesome software have me excited. Manufacturing times, support and long-term durability are concerns but the models they had on hand seemed to work as advertised. (Hey Glowforge! Feel free to send a demo unit if you want it tested in a high school environment.)
I am amused that I was given a hard time for recording video on Saturday but Glowforge ended up retweeting video I posted on Sunday.
Shout out to one of the Glowforge booth staff. Electrical engineer Eva Kloiber was on hand working hard and did a great job answering questions. She has a very impressive resume. “Eva’s background is in aerospace electronics – she has hardware on Mars, the moon, and orbiting earth conducting spooky missions. She enjoys mixing art with electronics to create immersive interactive installations.”
This @tested hands on interview w/ Dan Shapiro is amazing http://www.tested.com/tech/543141-meet-glowforge-3d-laser-printer/
Read my prediction of how Glowforge becomes a billion dollar company at https://designmaketeach.com/2015/10/22/how-glowforge-transforms-into-a-billion-dollar-company/