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Why You Should *Not* Niche Down with Formlabs CEO, Max Lobovsky

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You’ve heard it time and time again: “A jack of all trades is a master of none.” In growing businesses, this phrase has often been taken to heart… from creating highly focused job roles, to identifying a hyper-targeted audience, to putting full investment into a singular product, service, or solution. Business owners are being told to niche down and dominate their lane. Max Lobovsky, the co-Founder and CEO of Formlabs, a company designing high-performance 3D printers for professional use, has a different philosophy. He leads an international team of 600 engineers, designers, and problem-solvers who are transforming the industry — but getting to that point required contrarian thinking every step of the way.

So how did Max and Formlabs think differently? How did Formlabs go to market and produce printers differently than everyone else? And what X factor carried the company from 0 to 100 million? Find out on this episode of Business X factors. 

Main Takeaways:

  • Swim Against the Current: It’s easy to do what everyone else is doing, but swimming against the current and pursuing a unique vision could blaze new trails for a business. The risk of going against the crowd is greater, but so are the rewards. Detractors will make it hard to achieve everything you want, but without as much support, you are forced to think more creatively. 
  •  Shout From the Rooftops: Many start-ups and brilliant ideas fail to make it into profitable businesses because of a lack of funding. They rely too much on the traditional funding routes when viable alternatives are sitting right in front of them. Crowdfunding and awareness campaigns can be the gasoline on the fire that will take a business from an ember to a full-on blazing force. 
  • Get Your Hands Dirty: What sets successful companies apart from those that are left in the dust is the ability to adapt, transform, and shift cultures. One of the most powerful tools for leaders is modeling. If you want your workers to follow good practices, do it first and set the example. Getting up close and personal and dealing with detailed aspects of your own company can lead to big “ah-ha” moments and business strategy comes easier if you have a deep understanding of the nitty-gritty of what everyone is working on/struggling with.

Key Quotes:

“I think there’s a bunch of places where we were contrarian or zigged when everyone else zagged. There’s been a number of waves like that, where all the hype is going over here and we’re kind of going over there and it’s almost, maybe I’m learning the wrong lesson from it, but at this point it almost seems like doing the opposite of whatever is hyped up and successful.”

“One of the quick things we realized very early on was a thing we needed to do differently than everyone else. We focused on a professional 3D printer where everyone else was making desktop printers at the time. They thought there was going to be a mass consumer product at the end of the tunnel. And we looked at that and said that might happen someday, but it’s so far away.”

 “In those first few years, everyone, all the startups in that space were working on the mass consumer printer… And we said that’s not going to happen… The real opportunity is somewhere between this really niche industrial stuff and the mass consumer thing that there’s this intermediate step. So that was a really important thing. We were the only company saying that at the time.”

 “Most general advice for  B2B technology companies is that you need to be very vertical, specific, you can’t solve everyone’s problem… I would say most, really, really successful companies of any type are more horizontal and are more about bringing a new capability to a lot of people across many industries.”

 “I think that a lot of entrepreneurs are leader type of people. They have the wrong mode of thinking where they think, I need to not spend too much time on the details so that I can worry about the bigger picture. The way I think, that’s a little different. I think about it as a day job, is all the details and getting that right…The bigger picture strategy stuff where you change directions and things like that… it’s almost better after hours.” 

Bio:

Max Lobovsky is the co-Founder and CEO of Formlabs, a company he started with two of his former classmates, Natan Linder and David Cranor. Before founding Formlabs, Lobovsky worked as a research assistant at Advanced Fiber Engineering. He also completed an internship at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre. Lobovsky has a Bachelor’s Degree in Applied and Engineering Physics from Cornell University and a Masters degree in Media Arts and Science from MIT. He says he is obsessed with how stuff is made and thinks the hum of a 3D printer is “pretty good focus music.”

Business X factors is produced by Mission.org and brought to you by Hyland.

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Episode 24