Halfway through our Kickstarter Campaign

By December 5, 2013Kickstarter, News

Well the hard work paid off and after only 7 days of the Campaign we reached our goal of £100,000.

If Robox is the best 3D printer why isn’t the Campaign generating more Interest?

First off, we are not disappointed with the current results, quite the opposite, the process and response has been a great experience. I have never had the opportunity to talk to so many potential customers before the project is finished and I’m enjoying the process, certain that ultimately it will make the product better. We’ve had some extremely kind remarks, my personal favourite and something I have seen repeated is “This is a real game changer” – sorry… patting my own back right now. Saying all this I feel there are some 3D printers that have had better responses from the media and public but are technically inferior. So why the reduced interest?

3D printer fatigue – There has been a lot of 3D printers released into the market over the past year, and I’ve read comments like “another day, another 3D printer.”
Maybe our decision to not release any information or start the Kickstarter campaign until after we had a confirmed production date has not done us favours when it comes to the volume of KS backers. I stand by our decision, especially after reading the bad press that Pirate3D got when they could not deliver on their dates.

Christmas & Thanksgiving – Our timing is not great! A few days after we started the campaign the whole of the US downed tools, left their desks and celebrated Thanksgiving. Also, Robox delivery dates are after Christmas and I think a a lot of people are currently focusing their money on gifts and celebrations.

Poor prints in Video – This is a tricky one… We finished the mechanical side of Robox first, this is where most of our experience lies. Electronics and software are getting polished now, but without all aspects of the product working you can’t show all the functionality. We thought it most important to show the 2 nozzles working together on the video but this system needs EVERY aspect of Robox to be working seamlessly, we could again have waited until it was more complete but we were desperate to show the world what we have done! Also see the first point… waiting longer to release Robox may have further reduced the KS response.

Not in the US – Just a guess but… The biggest following for Kickstarter is in the US – maybe products that are produced and manufactured in the US do better than similar projects from other countries?

Low spend on PR and marketing – “You have to speculate to accumulate”… Wise words, but if you are asking for money to help with development is it right to spend all your money on telling the world? A fine line I think. There is no doubt that the more successful campaigns have spent a lot on PR and Marketing to polish their content and reach more people.

Cost of the product – This one makes me a little cross… We have priced our product so that it has a good future. The RRP of a product has to include development, tooling, material cost, assembly cost and shipping cost including tax and duty, our margin, distribution, resellers margin, etc… you can see that the cost of the materials to make the product becomes only a percentage of the price to the consumer. I think that a few, if not more, of the projects on Kickstarter have not fully considered these costs and if the product is to be truly mass marketable their initial price will later hurt them in the shops because they have had to increase it. As a product developer it is often possible to reduce your price in a market but its much more difficult to increase it unless you include additional functionality or accessories. Also, following the launch of the product, and with Robox in the hands of users, we must consider the cost of supporting those users and honouring our warranty period.

Stretch goal – We laid it all out, everything we have done, everything we are thinking of doing and where we are now. I think if we add stretch goals it’s like not really having a clear idea from the beginning of what it is we have set out to achieve. By offering more than our original plan for the same price we are not being fair to our backers. We asked for backing to help us develop a specific product, adding more complication/development is unlikely to bring us to improve our initial goal. Having said that, we are considering adding further rewards by putting dates against some of the future developments we are planning and asking backers if they want to support these developments now.  For example, one of the most frequently requested extensions is the dual material head. We could add a reward to get this and a second extruder when ready in 4 months for a further pledge of £199…(only thinking out loud here…just an idea) this is possible because we have already included many of the requirements for this item in the original designs and tooling.

All this is just guess work of course and the only true way of telling would have been to amend all the above points and release at a different time.

This is not a gripe, we are extremely happy with our progress on KS, but there is the obvious question; If we think our system is the best in the world, why is it not the best Kickstarter campaign in the world?

