Due to some developments in my personal life I haven’t done any art in the last few weeks so there’s nothing really to write about there unfortunately. I am starting to miss it though and I really feel like continuing a piece I started a while ago! Maybe Sunday..
Maybe Sunday.. That leads me to the topic of today, seeing as it’s a common expression that the developers at 3D Hubs like to use when we think of nice little extra features for the website, but they simply don’t have the time to implement it and it most likely will never happen, definitely not on a Sunday!
A couple of weeks ago LinkedIn was nice enough to tell me I had a work-anniversary, 2 years at 3D Hubs. Quite a milestone for me actually because I never worked this long at a single company yet. And it’s definitely been an interesting two years because things move fast when you work at a startup.
I’ll first tell a little bit about 3D Hubs to give you a bit of context of what I’m actually doing. 3D Hubs is a company that is centered around the 3dhubs.com website, which is a network of 3D printing services (the Hubs). Think of it like AirBnB for 3D printing. It allows customers that have a 3D model, to upload their file to www.3dhubs.com/3dprint and will then get automatic quotes for how much it would be to print their file at different 3D printings services (Hubs) in different materials and 3D printing techniques. It sounds fairly straightforward but it’s not so easy to keep up with the needs of a fast growing community that have registered over 32.000 printers and are active in over 155 different countries all over the world with a team that consists out of only 35 people.
It’s my job to address any issues that might come up on the website. This ranges from simple requests to make alterations to an order between a Hub and their customer to explaining why Selective Laser Sintering is a preferred method over Fused Deposition Modeling when printing large intricate designs with steep overhangs. Ok, to be fair that isn’t that big of a problem either but I’m sure you get the idea.
When you’re working in startup with a small team, it is crucial that you work with systems that allow you to work smart. For example, when we started off, it’s extremely important to us that we would guide every order from start to finish to ensure that both Hub and their customer had a great experience on the platform. With the fast growth of the platform we were quickly getting overwhelmed trying to keep up 4500 support requests per week with a team of 5-6 people.
To prevent us from losing our minds, we had to iterate and switch our tactics. This is where the power of such a large community comes in. Educating the Hubs on features of the website and giving them more control over their customers orders allowed us to bring down the support requests from 4500 a week to 700-800. This was not an overnight change though, it takes months of effort and a lot of data-analyzing to see what works best. But hey.. we can now breath again..
Now we can spend our time creating more valuable resources to educate engineers, professionals and hobbyists on what they can expect from 3D printing and how it works. The What-is-3D-Printing page was received very well along with our Materials pages. Currently we are working on the knowledge base which will go even more in-depth on different topics. And the cool thing, these articles are written members of the community that have already been active on the our forum called 3D Hubs Talk. There’s even an article in there partially written by yours truly on things to keep in mind while designing for 3D printing.
But I don’t just want to talk about what we do at 3D Hubs so I want the rest of this article to cover a strategy that we have and I think should be applied everywhere. I definitely need to learn on how to apply this to my art. So what is it? Failing..
Failing is so valuable, if you do it the right way. Fail fast. Learn, iterate, fail again.
“We need to think about failure differently. I’m not the first to say that failure, when approached properly, can be an opportunity for growth. But the way most people interpret this assertion is that mistakes are a necessary evil. Mistakes aren’t a necessary evil. They aren’t evil at all. They are an inevitable consequence of doing something new (and, as such, should be seen as valuable; without them, we’d have no originality). And yet, even as I say that embracing failure is an important part of learning, I also acknowledge that acknowledging this truth is not enough. That’s because failure is painful, and our feelings about this pain tend to screw up our understanding of its worth. To disentangle the good and the bad parts of failure, we have to recognize both the reality of the pain and the benefit of the resulting growth.” - Ed Catmull, Co-Founder of Pixar Animation Studios
This quote basically nails what I’m trying to say here. 3D Hubs applies concept this all the time, we try things that we think work really well on paper, we allocate some time for our development team to implement a version that will have all the functionality that we need without any fancy stuff on top. This version will at least allow us to start collecting data and measure if our assumptions were correct. If it turns out. If it does work, great, we’ll continue development and work out the full version that we had in mind from the beginning. If if the theory was quite different from reality we can easily abandon the project without much of a loss and move on to the next thing.
This is the idea I want to start applying to my own work as well, I want to create smaller projects, and quite a few of them. I did it in the past with my Super Meat Boy Wacom Pen holder which I could easily do in 1-2 days. The rest of my projects are usually aiming to be as good as the stuff you see on the top row of ZBrush Central or Artstation… which.. requires a lot more time.. If they don’t turn out great, no biggy, move on and create the next thing.
So.. my message for today is, don’t be afraid of failure and work smart. Of course you will have to put in the hours, there’s no way around that, but make sure the hours that you spend are well spend.. End of lecture from the guy that hasn’t done any sculpting in ages..