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Inc.'s Scott Gerber corners the wine and social media entrepreneur for a heart-to-heart talk about life, Twitter, and the most valuable thing in business.
Some start-ups rely on almost round the clock face time, but others--like Bolstr--find hanging out together less means getting more done.
If you're going to be basically sleeping under your desk to get your start-up off the ground, why not make things a little more comfortable and actually merge your place of business with your place of residence? At least you'll have a proper bed handy.
That's the thinking laid out by Victor Ho and Matt Dok, co-founders of business loyalty network FiveStars, recently. The pair came up with an elegant solution to the long hours demanded by starting their company: They cohabitated and then had early employees move in too.
"We locked ourselves in a room for three months straight, had ramen for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and taught ourselves Python. We transformed our living room into a work space. We’d wake up, walk 20 feet down the hall, sit down at the table, not move except to eat, then go to bed," Ho tells Fast Company, claiming the unusual arrangements helped the team be more innovative and productive, save money and instill a horizontal, hierarchy-free culture.Too Much Togetherness
But this approach isn't for everyone. Charlie Tribbett and Larry Baker, the founding team behind small business crowdfunding site Bolstr, at first tried something a slightly less extreme form of constant togetherness.
"When we first started working together we actually set up a fold out table and sat across from each other all day with our laptops," Tribbett told Inc. "We had just quit our jobs—structured, finance jobs. Unaccustomed working outside of an office, the fold-out table seemed like a good idea. And early on, it was. That works tyle helped us maintain focus. But over time it became a distraction."
The pair found that they were actually taking the homey vibe too far, becoming so companionable that they ended up simply hanging out when they should have been working.
"It became very easy to spend chunks of time chatting about things unrelated to Bolstr," says Tribbett. In response the pair decided on a trial separation, working remotely from their separate apartments, but that approach "led to some fragmentation. It became a little more difficult to iterate the broader strategy for the company and product. And projects that required collective collaboration became more challenging to knock out."
The solution for this team was a middle way. "We’ve found that 2-3 days a week in the same space lets us set the week’s agenda, talk strategy and whiteboard. We then prioritize, divide, and conquer the remainder of the week," says Tribbett.Bad for Bonding?
But, argue some credible voices in the start-up community (including VC Mark Suster), doesn't working at a distance reduce opportunities for a team to build a culture of camaraderie and a basis for trust?
To which Tribbett responds: there's no reason you can't build company culture over chat and video. Some young startup teams create camaraderie, he says, by "staying up late and working hard together. This is actually true for us too—it’s just done through technology. We have an open chat called 'The Watercooler' where team members chat about anything. Sometimes work-related, sometimes not."
While the team believes a Bolstr HQ is in the company's future, at these early stages of the start-up the 24/7 work-life mash-up model just didn't pay dividends, concludes Tribbet, and he doubts he's alone in being unable to resist the lure of socializing.
"There are a lot of inefficiencies that are born out of the sexiness of start-ups. For the young startup in a coworking space, it takes discipline to not partake in every nerf fight or happy hour," he says. "For us, though, with flexibility comes responsibility. The luxury of working from wherever means high standards of accountability."
In your experience, could some start-up teams sometimes get more done by spending less time together?
The wine and social media entrepreneur on his god-given ability to make people buy things from him.
When your company growth doubles every week, there's plenty of room for error. CloudFlare co-founder Michelle Zatlyn explains how to survive it.
CloudFlare, a service that protects websites from security threats and speeds up online performance, has been growing at lightning-speed since its creation in 2009. The company saw more than 720 million unique IP addresses and an estimated 1.3 billion page views in the last year alone. That's like going from zero to, well, 1.3 billion in only four years. When you're growing that fast, there are plenty of ways to screw up.
Co-founder Michelle Zatlyn took the stage at Women 2.0's "The Next Billion" conference on Valentine's Day to explain how her company survived the fast growth. Here are six crucial pieces of advice from her presentation.
Whether you manufacture toasters or provide social media consulting to other companies, your business's No. 1 goal should be eliminating the friction between your clients and whatever product or service you offer, says Zatlyn. What does it mean to eliminate the friction? Something about your business should fundamentally make things easier for the consumer, she explains.