This is probably a good time for me to stop talking and let you answer the question.. you are the people looking at the campaign I’m probably too close to the project to see the answer clearly. Your ideas are welcome; how can we make this campaign as big as it should be?

About Chris Elsworthy

CEO, Design engineer, Family man, started product development company, best known for pitching CEL in BBC Dragons' Den. Robox and POWER8 workshop inventor. Portishead, Bristol · cel-robox.com

11 Comments

  • Kester says:

    After 3D printer fatigue, I think ( for me least) the biggest factor that caused me to hesitate investing in this project is that much of the consumer level printing has been led by open source efforts. Many 3D printers have been quick to confirm they will contribute back to the community, so there is a great feel good factor about investing in those projects which in your project is frankly lacking. Yes, we might get a good printer, but we’ll be locked into your closed source business model. Part of the excitement of the maker movement is taking part in others experiments and adaptations, something that might be difficult to do with your system. I think you’ve already had a hint of this with the fuss made over your printer filament spools: there was a fear of lock in, a fear that we wouldn’t be able to experiment.

    • Chris Elsworthy says:

      Hi Kester,

      You make some good points, but I feel I must put my case forward for why we are not designing an open source printer:
      • Limitations to design user experience and system. Open source is great when one code or part fits all, but this kind of constraint stifles systems. If we release our firmware it just wouldn’t work with any other printer, it’s mapped to our electronics and hardware, both of which are unique to Robox. We have included as much open control and development as possible in our software; for example, we are still allowing control of the printer by GCode and we will release a list of any new commands, but designing a solution that will fit all is not as easy and thus ends up not being quite as good. Sometimes you’ve just got to draw a line in the sand.
      • I didn’t want to do a Makerbot… Start off open source, then close later.
      • There are some people that aren’t interested in tweaking or developing.. they just want a product that is the best it can be at the right price and this is our core audience. We don’t want to take away from the well-established open source community but it’s not for everyone. We think we’ve included enough advanced features to allow for improvement and tweaking (if that’s what you’re in to).

      You may not like this answer because I get the impression you’re a strong supporter of open source, and you may not believe it but we are too. I don’t think many of the printers that have come before us on Kickstarter have been open source? Of course some have been, like the RepRap guys, but even they have to take from industry.. after all was FFF not first paid for, invented and patented by industry?

      You’re free to experiment as much as you want, use your own software, your own filament, write your own print profiles, edit GCode etc… but if you start modifying the electronics, or making your own heads then we can’t be expected to ensure your results are good or that you won’t damage the printer. You know what, I wouldn’t even be upset if I saw an open source version of our twin nozzle system, but what would make me angry is if someone started selling a copy of our hard work, which has required considerable financial investment and many 100s of hours of work.

      • biscuitlad says:

        Hi Chris – I get your points completely, just think that ‘feel good factor’ perhaps isn’t there as much as something like Ultimaker who open source everything. It’s true there are instant Chinese copies as a result, but there will be even if you do it closed source! I’m not saying you should open source everything or anything, that’s entirely up to you.

        People sell great products everywhere on the basis of them being great products. It’s just that 3D printing has this hobbyist tradition / background that has embraced open source. You yourself have benefitted from it and used it during the making of this product. 🙂

        Makerbot has got a lot of flak for going closed source and continuing to use open source adaptations. I think the best is a mixed approach – take a look and see what can be made as open as possible, and what isn’t sensible to make open. Maybe that’s what you’ve already done. I suspect the threat of people selling copies is more from other manufacturers, not the little guy who wants to tinker about with the software. I suspect no one is going to be milling a new head in their shed any time soon!

        Robox looks like a great product – I can’t wait to see more high quality print photos, I’m sure these do more than anything else to get backers on board. People have so many doubts about the final printed thing always looking a bit weird and full of little ridges!

