As co-founder of Zortrax, Karolina Bołądź was the leader of the crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter that resulted in 180,000 dollars and enabled the production of the Zortrax’s first 3D printer: Zortrax M200. She graduated from Cultural Studies and Total Design Management from the Institute of Industrial Design in Warsaw and Business School at Warsaw University of Technology. At Zortrax, she’s responsible for the product design, marketing, and PR as well as the implementation of new business solutions and creation of organizational culture.
Karolina, could you let us know about your background and what brought you to 3D printing in the first place?
Me, co-founding a 3D printing company? It was a rather unexpected career path, given that I am not a very technical person. I have always been interested in industrial design; it was my major. I would not be in this industry if I had not met Rafał Tomasiak, Zortrax’s founder and CEO.
Can you describe your very first experience with 3D Printing?
While I was studying industrial design, 3D printing was discussed, but mostly treated as the technology of the future. We made all the prototypes manually. Of course, this had some positive aspects: the clash of materials with different properties and their limitations. However, in retrospect, I think that 3D printing should be implemented from the start of education in design prototyping.
I first had contact with 3D printing during our first joint project, Gadgets3D, a company that produced components for RepRap 3D printers. They were open-source based, for self-assembly. That was the “golden age” of open source in 3D printing. We printed various gadgets to promote our products, but the true business benefits came from the printed parts for printer assembly. Even then, we encountered the idea of a mass-printing farm.
Could you explain furthermore what Zortrax is and the products that you are providing?
Zortrax offers comprehensive 3D printing solutions, with dedicated filaments, Z-SUITE software, and additional devices to make prototyping process simple and intuitive. Zortrax products are used by thousands of specialists worldwide, from architecture to medicine, and from the automotive industry to fashion.
Zortrax’s mission is to provide comprehensive and reliable solutions for additive manufacturing and rapid prototyping for companies of any size. We are committed to providing companies, freelancers and budding designers with a complete solution enabling efficient and cost-effective prototyping or, for some products, allow them to base the entire production process on 3D printing. We currently offer three basic, complementary technologies (LPD Plus, SVS and UV LCD). We are also working to introduce devices that go beyond additive manufacturing and deeper into rapid prototyping. We also offer filaments that meet businesses’ special needs, like Z-FLEX, Z-GLASS and Z-PETG.
How did you come to build the company?
At Zortrax, I have focused on various areas of business development. Initially, I was responsible for the creative side of the project, although I think that Marcin Olchanowski, who created a printer with fans worldwide, and Rafał Tomasiak, who obtained further rounds of funding for the development of our business, had to be the most creative.
I have been involved in marketing, design, product development, business operations, and business process optimization. My current focus is brand building in the broader context, the area closest to my professional aspirations. I provide a positive and unique brand experience – from selecting the right product to receiving the delivery, unpacking the equipment, contact with customer service, and purchasing consumables.
Why did you decide to crowdfund your company on Kickstarter?
We launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter because we struggled to find an investor on the Polish capital market, which wasn’t open to innovation at the initial stage. It was tough because none of the investment funds or business angels understood our hardware business. Software projects are easily scalable and generally more attractive to investors. As a hardware company, we needed more money than any software company simply for production. It couldn’t be split into smaller batches as the unit cost would have been much higher or even impossible to order. We were unable to get any kind of European Union funds, either, because the EU does not support manufacturers. Inspired by other tech projects’ success, we decided to use Kickstarter. Start-ups’ situation is completely different now, with many forms of funding to choose from and investors open to riskier ventures.
How did it go?
Zortrax was the first start-up in Poland with such a big funding collected on Kickstarter. We didn’t have much experience in this area. With our current knowledge, we could have done much better, but for that time, it was a great success. We raised 180% of the target, concluding our campaign with almost USD 180,000 and 144 backers. Running a campaign is one thing, but implementing its objectives is another. We were lucky to succeed; we did not overestimate our product capabilities, which unfortunately happened to many companies. Kickstarter enabled us to produce the first M200 printer and transform from a start-up into a global company. We also gained recognition in the international professional media, providing us with great added value.
Would you recommend anyone to start a crowdfunding campaign? Do you have any tips to share for a successful campaign?
This type of funding is definitely worth considering, but to reach the target, the campaign must be prepared accordingly. PR plays an important role. To get as many backers as possible, we need to be visible. The delivery dates for the first customers must be realistic, too. Diversifying the sources of funding is essential; crowdfunding should be supplemented with funds from an investor or another business. This makes development more stable.