In the case of CloudFlare, this means cutting down the amount of time between when a client registers for the service and when that client sees real-time results. CloudFlare allows clients to sign up in less than five minutes; the closest competitor’s registration process takes closer to two weeks. In other words, CloudFlare eliminates a roadblock that once stood in the consumer’s way. Ta-dah! It’s tough for anyone to dislike services that make life easier.
Choose your partner(s) wisely.
According to Zatlyn, the most important thing to consider when selecting a partner--both at home and in the office--is balance. There should never be a question regarding who will complete a specific task in the early stages of your company, she says. Your founding team members should each fill a specific--and separate--need.
“You want to cover as much surface area as possible with your co-founders,” says Zatlyn, whose skill set differs greatly from those of her CloudFlare co-founders, former law student Matthew Prince and software engineer Lee Holloway.
The key to a successful partnership, she says, is to embrace collaborators who are “as different as possible” from you in expertise, yet share your vision for the company and its mission.
Hold your team responsible.
There are probably plenty of high-tech ways to track task completion and employee engagement. (Surely there's an app--or 10--for that.)
But Zatlyn does it with Post-it notes.
At CloudFlare, employees write benchmark tasks for any given week on colorful notes, and stick them to a central whiteboard in the start-up's office. When a task gets completed, down comes the note.
This simple tracking system helps to foster employee accountability, and identifies bottlenecks within the company, says Zatlyn. Besides, she adds, it's pretty satisfying for employees and founders alike to survey a totally clean whiteboard by the end of the week.
Get your own office.
Sure, there's something fun and homegrown about running your business out of a founder's living room. But your office is "not a dorm room--and it's not a frat house," Zatlyn warns. The first step in getting investors and potential clients to take you seriously is to take yourself seriously, she says. Having a legitimate office space doesn’t turn you into a corporate drone; it makes you look professional.
The "take yourself seriously" bit goes for security and Web presence, as well. Don’t wait until your company "really takes off" to purchase a domain name, Zatlyn says. She hesitated somewhat in securing the domain www.michellezatlyn.com and that address is now run by a fan club celebrating the CloudFlare co-founder's work. While it's very flattering, she concedes, it's also misleading to potential clients.
Build a voice--and use it.
"Unlike the CEO of a public company, you can have a personality--use it!" Zatlyn declares. She also notes the importance of recognizing your own expertise. Everyone is an expert of something, she says.
"No one knows your business or your vision as much as you do," she says. "If you see a problem that you care a lot about and you think that you can fix it, you should."
When it comes to the sticky subject of qualifications--as in, do you have enough--Zatlyn believes that a degree and formal training only go so far. (Easy for a woman with an MBA from Harvard Business School to say.) No, really--being self-motivated and curious can actually help you overcome a lot of obstacles along the way, Zatlyn says.
That Harvard Business degree probably doesn’t hurt, though.
Keep a scrapbook!
Zatlyn says her No. 1 regret in growing CloudFlare was not taking enough photos. Start-ups change so swiftly (literally rocketing from teams of 40 to 400 in a matter of months) and so dramatically, that you can miss many of your brainchild's landmark "firsts" if you're not careful. Don't be embarrassed to photograph and document your growing company's changes and success, says Zatlyn. Those images of growth might just come in handy when you're asked to bestow company-scaling advice of your own some day.
The wine and social media entrepreneur on the most important secret behind a social media strategy that works.
The wine and social-media entrepreneur on the how to fit the social medium to your message.
The wine and social media entrepreneur faces up to questions that other entrepreneurs would duck.
The wine and social-media entrepreneur on being everywhere at once, most especially at home with his family.
The wine and social media entrepreneur psycho-analyzes his own ferocious drive to excel.
The wine and social media entrepreneur describes how personal branding worked for him and his companies.
The wine and social media entrepreneur on what customers value most and businesses and entrepreneurs don't do enough of
The wine and social media entrepreneur on where he would most like to be starting a business today.
When a big time event comes to town, small businesses should be ready to attract more customers.
