PrintToPeer is a universal cloud service for 3D printers, so you can print from your computer, tablet, or smartphone, and even watch your print. By adding networking and sharing to hundreds of thousands of existing 3D printers, PrintToPeer makes 3D printing significantly more productive and usable. And with an embeddable “3D Print” button, any website can make its digital products real with just one click.
About Tom Bielecki, CEO of PrintToPeer
Tom is a hacker and a hustler, with a technical background in software engineering. While working on his B.Sc. in Software Engineering at the University of Calgary, Tom spent nearly three years working for Calgary-area B2B startups. He started as a technical analyst for SPLICE Software, handling reporting and data analysis on large data sets, and held critical roles in developing and deploying marketing campaigns for SPLICE clients. After that, Tom spent 9 months as an independent contractor for JITR Inc providing documentation and support for their video streaming products.
At the University of Calgary, Tom and James Thorne (PrintToPeer’s CTO) volunteered together with the Electrical, Computer and Software Engineering Students’ Society. Tom held the VP Communications role, defining the branding and marketing of the society, as well as planning outreach campaigns to onboard students into the society’s events. Tom left his studies at the University of Calgary when PrintToPeer started to take off, forgoing the last year of his degree.
As a thought leader in the rapidly developing 3D printing field, Tom has been invited to speak at conferences in California, South Korea, and China. Autodesk has also invited him to contribute to their 3D printing industry blog.
In his spare time, Tom is driven to pay it forward by volunteering for Startup Calgary, as well as the Association for the Advancement of Science and Engineering Education (AASEE). Through these organizations, Tom has given talks on startup leadership to university students, and introduced electrical engineering concepts to elementary school students.
Q&A With Tom Bielecki
What was the moment you knew the business had legs?
We built our service so you can log in to your 3D printer from anywhere, but we hadn’t really considered all the possibilities. I was on a Skype call with a guy in Quebec, and I’d given him remote access to my account. He’d been looking around for a while when he asked, “can I start a print?”, and I said “yeah, why not?”. So I sat there for 30 minutes watching an object materialize in front of me. I didn’t even know what it was going to become.
I realized that this technology is completely new; he had transported a physical thing to me over the Internet, like a new form of communication, or the transporter from Star Trek.
The part he had sent me–it turns out–was a replacement part for my 3D printer. After that demo, we put together our first major deal: integration with their next generation of 3D printers.
How has your product evolved from MVP to now?
We’re still amazed that our first release actually worked in production. Luckily it was enough to get some great testimonials, which led us to a successful crowdfunding campaign (250% funded!). Since that MVP, we’ve put a lot of work into improving the compatibility, usefulness, and user experience of our product.
During GrowLab, we were fortunate to have a design intern from Emily Carr help us reimagine our user interface, and that work is still an important part of our vision as we grow and develop.
We’ve improved our printer compatibility from 40% to 80% of consumer 3D printers, and we’re pushing hard to get that last 20%. We’ve added automatic 3D file repairs, zero-click updates, adaptive webcam feeds, and a Print SDK that web developers can use to add a print button to their apps. Our user engagement has grown with each release of our software. Thanks to our users, we now have over 200 community-created 3D printer profiles, and 150 community filament profiles.
With more prints than ever running through our system, we’re well on our way to reaching our vision: an easier and more productive 3D printing experience.
What’s the most important lesson you learned as part of GrowLab?
During the program it became immediately clear that relationships are everything, so followups are absolutely essential.
Describe PrintToPeer’s culture in 10 words or less.
Functional, comfortable, and lean.
Building a business comes with ups and downs. How do you bounce back or motivate yourself in tough times?
The worst part is when you feel the ups and downs simultaneously, and never get a chance to fully absorb either of them.
We’ve got a couple things on the go right now, and it seems that whenever one thing is going well, something else is on fire. Despite the seemingly endless roadblocks, I try to focus on moving forward — it’s been an incredible journey to get here, and there’s still more road ahead. And something is going well! That part’s always nice. Plus we’re starting to have more “good problems.” When we’re stressing about having too many users for our servers, or not enough inventory to fill our orders, it’s important to take a step back and recognize that things are actually looking pretty good.
What other companies/founders inspire you?
My cofounder and I have been following Elon Musk pretty closely. He has this totally outlandish vision (save the Earth and colonize Mars), and he’s actually executing on it! Electric cars, solar panels, space ships — apparently it’s all doable if you push hard enough.
Our takeaway is that our vision is doable too, no matter how outlandish it seems on our bad days… and maybe one day we can help him out. He’s actually using 3D printed rocket engines to fly astronauts up to the ISS in a few years, so maybe we can send him a PrintToPi kit or two.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @tombielecki