To date, what would you say is your greatest achievement in Additive Manufacturing?
Our pioneering product, the Zortrax M200, is still considered the world’s most reliable desktop 3D printer. Now we are at a completely different stage: the M200 has evolved into a modernized M200 Plus with a touch screen display and Wi-Fi connectivity, as well as the M300 Plus, with its larger work area. For us, 2018 was a ground-breaking year in terms of innovation: we launched four new printers, including the Zortrax Inkspire, which is based on UV LCD technology. We also developed completely new technology for automatic print processing, the Smart Vapor Smoothing (SVS), which is used with the Apoller. Every assembled unit from the production line goes straight to the customer. We are proud of these achievements. They confirm that we are going in the right direction.
Have you run into any challenges from being a woman entrepreneur in 3D Printing?
Throughout my career, I have never been discriminated against for being a woman. For a long time, it was commonly believed that women struggle to enter the male world of technology and find their place there. Over the past five years, I have faced many challenges, but they have affected the entire team, not just women, and have not been related to our position at the company.
Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about?
I cannot reveal details, but we are working on two big launches. The first is another printer using UV LCD technology, which will enable us to expand the Inkspire series. We are also working on a completely new LPD Plus device designed for the industrial market. We believe that Zortrax quality, which has gained tens of thousands of customers worldwide, can be scaled up.
What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?
3D printing is spreading and becoming more innovative, which creates new opportunities, for example in medicine. However, I want to highlight how much AM technologies are changing design and production. One example is Zortrax’s cooperation with Australian lighting manufacturer LimeLite, which set up a 3D printing farm of nearly 30 units of Zortrax M200 and M200 Plus 3D printers for rapid prototyping and short-run production. With 3D printers, the company moved away from selected areas of injection molding and was able to create completely new lamp models with customized shapes and designs, tailored to customers’ needs. Now it takes just three days to produce a new lamp – from sketch to the final product! Using all thirty 3D printers allows the parts of dozens of products to perform simultaneously. Production reflects demand, which saves LimeLite the cost of storing its products.
LimeLite has already launched three lamp collections produced this way. The company is very satisfied with the printing quality on M200 and M200 Plus; the details do not require additional post-processing. It plans to add more 3D printers to its farm, as custom-made lamps are increasingly popular and more affordable than ones produced using traditional methods.
What do you consider game-changing technologies in Additive Manufacturing?
3D printer farms, like in the example above. 3D printing technology has evolved dramatically in recent years. The printers have become faster and more precise. With technological progress, additive technologies are increasingly used in low-series production, creating finished products.
What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you?
It’s the creativity present throughout our business, from product design to distribution. Our clients use the printers very creatively, too.
What do you think of the 3D printing industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?
The essence of the AM market has remained the same for years: helping companies and designers quickly create prototypes at some stage of product design or to prototype a solution to a design problem. However, the trend of using 3D printing for production is certainly noteworthy. Companies can both prototype and produce more cheaply and rapidly. Using our solutions, organizations can create the final product from scratch within a few days. This reduces product development costs, with these other benefits: personalization, less money spent on storing goods and on-demand production. I think that more traditional low-volume production methods will soon be replaced by 3D printing.
The machines are just the carrier of the wide range of possibilities offered by different software and materials. The diversity of printing materials is currently one of the main competitive advantages. Software is getting friendlier. 3D printers are not only used by professionals; they are being introduced in education. A great example is Estonia, a global leader in tech. Some Estonian pupils start their adventure with 3D printing using Zortrax devices. At every stage of product development, we ensure that our printers are user-friendly and reliable. If kids can use them, we’re heading in the right direction.
Meanwhile, brands are becoming more mature. A product must be accompanied by good communication and supporting tools.
In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?
Women increasingly know that this is a promising area and want to develop in this direction. There are numerous meetings and mentoring programs encouraging women to go into tech. This is a positive signal, as how opportunities in the teaching are presented is changing. The industry is becoming more accessible, which is making young women more open to new opportunities. They should use them, find a place for themselves and be inspired by successful women in this field. They should not think in terms of stereotypes or feel discouraged. Nothing should be forced, though; each of us must find her own path.
Favorite 3D tool (could be a software, machine, material…you name it)? The Apoller
Favorite moment in your day job? Interesting, random discussions in the office corridor
What’s on your 3D Printing wishlist for the next 5 years? Becoming a leader in the desktop/prosumer segment