Special events create a range of exciting opportunities for local business owners in the host city. Sporting events, political conventions, music festivals, concerts: these are just a sampling of the types of large events that are known to bring high volumes of visitors and typically an economic boom to the region. And the businesses that serve the local community-- the restaurants, coffee shops, hotels, taxis, hair salons-- are dramatically impacted when these live events come into town.
So earlier this month, I traveled down to New Orleans to talk with some business owners and their employees to see how America's biggest game, the Super Bowl, would impact their business and to see if I could dissect some best practices for my fellow business owners.
Here are three points of advice that I took away from my stay with the great folks of New Orleans.
You Gotta Be Ready for Change
Don't assume that more people means more business for you.
This was the point I took away from visiting the fantastic Bittersweet Confections in New Orleans who are known for it's amazing cupcakes. The week of the Super Bowl, like many major special events, is filled with road closures and changing logistics that bring new unexpected challenges to business owners.
The folks at Bittersweet Confections knew their storefront alone wouldn't maximize the possibilities of the high volumes of visitors so they created a strategy that kept their bakery opened but also made sure they had a remote presence on site where all of the tourist activities were planning to happen. They literally took their business to where the activity was happening--not simply hoping the business would come to them.
The Happiness Factor
While eating at one of my favorite restaurants in New Orleans, the Bon Ton Café, I had a talk with the waitress asking her about how she felt about the "Super Bowl crowds." She spoke of how she loved interacting with the tourists and then proceeded to tell me how the restaurant has prepared to handle the projected increase in patrons.
She seemed authentically happy to be at work. This "happiness factor" is almost always in jeopardy when business owners don't adequately staff their operations during the boom time. The most successful businesses I met on the ground shared one common theme – they aim to create great customer experiences despite how long the line is and put a focus on keeping their staff engaged.
A boom for business should be good for the staff and the business owner and that can only happen when adequate staffing is in place. If the front line workers who are speaking with customers are burnt out and demoralized, it will be reflected in all facets of a business. Every customer leaves with a megaphone in hand holding a report card of how they felt about their experience with a business – just take a look on Trip Advisor if you need some proof of that.
Maximize Your Window of Opportunity
There is a very small window to maximize the opportunities presented by a big special event. That's why it's important to be proactively planning as far in advance as you can. In New Orleans, local businesses worked with the New Orleans Super Bowl Host Committee--responsible for planning the cities activities.
Businesses were also encouraged to actively engage with the local government to get all of the necessary information on how road closures would impact their business. I had dinner at a restaurant outside of the city's center called Atchafalaya where I had the chance to talk with the owners who were fully booked the night I was there--a feat not all restaurants could claim that weren't in the core of the tourism action.
While speaking with the owners they clearly had done their homework and knew based on all of the activities in the city, including road closures, where their customers would be coming from. Like all business owners I spoke with confirmed, it's hard work and a lot of planning but, in the end, good for business. So, be sure your whole team has on it's game face.
The data is mixed, but a minimum wage increase may not be as bad for your business as you think.
For Dan Klock, paying his workers more than minimum wage is a no-brainer.
The chief executive of Bridgetown Natural Foods, in Portland, Oregon, Klock thinks it's critical to pay workers a living wage, and provide them with benefits like health care, dental care, and a 401(k).
Not only are his 200 workers likely to stick around longer, he says, they're more productive, and they do a better job, which is important to Klock, whose company provides high-end all-natural food to some of the biggest organic retailers in the country. His employees also have more money to spend, on things like the goods he creates.
"At the end of the day, the people who work here should be able to buy the products we produce," Klock says, echoing one of America's most famed entrepreneurs, Henry Ford.
In his ambitious second term agenda, announced during his State of the Union Address on Tuesday, President Obama raised a proposal that made small business owners sit up and take notice: an increase in the minimum wage to $9 from its current $7.25. Nineteen states, including Oregon, already provide a higher minimum wage than the federal minimum.
It's a contentious issue which divides small business owners and advocates--not to mention economists. The data is mixed. For every report that proclaims the negative impacts of a proposed minimum wage increase, another exists showing its benefits. While business owners may, understandably, have a knee-jerk reaction against having to pay more for labor, some who take a longer view may see benefits for their businesses.
"Small business can still thrive with a $9 minimum wage, which is still not great, but we will be reinvesting in the economy, and this is good for all of us," Klock says.
