How I built a successful 3D printing business without knowledge and experience
Hi, GeekTimes! My name is Vasily Kiselev, I am the owner and managing director of Top 3D Shop and today I want to tell you how I developed my business without entrepreneurial experience and knowledge.
At the moment we have been on the market for about four years and for two years we have been confidently holding the leading position in the personal segment of 3D equipment (3D printers and 3D scanners), in 2016 we approached the turnover of 300 million rubles and continue to actively develop .
I am often asked - what is the secret of success of our small company and, since the articles on RBC and The Village do not reveal some details, I decided to write about this small post.
Moreover, we have been blogging on GeekTimes for quite some time, but have forgotten to introduce ourselves.
I had a penchant for technical disciplines and therefore, after a technical school, through an internship program I got into one of the energy companies with the typical name “TGC-1”. While working at the same time, he studied at the Polytech as an engineer for gas and steam turbines and was very far from business.
Work in the corporation was routine, mostly paper, and consisted in supporting the construction of energy facilities.
The only thing she gave was: paperwork experience, stability and VHI, which you almost never use at 25.
Career growth in such a structure is a very rare and optional event. You can sit in your place for years and not get a single opportunity to increase and increase income.
The work on the part of the customer gave some knowledge in the field of project management, but the work process itself did not inspire at all: there is dust and dirt outside the window, and the inefficient paperwork turns you into a zombie.
I felt the need for a new occupation, a source of knowledge and additional income. It was necessary to change something, it remained only to understand - in which direction to move.
At first, I was devoured by occasional part-time work in the field of the event industry. My colleague and I in our free time helped organize weddings. This lesson gave experience at the same time with a large number of contractors, an idea of working with money in their own business and a general understanding of the organization of a small business.
All this happened in parallel with the main work and bore fruit, but the desire to change something radically did not disappear.
The case decided the case. One day, while browsing the news feeds, I suddenly came across the news about the release of the legendary Makerbot Replicator 2 3D printer. It was 2012 that this topic was fairly new and not very popular, and interested me.
I watched several videos, read feature articles on foreign sites and felt an unusual interest.
The wow effect was achieved: you understand that this is the very future that will soon pass by and become part of the present, if you do not turn your attention to it right now.
Immediately there was a desire to purchase a miracle machine, and just find out in more detail how things are in this area.
I googled the shops, went through Avito and the Yandex Market, and found out that in St. Petersburg there is not a single specialized company that would be engaged in the targeted sale of equipment. Not a single trustworthy company in this area for the whole huge city. Brand new, empty market, and even so interesting.
The question of where to go further was resolved.
It remained to examine the demand for practice, well, find the means to start. As a trial copy, I ordered on ebay MakerBot Replicator 2, the one that I saw on the news. I was lucky that I did not suffer the fate of the author of this topic .
The first “catch” is the first print on the first printer received.
Having started accounts and creating offers on bulletin boards, I sat down to study video courses on creating and layout of sites from lynda.com . Feedback on the ads went almost immediately, which once again confirmed the correctness of the choice of niche. Without hesitation, I registered the print3dspb.ru domain in order to differ from the Moscow companies that existed at that time.
The first printers ordered with their own money were successfully sold in a matter of days - they were literally torn off with their hands.
As you understand, at first there was no office, the first customers came to demonstrate and buy directly to my home, and it was awful.
Of course, at the very beginning there was no 100% confidence in success, there were no similar companies in St. Petersburg, there was no information in the media, I did not have any entrepreneurial experience, and the market was just emerging.
But the demand was obvious, and therefore it was decided to transfer activities to a civilized course, for which the legal entity was issued.
By that time, I completed the first site, which is now very funny to remember, set up Yandex.Direct and AdWords, began to study SEO and involved a work colleague — the one with whom we were organizing the celebrations. He liked the idea and he invested his savings - 1 million rubles.
We bought more printers, removed coworking jobs, and hired a couple more people - a sales manager and an engineer to maintain and adjust the equipment.
The first office in coworking.
The first time was to combine everything: old work, study, organization of the business, hiring people, searching for suppliers, logistics and a bunch of other little things, everything happened at the same time. And at first it was difficult, but at the same time kayfovo.
The first sales motivated me to dive even more into work and I almost did not feel tired.
I had to acquire competencies that I hadn’t thought about before, to delve into completely new things for me.
