Global hardware startups

guest post by Maxim Lobovsky

For many years, tech entrepreneurs have recognized that building a modern software company often requires thinking and expanding globally from a very early stage. Companies like Twitter, Groupon, and Uber have all expanded into markets outside their home within a few short years of their birth. It’s well understood that this is caused by the low costs of digital distribution and the minimal localization efforts required for software. For some time, this was a key differentiator between software startups and all other startups.

But the internet has also affected high growth companies that sell products that arrive in actual boxes. Telepresence, digital marketing, and a variety of service companies are beginning to allow hardware companies to have a much greater reach than a few people in one location than ever before. The startup that I co-founded, Formlabs, has had many great examples of utilizing these new tools to have greater global reach.

First off, on the manufacturing side, we’ve used to find new suppliers on the other side of the globe without leaving our chairs, and we now build components of our 3D printer in locations around the world. In probably the most dramatic example, we launched our product on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter and took approximately 40% of our orders from outside the US. We went, literally overnight, from being 15 people in a room in Cambridge, Massachusetts to having orders from dozens of countries around the world. Recently, we’ve launched our European store and service center, allowing us to give Europe the exact same service, shipping cost, etc., that we have in the US. All of this about 2.5 years since launching the company.

What does this mean for starting a company in Europe vs. the US? In some ways, this gives a greater advantage to groups working in the traditional tech capitals of the world easier access to capital and talent because they are easily able to scale to the whole world. On the other hand, because getting to scale quickly is more important than ever, those who come with experience dealing with multiple cultures, languages, business systems, etc. (perhaps skills more common amongst European entrepreneurs) will have the advantage.

P.S. Formlabs is hiring, including in Europe 🙂