Oregon requires its businesses to pay $8.80 an hour, and that is slated to go up to $8.95 this year. Klock's starting wage is $9.00, which he expects to increase to $9.50 later this year.
Although the federal minimum wage has not risen since 2007--and not for a full decade prior--the President's proposal, which also indexes the wage to inflation, riled a lot of small business advocates. They say the increase will put a damper on the nascent recovery, forcing business owners to put off hiring more employees, or in the worst case, force them to start laying off again to make up for lost revenues.
“Any discussion about raising the minimum wage needs to recognize that small employers often have to operate under very slim profit margins," Randy Johnson, senior vice president of labor, immigration, and employee benefits at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote in an email. "An increase has to be shouldered by the employer who may have to spread it out over many employees."
Similarly, the National Federation of Independent Business, in a study released in December, claims a proposed wage increase in New York to $8.50 from $7.25 with an index to inflation would cost the state 22,000 jobs and $2.5 billion in revenue. Governor Andrew Cuomo has made increasing the state minimum wage part of his 2013 agenda.
"It increases the cost of running a business and employment costs and the costs for each new hire, and business owners will need more revenue and sales, and it might limit their abilty to create jobs," Holly Wade, a senior policy analyst for NFIB, says.
Plenty of small business owners agree with the Chamber and NFIB and oppose a minimum wage increase. William Pavone, a sole proprietor of Chilly Billy's Ice Cream, says an increase in the minimum wage would make it hard for his business, based in Tonawanda, New York, to continue.
Pavone's operation is seasonal, confined to five months of warmer weather, and Pavone hires one to two workers each summer to scoop ice cream and drive his trucks. They are paid a floor wage of the state minimum $7.25, with performance incentives to make up to $10 an hour.
"Every place around here is looking for help and many employees don’t want to take minimum wage jobs," says Pavone, who adds bumping up the wage would make it harder to find workers.
Since Pavone operates his business out of two trucks, he worries the minimum wage increase would add to the bite he already feels from the rising costs of fuel, and have to pass along the increase to his customers through higher prices.
Still, many economists and public policy advocates argue that in states where minimum wage is higher than the federal mandate, the economies fare better than in states where businesses stick to the federal minimum wage, which is currently not indexed to inflation and hence forces some workers to live below poverty level.
"There' s an emerging consensus that we can’t build a recovery on poverty wage jobs, and these are the fastest growing jobs in the economy," says Paul Sonn, legal co-director for the National Employment Law Project.
In today's dollars, the current federal minimum wage offers 30 percent less purchasing power than it did in 1968, according to NELP. (A handful of states, including Alabama, Arkansas and Minnesota, mandate even less than the federal minimum wage, which was established as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and contained exemptions for some poorer states.)
Advocates also argue that wage increases bolster loyalty to the employer and create more engagement at work, limiting the cost of turnover. Additionally, when low-wage workers are paid more, they tend to immediately spend extra wages locally, says James Parrott, deputy director and chief economist for the Fiscal Policy Institute in New York.
Increasing the minimum wage to $8.75 in New York State, for example, where there are 1.6 million low-wage workers making $7.25 an hour, would add $1 billion more in state revenue, and an additional 7,300 jobs, according a research report released in January by FPI, which contrasts dramatically with NFIB's research.
Even fans of wage hikes acknowledge that they must be done in steps--say, an $1.00 per hour jump the first year, and 75 cents the second. "We usually think of [implementing] minimum wage increases in reasonable increments, so it's something businesses can adapt to," Parrott says.
In Vermont, where the minimum wage is currently $8.60 and has been above the federal level and indexed to inflation since 2007, small business owners don't think much about the annual wage increases anymore, says Betsy Bishop, president of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce.
"This has created a level of certainty about wage rates both for employees who know they will be getting this particular wage increase, and for employers, who can plan for the increases," Bishop says.
Here's what Poland Spring got right--and wrong--when its bottle landed in a viral video.
By now, you've probably seen the footage of Florida Senator Marco Rubio's bizarre water grab during his televised response, on behalf of Republicans, to Barack Obama's State of the Union Address.
