Why SOFT is no longer HARD enough

Starting a business in an online environment is regarded as low risk and easy scalable. Today, thanks to Additive Manufacturing technology, this goes for manufacturing hardware too. Creating hardware doesn’t need to be "hard".

The last two decades have been an amazing time for entrepreneurs who understood the opportunities that came with personal computers and the internet. The (re)birth of some of the biggest companies we know today occurred in the late 90s and early 2000s. Think Google, Apple, Facebook. They all surfed on the wave of new possibilities the world wide web brought to the world. 

By now, the internet has shown that the amount of possibilities the digital world can bring us is virtually unlimited. Who predicted back in the 80s, when ARPANET became ‘the internet’, that we would buy cars online, make payments with our smartphone, stream unlimited music and be connected to the world 24/7? With the Internet Of Things around the corner, the connected world is becoming reality and will offer great new opportunities and challenges. 

Next to the internet another fascinating new technology has risen over the last few decades: Additive Manufacturing, aka 3D Printing. (The difference? Click here

Additive Manufacturing (AM) has a lot in common with the internet. Both have an enormous empowering potential, both make it possible to start a new company, fast, with a low marginal cost and highly scalable, both technologies thrive in communities and bring people together. 

Obviously internet technology matured much faster than AM. But today, two "DotCom crashes" and the loss of  billions of dollars later, we see that software is getting under heavy price pressure.
Starting a software-business is therefore becoming harder and less attractive.
On the other hand AM has grown from a prototyping technology to a production technology that is mature enough to fabricate consumer products in an effective and valuable way. 

Check out some companies who are proving my point, such as RaceWare, Normal, RSprint, Protos, Unyq, and so on and on. 

We live in a time where platforms are available to plug in easily and create "stuff". Free 3D software is available through Google or Autodesk, or you can hire a professional designer. Once you have a 3D file, you can print the product. Through various service providers you can get your parts printed. Or you can use a platform such as 3DHubs to get the job done by members of a maker community close to you. The very same day you can start selling your product. You can do this in local shops, your own website or platforms like i.materialise or Etsy (almost 200M revenue in 2014). 

Today we can produce highly functional parts with a variety of additive techniques. The risk to start production is the price of your first part. No further investment is needed, no long lead time occurs. In fact, you can sell your parts already before you've produced them. Keeping stock at a minimum and producing locally, on demand, and fully customized parts. 

Unlike software that is free to download and has to generate revenue by pushing ads, customized hardware products are sold for premium prices with solid margins. When using AM as production method, startup costs are virtual zero, your production is ultra-agile and with on-demand production you might have found a shortcut to cash. 

It’s up to us, entrepreneurs, to value the opportunities at hand.
The train is leaving, time to get on board!