  • dave says:

    Love the product, backed right from the start and I was surprised as well that this isn’t the best grossing Kickstarter out there. I think the main reasons are 3D printer fatigue (everyone willing to buy a off the shelf/non-scratch build 3d printer jumped at the first opportunity to buy a Form1, Pirate3D, QU-BD or Peachy). I almost ordered a QU-BD on the last day since Robox wasn’t there yet, I’m glad I didn’t. I think the Robox is great, but I can understand a lot of people just buy a Pirate3D, QU-BD or Peachy because they are very cheap and ‘good enough’ for a first 3D printer in their opinion. One last thing that might be a reason to just skip the Robox is it’s Kickstarter page. Don’t get me wrong, lot’s of info there and the video is nice, but the most important aspect for selling this product over it’s competition is it’s superiority in specs and possibilities. According to the intro: “This is Robox®! Designed to be the simplest, most reliable and comprehensive 3D printing platform available. Packed with innovation.” – That’s great, but what does it do to make it that simple and reliable? It is all explained on the rest of the page but there is a lot of text. You need to have some real interest to read it all. It’s great you’ve added the buddha close-up’s with the pencil, it looks great and can pull potential buyers across the line. But what I don’t get is why one of the most important data of the page, the ‘features comparison’ is all the way done, I had to scroll twice just to find it. It’s the only place that contains things like print area and what makes it better from all the competitors, why not just place it at the top. Maybe with some bullets pointing out why you should buy Robox (for example: One of the highest resolution FFF printers on the market, Interchangeable heads (use it as a cutter, cnc or 3d scanner with easy to use attachments, future proof), works right out of the box, no tweaking needed, user friendly software and design (just click print and your good to go, thanks to automatic levelling, our own user friendly software, spools with chips) , Use our high quality filament or bring your own, etc.). A lot of people willing to buy a Robox think the 10cm print height is a big downside. But if you just tell a bit about the ability to slice the model to assemble later and show a scaled example of a box the size of the max print area it will be less of an issue. I thought it was a bit too small as well, until I made this box with the max. dimensions myself, There is enough space to fit almost all of the prints out on Thingiverse. All the ™ and ® signs scared me a bit once I first saw the Kickstarter page, It gave me the impression that I was dealing with yet another big company focussing on patents and vendor lock-in, which is not the case thanks to your ability to answer all questions we’ve had, but maybe that needs a bit more highlighting.

    About the stretch goals: True, I’d rather have the Robox on time and in good finished shape then a half-finished version with more options and a possible delay. Keep us updated, loved all the updates so far, the more prints and info you share the more people might go for it. Good luck and I’m looking forward to provide you with feedback about the actual product once I receive it 🙂

  • Andre says:

    Chris,
    One thing I struggle with is the “single material” extruder design ( unfortunately still….even after backing). For me it does not jive with “reliable and simple”…. If I compare it to my UP or the Zortrax it seems really complicated. The UP/Zortrax extruder is a stepper, a gear, a bearing and a heater block with nozzle . KISS at its purest. The robox extruder system is a stepper, a gear, another gear, another gear (with several bearings?), a feedback sensor (?), a feeder tube, a swiveling heater block (with a bearing and axis?), another stepper, a cam system, two needles (with some seals, I assume),… I think you get the idea. And does all this really give such a better print quality than the UP or the Zortrax which simply use retraction to not ooze at all? So far I don’t think so…that’s why I’m watching closely the upcoming print examples. High speed? Yes. Is the higher print speed worth the additional complexity? I personally am torn on that one and maybe other people, too.
    Of course if we talk about a dual material head the whole story may be different. Anyway… Just some rambling to get you a better idea what people might think….I’m nevertheless very impressed with the innovation going on here!

  • Pete says:

    Hi Andre,

    Please take a look at the Kickstarter video and skip to 1:13 ,you can see Chris assembling the extruder. The mechanical principals are very simple, the addition of the 2nd pinch gear on a sprung lever is very neat and can handle a lot of variation in filament and wear over time. Although contained in the same part, the feedback loop is separate to the feed system, it is an addition and not a complication or compromise of that system.