What you may not know is how Rubio's water brand of choice, Poland Spring, reacted. After the awkward video of Rubio grabbing at a Poland Spring water bottle went viral, Poland Spring posted on Facebook the picture accompanying this article.
Any business can learn a few social media lessons from what Poland Spring did--and didn't do--since that unlikely moment in the spotlight:
1. You live in a real-time marketing world.
Two weeks ago it was Oreo at the Super Bowl blackout; now it's Poland Spring at the State of the Union. Soon there will be more opportunities at the Oscars. In today's fast-paced social-media world, events unfold faster and spread further than ever before, and your business needs to be able to join the conversation just as quickly.
2. You'll never know when your brand will be part of the conversation.
Imagine how many types of companies besides Poland Spring could've weighed in on the Rubio response: other water companies, water delivery services, fan and air-conditioning companies, and speaking coaches, to name just a few. No matter the size or type of your business, there are more and more opportunities to jump in on what happens at live events--especially big ones.
3. Be on as many social networks as your resources will allow.
For some reason, Poland Spring chose to only post its celebrity water bottle on Facebook. Imagine the following it could have garnered on other networks, especially Twitter, where the hashtag #watergrab became a trending topic. If you can build a culture where as many employees as possible are active on social media, when a chance presents itself, you'll be that much more ready to pounce.
It doesn't matter whether you are a huge corporate brand or a small business with only five employees. Social media gives anyone the ability to react and respond to live events--in a humorous, or clever way--within seconds. Make sure to use your resources wisely and involve everyone at your company--the best breaks are usually the least expected.
Paul Cusson, chairman and founder of Inc. 5000 company Northern States Metals, says Youngstown, Ohio is poised to change manufacturing forever.
During the President’s State of the Union Address on Tuesday, he highlighted the advancements made in Youngstown, Ohio with the first manufacturing innovation institute, a government funded pilot program working to transform the U.S. manufacturing sector and yield significant advancements throughout the industry.
Obama said: “There are things we can do, right now, to accelerate this trend. Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio. A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3-D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything. There's no reason this can't happen in other towns."
Inc. has had an eye on Youngstown since 2010, when we wrote about a private program invigorating the city through technology innovation.
We ask Paul Cusson, chairman and founder of Inc. 5000 company Northern States Metals, a full service aluminum extrusion and extruded products company with locations in West Hartford, Connecticut and Youngstown, Ohio, to offer his thoughts on the pilot program and the reinvention of Youngstown. Here's what he had to say.
About two years ago, I was a delegate on a business mission to Israel that the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber led. As I looked around at our delegation, I was struck by how far Youngstown had risen from the depths of its Rust Belt reputation. Here in one room was the forward thinking mayors of Youngstown and Warren, aggressive business owners who were thinking about the next generation of technology to be used in their companies, Youngstown State’s STEM college leadership, and the Regional Chamber, who consistently reaches out to the rest of the world for investment into Youngstown. Even though they were from a small Midwest City, they could go toe-to-toe with the best of Silicon Valley, Seattle, and Austin.
So it didn’t surprise me when I heard the news that President Obama last year selected Youngstown to be the first additive manufacturing research center in the whole country--the program that he called attention to in his State of the Union Address this week. The center is called NAMII, for the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, and is already housed in the successful Youngstown Business Incubator.A Catalyst For Change
The goal of NAMII is to take the technology commonly known as 3D printing, and to scale it up to be used in high-end industrial applications. 3D Printing could revolutionize the world: a person could have a custom replacement hip made that would perfectly fit their frame (and it could be half the cost of today’s off-the-shelf product). And a submarine could potentially have one 3D printer that can make every replacement part it needs to have while at sea, saving time and money.
And even for my company Northern States Metals (with our core Solar FlexRack line), 3D printing can mean that our ability to fit out solar farm developments would be even cheaper than the cost-saving technology we use today, which can increase the commercialization of clean technology.
Youngstown companies will be the early adopters of additive manufacturing, with such research in its backyard. Youngstown won this opportunity because the application team that was put together, comprised of many of the universities and companies in the TechBelt region from Cleveland to Pittsburgh, already had a great track record of successful collaboration. And it showed.
