Helping Start-Ups Realize Their Potential
Career Development Zach Kaplan, entrepreneur and CEO of Inventables, shares the story of his journey and tips for aspiring makers.
Can you tell us about Inventables’ story? What inspired you to start your company?
When I was in high school, I had my first experience with digital manufacturing. It was exciting and a little complicated, but that initial exposure inspired me to pursue engineering in college. In 2002, I founded Inventables. Our purpose was, and still is today, to bring out the maker in all of us.
Around 2009, I began to see changes take shape in digital manufacturing. The barriers that kept digital manufacturing tools in the biggest factories began to disappear. Inventables evolved to join this exciting movement. In 2010, we launched our online store for designers, making the materials we worked with more accessible to independent manufacturers. We began tackling two of the biggest barriers for digital manufacturing: cost and complexity. I was inspired by lowering cost and making digital manufacturing products easier to use because of my experience in high school. Today, we make 3D carving software (Easel) and the X-Carve machine. We focus on making our products easy enough for all customers to operate regardless of their skill level. Offering this affordable machine paired with our free, easy-to-use Easel software was a significant advance in making 3D carving more accessible to independent manufacturers and makers.
What was your journey like in the beginning stages of your company? What were the main challenges you faced?
In the early years, we worked with product development teams at Fortune 500 companies to educate them about materials and technologies that had unique properties. Through this education, we helped our customers’ product development teams come up with new ideas. The big companies we first began working with provided us the opportunity to work with consumer product brands we were familiar with. The challenge was that while these companies have big budgets and lots of resources, they tend to move slowly when it comes to decision-making.
The transformation we made as a business in 2010 was pivotal because we were able to serve a broader customer segment. Over the years, we began hearing from customers who were using the X-Carve to start or scale their business.
Today, most of our customers are starting or running small businesses. With these customers in mind, we launched our Easel Pro software in 2017. Easel Pro’s advanced tools help business owners carve with greater speed, reliability and detail. It’s rewarding to see the quick gains these innovative makers are able to achieve.
In 2015, Inventables raised $5 million in Series B funding. Can you tell us a little about how this impacted your business?
Our Series B funding allowed us to make some meaningful investments in our Easel and Easel Pro software. We scaled up our software engineering team, and added designers and product management functions. We also were able to expand our hardware lineup, launching the next generation of our X-Carve machine in 2016. These investments have paid off. Easel usage continues to grow — in 2018, our customers collectively carved about 4 million times.