    The moving parts of the hot end of the head do not interfere with the flow of material because the material moves through the centre of rotation. The only complex part is the needle valves . The complexity of these valves is in the machining of the parts which reduces the reliance on assembly and mechanical accuracy.
    Small variations in the build of each head can be tuned out with the software and is part of an initial calibration, it shouldn’t need to happen again but if there is wear or variation then this calibration can be performed by the user.
    You can see a stripped down head in Update#6 here http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/robox/robox-desktop-3d-printer-and-micro-manufacturing-p/posts

  • Marcello says:

    Hi guys,
    Let’s say I’m a potential customer. I would first of all compliment to you for the nice machine you are going to build. I like the style most of all and its functional design. I am the kind of customer that you are pointing to. One of my interests is creating design objects and i want to experiment with a 3d printer and I’m searching for a precise, reliable machine that feeds on stl files, allows me to place objects and some filament options and press print. What prevents me from buying is the fact that you force users to buy your filament cartridges. I mean, to me it’s more than ok that you sell filament. I even understand that you did it for the good of having the automatic material recognition to avoid the user fiddling with nozzle temperature … But what if i can buy at a local store some cheaper and compatible filament ? What if I plan to recycle some plastic and make my own filament? A maker has normally a limited budget and loves freedom of expression. I would be more interested if you sold some empty and open spools already set for the most common materials like ABS or PLA. You can even put a notice like… Do it at your risk! Best would be a spool with a switch on two or three positions. Even better if you can program a spool with your advanced settings. Another thing you should show is two color models, even something simple. In the comparison chart the half circles were not very explicative to me, you could have used a full circle in a red colour. Changing the word optional with extra … I think sounds good, in the sense that I imagine that it’s something that adds value instead of thinking that it’s an half baked feature.. You put a focus on interchangeable tools but you show none apart from the extruder. I have another idea for you, why don’t you put a pen-holder or cutter-holder and let it have a ” plotter mode” ? I use a lot a plotter/electric cutter for my projects. To me having this option could mean being capable of working in my little studio without having almost duplicate machines. If you like my ideas make me a discount , eh? 😉 you can even send me one for free of course, I wouldn’t say no… 😀 I really like your machine You’ve got the potential to be predominant because your product looks beautiful and functional at the same time. I really love the curvy shapes and the transparent enclosure. Your prints look like some of the best. So good luck and keep me informed!

  • Pete says:

    http://www.cel-robox.com/forums/topic/are-filament-reels-reloadable/
    http://www.cel-robox.com/forums/topic/ninjaflex-3d-printing-filament-and-other-exotics/
    Hi Marcello, thank you very much for your comments.
    The 2 links above should answer most of your questions about filament, in short, yes you can use filament from another supplier, and yes you can buy empty reels and write your own filament profiles to these or other empty reels you have.

    Additional heads are planned but we have not finalised and so don’t want to make any false claims. A plotter/cutter system has been tested and works well, it will be a very simple head with a low cost.

    The best way to get a discount is to support our beta program, we are thinking of extra rewards for good beta feedback.

    • Marcello says:

      Hey Pete, you convinced me, just wanted to tell you that I’m a backer now !
      Can’t wait for my robox to arrive!
      🙂

  • Ian Prest says:

    I *was* a bit worried about being locked into your software/filament ecosystem, but the moves/announcements you’ve made since then have assuaged any fears.

    It’s also a good looking machine, from an established company. The price is high enough that I debated it for a week or so… it’s definitely not an impulse buy, but it seemed like a good value for the money (esp. compared to something like the MakerBot).

    Anyway, it was the promise of interchangeable heads that ultimately sold me… why have several nearly identical machines when one can do it all? Personally, I’m very much looking forward to the cutter head. (I’m hoping it’ll be powerful enough to mill thick-ish acrylic and accurate enough to engrave a PCB for prototyping purposes.)

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