When my wife and I invested in Youngstown nearly 30 years ago, we hadn’t realized that we were investing in a city that would eventually leapfrog the rust and be a leader in America’s manufacturing future. But after seeing firsthand
the character of the people of this city, it shouldn’t have surprised us at all.
The No. 1 factor that prevents entrepreneurs from starting a new company or meeting goals is fear. Simple ways to check your fears at the door.
I interview entrepreneurs every week for my radio show. I also coach business owners over coffee and cheap bar food. The recurring theme across these conversations: overcoming fear.
We all have fears. But the good news is they're generally easy to overcome. Just look beyond them. Think it's easier said than done? Here are the common entrepreneurial fears I see and how to attack them:
Fear of Failing
This is the most obvious entrepreneurial fear: What if the business isn't successful? What if it doesn't work out? What if I end up living on the streets? The stats you hear about the likelihood of company failure would put this fear into any entrepreneur's mind. It's also the one you are most familiar with from the days of taking tests and turning in projects at school.
What to Do About It
Understand that every start-up is a failure at some point. If you look back on the original business plan, a company rarely, if ever, follows the plan as it was conceived. The difference between companies that succeed and those that fail is their ability to course correct. Make sure you pay attention to what's working and what's not, and continually work to capitalize on the positive.
Fear of Success
Believe it or not, success is some entrepreneurs' biggest fear. A hesitant salesperson is actually afraid that if he makes the sale, the company won't deliver on the promise he's made. Success brings the requirement to perform, to fulfill the obligation, and to manage scarce resources in an attempt to satisfy demands. Many companies fail because they simply can't service the demand, and their customers move on to a competitor.
What to Do About It
Find a fellow entrepreneur who is in a similar space. He or she has been there before and will have connections and advice to help you through. Look for resources you can borrow: an industrial kitchen if you are making a food product or a company's excess office space; or rent another company's equipment to get the job done.
Fear of Starting
One of my colleagues once gave me some great advice about getting started on a big task. She told me, "How do you eat an elephant?" The answer, "One bite a time." OK, it's a little creepy, but you get the point. Often we are so overwhelmed by the task ahead of us because it looks too big and daunting that we just don't start.
What to Do About It
It may sound simple, but just simply start! If you are going to write a book, write 350 words a day and you are writing about a page. If you are going to start a company in a space you have never been before, find a mentor or spend some time interning with a company you respect. Do something small today for the future you want tomorrow.
Fear of Loss
This fear grips entrepreneurs who have built something up and are afraid to make a change or go in a new direction. They are afraid that the new direction will put what they already built in jeopardy.
What to Do About It
Realize that the second you stop innovating your company, you are already slipping. There is no such thing as maintaining the status quo in the entrepreneurial or small-business space. If you think you are afraid of losing what you already have, then know that unless you take some risks, you are already headed down that path.
Entrepreneurs are a resilient breed. You know how to take a need, problem, or bad situation and capitalize on it to build something great. If you can remember that your entrepreneurial instincts make you more likely to succeed and to learn from a failure, you have nothing to fear.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama said 3D printing could spur a U.S.-based manufacturing revolution.
In his State of the Union Address, President Obama echoed a sentiment that has been gaining traction in the industrial and tech sectors: 3D printing is going to reinvigorate American-based manufacturing.
But here's a question no one seems to answer: how?
The 3D printing industry, which has actually been around since the late 1980s, has already produced some exciting advancements. Companies in the space have printed aerospace parts, industrial manufacturing equipment, and even human organs.
The global market for 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is poised to grow to $3 billion by 2018--a 76 percent increase from 2012 revenue figures--according to a study by Global Industry Analysts. But it's not the consumer-facing 3D printing companies, like in-home printer start-up MakerBot, that will prompt this growth.
“It’s really aerospace and the medical industry driving most of this growth,” Terry Wohlers, president of Wohlers Associates, a firm that provides consultation in the 3D printing industry, told Inc.
Think Evolution, Not Revolution
Wohlers explained 3D-printed items cost an average of $4 a cubic inch, which means it’s only cost effective to 3D print commodities that are produced in low volumes with high markups--such as airplane parts or hip replacements. When it comes to everyday items like children’s toys or the casings for TV remotes, mass-scale injection molding in China is still significantly cheaper.
