What a year 2013 had been!
2013 started really badly for OpenBeam. With the switch to closed loop profile OpenBeam in late 2012, our extrusion vendor had failed spectacularly to produce acceptable parts. We ended up having to fire the vendor, which also resulted in us losing our fulfillment capabilities and speeding up our switch to Amazon Fulfillment.
With our supply chain disrupted and a lackluster 2012 holiday season sales (due to supply chain limitations), our finances were further stretched since we had already committed to sponsoring our Seattle Mini Maker Faire. Things didn't improve for us either when we failed to recoup our investment in Deltabot / Kossel research; a cloner tried to steal our trademark, came into Metrix, and copied what everybody was doing to stock his web store, undercutting our ability to sell Kossel extrusion kits to recover our R&D expenses.
The fear at that time was that we would be beaten to Kickstarter as well; various other groups are preparing their individually developed printer for Kickstarter, and it would have been a financial bloodbath if someone copying the design in progress also managed to beat us to Kickstarter (at this time, we've already committed thousands of dollars in component cost alone, not to mention all the engineering time). First to market is important, but it goes against my philosophy of releasing things prematurely and without proper testing. After some deliberation with the crew at Metrix, the decision was made to launch the OpenBeam Kossel Pro Kickstarter at Maker Faire in San Mateo. In hindsight, the kickstarter was launched prematurely and I take full responsibility for the project delays as a result of this.
Fortunately, things started to turn around for us mid year. In the 2 weeks leading up to the Kickstarter campaign's conclusion, we qualified our off-shore manufacturer on OpenBeam extrusions. (As a historical note: if the offshore vendor had failed to meet quality control standards, we would have cancelled the Kickstarter campaign, refunded all money, and shut down the business. Things were that dire). We completed a long overdue overhaul of our website (which didn't make sense to do when we didn't have anything to sell - we found that we were just drumming up business for our competitor). We completed the redesign of the Kossel Pro, and over the last few months, we've been doing testing and refinements to various injection molded components, culminating with the launch of capital expenditure tooling. With our improved efficiency with our off-shore vendor, we are now price competitive in our black and clear Mini Kossel kit offerings. And since we are fulfilled by Amazon, Amazon Affiliates works with all our offerings; the previous two links donate 8% towards Johann Rocholl with each purchase made by clicking through them, while offering Prime households free 2nd day shipping and free shipping to all buyers. And with Amazon's distributed inventory system, generally 3 business days is all it takes even for ground shipping to cover most of the continental US.
2013 was also the first time we've seen derivative work on OpenBeam extrusions. In South Africa, the folks at OpenHardware.co.za have been producing a local variant of OpenBeam that does not have the problematic center hole and anodized finish (since electricity is very expensive in South Africa). They've already been doing really cool things with it. I think it's great that they can serve a customer that I cannot serve, and what they do strengthens our ecosystem as a whole, as their projects are shared back with our community. Check out their facebook page for some of the projects that they and their customers have been working on!
2014 is going to be an awesome year to look forward to. In no particular order, this is what we have in the works:
- Shipping all Kickstarter OpenBeam Kossel rewards, then making the Kossel series printer kits and parts available via Amazon fulfillment. As we continue to make improvements to our Amazon listing and inventory, all sales made through the OpenBeam website will donate 8% either towards individual open hardware contributors (such as Johann for Kossel components) or into a fund set aside for donation back into the open source hardware community (such as sponsoring Slic3r).
- The growth numbers and the sales figures over the past two month shows that we've traditionally been supply chain limited. For the first time in the company's history, stock availability isn't as dire of a concern. I ended up borrowing some money to increase the amount of inventory held in stock - hopefully we can fully repay the loan in the coming year.
- With our supply chain issue fixed, we look forward to growing our retail network. We have experienced tremendous growth in our European Union distribution network, with the guys at MakerBeam.EU doing an awesome job as lead importer.
- Other back-burnered OpenBeam projects will start coming back into development and release cycles. Watch this space for updates.
- We will, once again, be sponsoring our local Maker Faire. This year's fair will be held at the EMP building in Seattle - a much bigger and more visible venue!
We look forward to a fantastic 2014, and would like to thank all our customers who had believed in us, helped us grow, and help spread the ideals of Open Source Hardware. Please keep building and sharing awesome things. Thanks,
-=- Terence, Rachel and the furry monster puppy