Good luck and hard work are two important components of a successful start. Both factors are equally important. Without hard work, patience, and a fair amount of perfectionism, no luck will help to develop a business.
Knowledge is sorely lacking. Fundamental things, for example, building a sales department, financial planning, organizing purchases and a warehouse, had to be solved on the go.
At the same time, you constantly ask yourself the question:
Because there is no one to ask.
Under these conditions, I was always tormented by the thirst for comparing the business processes of my company with others, albeit equally small but successful.
The St. Petersburg Business Club, the Up Business School, helped me with this, and it continues to help start-up entrepreneurs like me.
The business events that took place there for the exchange of experience, which were attended by the owners of large companies and top managers of corporations, gave a lot of useful information on the organization of their business at an early stage.
In particular, it was there that they obtained more in-depth knowledge of the organization of the sales department’s work, for example, on the competent construction of a motivation system, on the intricacies of working with different legal entities, marketing, and much more. It was a really rewarding experience.
We assorted different cases, including mine. By the way, no one believed in us, as sellers of equipment. All critics in one voice said that “box-movers” will be consumed by network retailers, and the only direction we need to concentrate on is services (3D printing, 3D scanning and modeling). But I was sure that this would not happen, because the equipment is complex, expertise is required, and the cycle of the transaction reaches several months.
Despite the criticism of skeptics from the club, my business model continued to work.
After some time, after seeing that we are making the first successes, one of the eminent and experienced investors and the top manager of a major retailer acting at that time wanted to become our mentor and co-founder, while receiving 25% of the shares and not investing in their own funds . At this stage, I almost made a fatal mistake.
Knowing about his experience and success, I decided to agree, but my partner opened my eyes, and I saw the absurdity of the situation.
The absence of far-sighted and strategic thinking gave rise to self-doubt, it seemed that an experienced mentor was guaranteed to bring success and positively influence our development.
Now, over time, this seems ridiculous. But in reality it would be an unforgivable mistake to give a stranger a quarter of the shares for nothing.
By the way, do not consider it for advertising, I want to share a list of courses that I have taken personally and who are ready to advise:
- Free events of Business School “Up”
- Mega break "Sales System" and "Finance"
- Netology “Director of online marketing”
In the same year, we rented our own office, moved there from coworking, opened up vigorous activity on all fronts and, almost immediately, took part in exhibitions. One of our very first exhibitions was 3D Print Expo - the largest festival of 3D technologies in our country.
When I realized that it was time to get out of St. Petersburg, expand our geography, a quite reasonable question arose: what to do with the site, because its address and name were firmly tied to the city.
There is a need for a brand not related to the name of the city, which corresponds to the profile of activity, memorable and bright.
At that time, I already understood the prospects for the development of the product matrix and saw a clear association with customers with a 3D supermarket. Therefore, I was looking for domains related to 3D + shop or store.
All the short names at that time were already occupied or costing cosmic money from outbid, but I was lucky and I saw the free domain top3dshop.ru
And let the words “top” and “shop” seem unnecessarily hackneyed, and naming professionals directly classify them as extremely not recommended, but - the name works and does not in the least interfere with the business, but even quite the opposite - fully corresponds to its purpose.
We began to actively promote our new platform, and it proves its effectiveness every day.
After working at such a tense pace and realizing that the business is gaining momentum, we went for broke: I quit my job and completely immersed in the activities of my company, and my partner invested another two million rubles, which went to the organization of work in the office and the purchase of equipment.
The first batch of goods.
The turnover, in the first six months of work after my dismissal, reached five million rubles a month, and I focused on increasing this figure.
St. Petersburg office in the early days of his work.
It was not so easy to leave work: salary, stability, social package - all these things were held firmly on a psychological level. Corporations are very brainwashed young professionals, but in fact behind this is not worth anything really valuable, except for a stable low salary and social package, of course, if you are not a top manager.
After the dismissal, there was confidence in the correctness of the choice, a constant presence in the office and the opportunity to devote the maximum amount of time to my business helped a lot.
And again: hiring employees, suppliers, procurement, promotion, constant monitoring of the services we provide and the delivery of printers, immersion in the intricacies of 3D printing technologies and products - in order to understand the subject and transfer knowledge to employees, and then control their training.
With cast models AK-47.