Some large manufacturers use 3D printers to create the actual machinery, like automated factory parts, that manufacture those everyday commodities.
Take Stratasys, the largest manufacturing and vendor of 3D printers worldwide, for example, which sells industrial-level 3D printers that allow manufacturers such as BMW to innovate on the fly. When BMW needs to alter its manufaturing process, it uses its Stratasys printer to print new jigs and fixtures and place them in the mechanics of its production lines.
“Being able to print new components for their factories as fast as they can innovate is already making manufacturing firms incredibly agile,” Bruce Bradshaw, Stratasys' director of marketing, told Inc. “This agility is going to make it much less tempting for companies to outsource to places that don't have people with the expertise to use this type of technology.”
Other companies have applied large-scale 3D printing in niche industries. EOS, a company based in Germany, prints metal items to produce knee and hip replacements. Boeing and Honeywell now produce thousands of 3D-printed aerospace parts for their their assorted defense projects. And scientists have teamed up with companies to use 3D printers loaded stem-cells and hydroxyapatite (a naturally-occuring scafolding that your body can absorb) to produce human organs for the expanding field of biofabrication.
One of Stratasys' subsidiaries can even scan the surviving leg of an amputee wounded in combat while still in field in Afghanistan and have a new, perfectly-fitted 3D-printed prosthetic ready hours later when he's delivered to Germany for surgery.
But of course, most of the buzz surrounding 3D printing comes from a new industry emerging around its consumer-level applications.
Thanks to the prominence of Kickstarter projects such as FORM 1 and successful start-ups like MakerBot and Shapeways, 3D printing has proliferated into the DIY and hobbyist communities and made its way into the general consumer’s lexicon.
"3D printing is freeing access to material objects in the same way that the computer and Internet revolutions has been liberating information for the last 30 years," said Adrian Bowyer, the founder of one of the most popular 3D printing open source platforms, the RepRap project. The open source nature of the market is part of what’s fueling the boom in the consumer-level segment of the industry.
The former professor of mechanical engineering believes that there’s no technological impediment stopping communities in the future from pooling their 3D printer resources to print something like a car, thereby hurling sectors such as the automakers into the piracy crisis that music industry currently faces.
Looking to the Future
But Wohlers and Bradshaw are skeptical about the idea that soon every American home will have a 3D printer that allows them to churn out anything their hearts desire.
“There’s a lot of talk that eventually you’re mom is going to have a 3D printer in her living room, and I just don’t see that being the case,” Bradshaw said.
He and Wohlers articulate a much more tempered vision of the near future where consumers can download the schematic for a broken engine part or a lost game board piece and have it printed at their local Kinkos.
It’s a trend that has already started: In December of last year, Staples announced that it was going to pair of with 3D printer manufacturer Mcor Technologies to provide 3D printing services in its locations all over the country.
Wohlers says that this may likely create a new business model in the coming years where small companies sell the files for their products online and consumers have their desired purchases printed at the local 3D print shop and delivered to their homes, same-day delivery.
“It won’t be bringing back manufacturing to the U.S. in the traditional sense,” he said. “But it’s going to lead to a whole host of new business models and a different way of thinking when it comes to start-ups.”
From education to housing, it's time to call B.S. on the widely-cited myths that have the power to take down our next generation.
Everybody lies from time to time. Even so, no happy outcomes come from lies--even little white lies--so, by and large, I’ve concluded that honesty remains the best policy.
It would be nice if the people who run our government and school systems (the management and the union) felt the same. But, regardless of whether they or anyone else responsible will ever admit it, there are certain lies which persist--and are repeated ad nauseam by the highest politicians in the land. They’re so pernicious that it almost seems like our civic duty to call bullshit on them from time to time. As Thomas Jefferson said, “a continual circulation of lies among those who are not much in the way of hearing them contradicted will in time pass for the truth.”
So let’s contradict them. If we’re going to save our children’s futures, it’s going to be up to us to tell the truth, make the necessary changes--and hope it’s not too late.
