When did you first get a 3D printer?
My co-founder Dan and I first got our hands on a 3D printer during my senior year in college. It was the most expensive thing either of us had ever bought, and we were nervous about using practically all of our savings to buy it because I was still in school and Dan had just graduated. So we knew going into it that we had to find a way to make back the money we spent. The idea was to offer 3D printing services to students at Columbia, Fordham, and NYU that were having trouble getting time on university printers. Shortly after we built our website, set up our PayPal account, and started promoting our services, we were getting more orders than we could handle from architecture students that needed last-minute physical models for their classes and were trying to avoid late nights spent making them by hand.
We realized pretty quickly that even “industrial” 3D printers were designed as tools for the office, not as building blocks with which you can build a scalable on-demand manufacturing business. When it became clear that we’d never be able to scale our business efficiently with the 3D printers that were available on the market, we decided to start a new chapter and solve the problems that were holding our business back.
How did you meet your co-founder Dan?
Dan and I met in college. He was a year ahead of me, and at the time we were both student-employees of Fordham IT. We’re both tech enthusiasts, so we talked often about the technology trends that websites and magazines were predicting and loved to compare our own opinions of what was coming next against them and spark up some debate. One thing we both agreed on was that 3D printing was going to be one of the next “big things” and when it actually started to come into the spotlight, we knew that we had to get in on it. Later that fall, we bought our first 3D printer and started our first business together.
What was your life like before R3 printing?
The 3D printing service that Dan and I ran started in my dorm room at Columbia, so life ever since my senior year of college has revolved around 3D printing in one way or another. When we decided that our next mission was to design and build the hardware products that would enable scale in the 3D printing industry, we knew that there was going to be a large upfront cost to getting started. Prototyping is expensive, and filing for patents is even more expensive.
Nowadays, colleges and universities are building out robust entrepreneurship programs that give student-founded companies seed funding, but back when I was in school these were more like student clubs with occasional guest speakers, not the bigger, more established programs we’re starting to see today. So to get ourselves off the ground, Dan and I had day jobs to pay for the initial R&D stages of what is now R3 Printer, all of its innovative subcomponents, as well as the patents and trademarks that protect our product and our brand. By day, Dan was a broker of commercial real estate and I was an analyst at Morgan Stanley. By night and on weekends, we prototyped, scoured databases as part of the prior art search process of filing a patent application, and wrote the drafts of the patent applications themselves.
Those were some tough times with many late nights, almost no personal time, and very little sleep. Would I do it again? Absolutely.
What were the 3 hardest things you’ve done as you’ve launched your business?
- Managing the unknown. As a founder, you’re on the front lines doing things that haven’t been done before. Sometimes it feels like walking around in the dark without a flashlight. You’re stumbling over obstacles you didn’t know were there, and you retrace your steps so many times because you chose the wrong path to get to where you want to go.
There’s a lot of trial and error and it gets frustrating, but the only way to succeed in the world of startups is with grit and perseverance–there are no shortcuts.
- Your destiny is in your own hands. This is a double-edged sword because on the one hand, there’s a tremendous amount of freedom in entrepreneurship, but it also comes with the pressure of eating what you kill, so to speak. As a founder, the buck stops with you, and this path isn’t for the faint of heart because if someone who works for you drops a ball, it’s ultimately your job to fix it and get things back on-track.
- Work/life balance. Given the above, it’s easy to justify working as close to 24/7 as your mind and body will allow. But if you’re going to lead a company effectively, you can’t always be operating at your absolute limit–not only is it unsustainable but you’ll be unprepared to manage the unexpected, which is basically the only guarantee in the world of startups. I’ve learned to treat work/life balance as a job requirement, else I’d be putting my personal–and therefore my company’s–performance on the line.
What’s your office like?
For our office space, we’ve taken up residency within a hardware accelerator called NYDesigns in Long Island City, just across the river from Manhattan. We chose it because we get the best of both worlds: NYDesigns gives us access to their network of mentors and advisers but we also have a dedicated, private office to work on our product. It’s a massive space with a 5,000+ square-foot FabLab with laser cutters, CNC routers, the works. We love it.
As for the office itself, we’re extremely focused on the product and allocating resources to growing the company, so we’ve taken a minimalist approach to the design of R3 Printing HQ. You have the usual startup pantry perks like coffee and snacks, but the furniture is mostly IKEA and the floor space is 100% dedicated to all the iterations of R3 Printer and its subcomponents. Next to my desk is our latest and greatest pre-production unit that we’re further optimizing for manufacture and assembly as we speak.