We grew and developed from our profits. We did not have the opportunity to raise funds for a cool office and to hire expensive directors. We clearly identified the items of expenditure and set ourselves a framework to comply with them. This gave me an incentive to pump skills, develop and achieve goals in tough conditions.
We patiently put all the profits into the turnover and the equipment, it came to the point that hired employees received more than me.
With suppliers, things were not as easy as one would expect. Some already had their distributors in Russia and they only wanted to work directly with them.
Others demanded that we sell only their brand. We had to negotiate with all of them in order to get the status of an authorized dealer, with many of them - to have long lengthy dialogues by correspondence and come to meetings at the locations of their headquarters.
Paris, Stuttgart, New York - all these trips were not in vain, they allowed us to become official dealers of such companies as MakerBot, 3D Systems, David Vision Systems, Artec 3D and many others.
These meetings were not always held in the official vein: Bree Pettis, for example, the founder of the 3D printer maker MakerBot, and at the same time the well-known home-builder and video blogger, turned out to be quite a guy with whom there is something to talk about and you can hang out.
DeLorean Bree Pettis.
Cooperation with manufacturers directly yielded results: we were able to offer customers competitive prices and maintain the desired marginality, this was one of the factors that contributed to the growth of the company. In 2015, turnover increased by 6 times, compared with 2014.
Attempt to find uniqueness
Another factor that had no less impact on our growth was the obvious for me, but a unique model at that time - we sold 3D equipment, and serviced it, and provided services related to it: 3D printing, 3D scanning, modeling .
Later, casting, prototyping, mold making, milling for metal and plastic were added to the list of services. And we focused on all this, for each type of activity a special department was created with its own specialists, who were responsible for their field of activity.
Other companies on the market either sold equipment or provided services, and often the same people performed the duties of engineers and managers. Our organizational model turned out to be more efficient.
Now we have two own branches in Moscow and St. Petersburg, providing services in additive technologies, plus - one franchise office in Yekaterinburg.
Not everything went smoothly
There were, of course, bad directions. Services for the production of 3D-figures, for example, in which many 3D-companies managed to plunge, have not justified themselves.
We were smart enough not to invest in our equipment to create them, and we were even able to sell several sets to such companies. Therefore, to call it a pure failure language will not turn. We got valuable experience and stayed in the black.
With the growth of the company, the following truth became obvious: people and automation of routine operations are very important for the success of the enterprise.
We have grown to our own operating and commercial directors, permanent work with sales plans and budgeting. Every day we work on automating our business processes.
Now we have a good team, as well as our own system of training specialists. We have prepared about 15 courses on products and processes, with mandatory testing. We train people who want to grow and make money. This is a very important element of success. Especially for companies operating in such a new area as additive technologies.
I am personally responsible for all marketing, development strategy, increase in turnover and the seizure of new directions and monitor the quality of training and feedback from customers.
In 2017, we have more than 40 people. The state is growing not only quantitatively but also qualitatively: we help each employee to improve in his field.
Team Top 3D Shop now.
The structure consists of several departments: sales, services, logistics, content, accounting and service, as well as managers and specialists in tenders. Each department has its own grades.
Since we are a trading production company, the salary is built mainly from the bonus part. There are, of course, well-reasoned salaries, but the basic salary is% of the profit brought.
The pumped-up manager, for the second or third month of work, can receive bonuses 3-4 times higher than the salary, close large “long-running” deals. Average salaries of ordinary employees in our country are 50-120 thousand, depending on the position and results.
We do not limit the top bar of managers, and give real opportunities for earnings, so we have almost no turnover.
Now we pay special attention to automation. We have implemented and synchronized a huge number of services that help work faster and more efficiently, receive feedback from customers and respond quickly to criticism.
Our bureaucracy is almost nil. All paper that is drawn in the office is a tribute to the letter of the law. Contracts, invoices, deeds and so on. All approvals and requests occur only in electronic form. The speed of decision making and problem solving is really something we can be proud of.
Last year, we successfully started developing completely new directions for us: we added CNC machine tools to the additive equipment. This year we will begin to actively move into dental and jewelry equipment, as well as educational robotics.
Since the format of such a presentation is new to us, your opinion is important to us. I would appreciate if you share them in the comments.
Do you continue to share experiences? What exactly would you like to ask? What are the details of organizational work that interest you? We will analyze the responses and answer all interesting questions in a new article.
Thanks for attention!
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