Lie Number One: Everyone can afford to and should own their own home. This crock has pretty much imploded over the last few years, although I sense a creeping rebirth when I hear the President talk about how the JOBS legislation is such a triumph of democracy since pretty soon every Tom, Dick and Harry will be able to buy and own cheap stocks, and raise money through new and virtually unregulated crowd-funding vehicles.
Can these so-called investors afford it? Do they have the slightest clue as to what they’re investing in or the inherent risks? Talk about learning nothing from the fake financial statements and phony real estate appraisals--from the huge numbers of bogus loans. Imagine how closely anyone will scrutinize the net worths and sophistication of the tens of thousands of cab drivers and convenience store operators who will now become stock speculators on the side.
Lie Number Two: Every kid in America needs and is entitled to a four-year college education. Whether they (and/or their parents) can afford it or not, whether they want it or not, whether or not they are capable and likely to be successful.
Would some of these kids be better served and far more likely to ultimately find a job if they pursued a shorter, less costly program to get some practical vocational training? Then they could get on with their lives without mortgaging their future with student loan obligations.
Lie Number Three: Classroom education is one size fits all. This ignores how differently each of us learns and pretends that a single instructor standing in front of a classroom full of kids can effectively teach anything to all of them at the same time.
By the time many kids are college aged, the damage from this lie is already done and they’re long gone from the system. The ones who remain are no better served by the continued pretense that we’re teaching them much of anything useful or of value in today’s globally competitive world. Instead, we’re teaching those students that we still think of schools as industrial-style factories with a premium on rote memorization and repetition rather than rigorous reasoning and problem solving.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
All it takes is an acknowledgement that the current system sucks. The solution is pretty simple. It's not cheap, and it’s not universally available. It’s not easy to implement in the face of the fierce resistance to change, which may be the only thing that many schools are still really good at. But it’s straightforward and readily accessible.
You can call it differential or individualized learning or mass customization. What matters is not the name, but the undisputed fact that we all learn at our own pace and our own style. The tools and technologies exist to build a knowledge-delivery system that fits and serves the students rather than trying to force every student to fit into an antiquated system that suits no one.
Imagine a class of students working with different devices: could be a desktop, a game console, a tablet, a phone. All are wirelessly connected through the cloud to a dashboard that shows each student’s status, progress, and success in real time. Instead of teaching to the lowest common denominator or watching the smartest kids complete their work and put their heads down with nothing else to do, the teacher is able to track, react, and adjust the information being provided to each student--as needed and on the fly. Some students will be right on time and on track, some will be looping through remedial exercises, others will be reviewing extracurricular materials or taking individualized pop quizzes. The teacher can even share screens with individual students and provide suggestions and coaching without interrupting anyone else.
Make no mistake: This is doable. The real question is whether we have the guts, the resolve and the strength to implement the necessary changes before we doom another generation of kids to lifetime under-employment, second-class citizenship or worse.
Turns out, enrollment in graduate CS programs is up. That's good news for this tech talent shortage.
Computer science classrooms in universities are getting crowded these days.
Graduate enrollment in computer science programs (a highly-competitive recruitment arena for hiring start-ups) is growing rapidly thanks to enthusiasm from international students, women, and even the government.
“I’ve been working here for four years, and when I started at GW, we were just struggling for students,” said Luis Acevedo, the advanced degree program coordinator for computer science at George Washington University. “And the last couple of years, the applications have incremented.”
Nationally, the National Science Foundation reported that graduate enrollment in computer science grew a healthy 6 percent between 2007 and 2009, capping off a 10 percent overall growth for the decade. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated employment of computer scientists should increase 19 percent between 2010 and 2020.
Graduate enrollment grew 48 percent over the last four years at GWU, according to the GW Hatchet.
“That’s the hot field,” Acevedo said. “If you look at your desktop right now, you are connected to the Internet. I have my iPod connected to the Internet. I have my iPhone connected to the Internet. And you need people to secure those systems.”
He said that GWU boasts an endorsement by the Department of Defense to sponsor students to protect cyber networks—and luckily, domestic applications are increasing. He said many U.S. students who studied liberal arts in college return to graduate school for computer science training, and said a rising number of women are sending in applications, as well.
While interest is growing in the homeland, Acevedo said the international presence remains strong; 70 percent of the students come from abroad, and in particular from India and China.