What is your superpower?
Product Design. Regardless of whether it’s a physical or software product, user experience (UX) is everything to me, and I have a passion for taking a complex process and making it into a clean and simple workflow that the user understands on the first try.
Everyone who knows me will tell you: even if it’s a little back-end automation script that customers will never see, if it has my name on it it’ll be simple and intuitive to use. I’ll burn the midnight oil agonizing over UX, sometimes to the frustration of others who are just looking to get things done quickly.
But to me, everything is a product and the product has to be great.
What’s your kryptonite?
Sloppiness, especially when it comes to product design or user interfaces. It frustrates me to no end to see questionable decisions made in the interfaces of often otherwise-great products.
To see what I mean, there’s an online game called User Inyerface that tests your patience with a poorly-designed website. If you’re a founder or business owner, you can almost hear the customer service line ringing when you play the game.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I’m not a morning person, but I commit to being out of bed and drinking coffee before 8am on weekdays. It’s a far cry from the Navy SEAL routine, but it buys me just enough time to see if any fires started in my inbox overnight and bake them into my priorities for the day so I’ve already hit the ground running before most people arrive at their desks in the morning.
I also tend to work straight through to the afternoon once I’m up and at it. I don’t like to break my concentration, so for me this usually means working nonstop until about 2:30pm at which point I’ll use lunchtime to give my mind a rest and switch gears. I’m at my most creative in the mornings, so I keep the engineering work to the first half of the day and business operations for the second half, until it’s finally time to wrap things up and set priorities for the next day before turning out the lights.
What do you geek out to?
I love home automation and integrate it wherever possible. Having to run around flipping switches and pressing buttons multiple times a day seems unnecessary if I can change the “mode” of my whole apartment with one simple Alexa command. It’s great being able to walk through the door and already have the A/C and lights pre-programmed to whichever settings I need, whether it’s cooler, brighter lighting for productivity or warmer, dimmer lighting for unwinding in the evenings.
In fact, if it weren’t for 3D printing, I’d probably be in the home automation business. I have it all over the place.
Everywhere I go I have it programmed so things happen automatically. When I go to my car, I have it all connected through my Android phone, so the car will turn on, start the bluetooth and audio programs, turn on my car hotspot – all of this is triggered by me opening the door.
When I walk into the office, I hit one button which changes the lights. Lighting is super important to me, so I have ambient lighting set up in the office as much as I can (it’s a shared space), and also at home. At the end of the day the lighting will automatically shift from work to ambient dinner lighting.
Having to switch around commands and settings is mind boggling to me, so I have my whole home automated with one simple Alexa command. It’s great. Once I walk into the door of my apartment, things happen automatically.
What are some gadgets and tools you can’t live without?
Being a startup founder, you’re never truly offline and things have a way of going wrong at the moment you expect it the least. I keep a second set of everything in my backpack, which is kind of like my get away back – it’s ready to go for a full days work at any moment. In there you’ll find my Surface Pro, Surface Pen, a high-capacity battery pack, charging cables and adapters, a Leatherman multitool (with pliers!), Clif Bars, a Klean Kanteen insulated water bottle, business cards, bluetooth headphones, and a pack of chewing gum.
I have to admit, I love my Surface pen. To be able to screenshot something in CAD and then play with it in Google live is probably one of the best things that’s happened in the world of productivity since 2010.
Any apps you can't live without?
I love Google Calendar. I think it’s an underestimated and definitely underused tool that’s more than just a way to set meetings. One reason it’s so helpful is that you can use it as a to-do list by creating Tasks for yourself instead of events. Staring down a miles-long to-do list can be intimidating, so attaching your Tasks to a day of the week lets you break the list down into something more manageable and that helps keep you going.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do? What do you geek out about?
I’m an active person, and if there’s any kind of water-related activity you can count me in. Whenever I’m on vacation, I make it a point to pack my snorkel, goggles, and flippers. My next challenge is to become a certified open-water scuba diver.
I’m also a big fan of mountain biking. Fun fact: I actually taught myself how to bike when I was little. If I have a rough day or if I can't solve a problem, I clear my head by biking. It’s my form of meditation.
Anything coming up soon that you’re excited about?
Our product launch! Getting R3 Printer in the hands of companies that have been waiting for a platform on which to scale their businesses is super exciting and I can’t wait to see all our hard work coming to fruition.