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Documentary Review | Print the Legend

Rating: 3.5 out of 4.

Print the Legend is a 2014 Netflix-original documentary, directed by Luis Lopez and J. Clay Tweel.

It tells the story of two startups – MakerBot Industries and Formlabs – and the trials and triumphs of their respective founders. Technically, the documentary gives you a superb perspective on the evolution of burgeoning 3D printing space.

3D printers are not a new invention though. They have been around since the 80s. However, their demand exploded in the last decade thanks to the advances in technology and aggressive investments in R&D. All these developments made ‘desktop-sized’ 3D printers a real possibility.

Many startups sensing the spectacular growth opportunities in desktop 3D printing space started staking their claim.

The documentary mainly covers the following companies in this space:

The Davids

  • MakerBot. A startup founded in 2009 by Bre Pettis, Adam Mayer, and Zach Smith.
  • Formlabs. Founded by three MIT graduates – Maxim Lobovsky, Natan Linder, and David Cranor – in 2011

The Goliaths

  • 3D Systems. A listed company and the pioneer of 3D printing.
  • Stratasys – Israel-based entity. Together these two companies controlled the industrial 3D printing market.

The Mad Genius

Cody Wilson.

True to the essence of the David vs. Goliath metaphor, Makerbot Industries entered the 3D printing industry in 2009, and in two years, became a challenger brand.

Bre Pettis, the founder evangelist and chief designer of MakerBot, became the poster boy of the desktop 3D printing revolution. In the documentary, he draws parallels between Apple’s feat of putting computers on desktops and his goal of putting big blocks of printers on tables.

Where companies like 3D Systems and Stratasys were building expensive mainframe-sized printers, Makerbot aimed to go mass-market by selling $200 apiece 3D printers.

Print the Legend - Documentary Review
Bre Pettis (Source image: https://www.tctmagazine.com/)

Another startup called Formlabs soon entered the fray in 2011, led by its introvert founder Maxim Lobovsky.

Very subtly, the documentary draws your attention to the significantly different leadership styles of Maxim and Bre Pettis.

Compared to the charismatic MakerBot founder, Maxim had zero PR chops. However, it was his company that came up with the first desktop stereolithography printer. A much superior product that built high-quality 3D designs.

While MakerBot screamed ahead of its competition and achieved scale, the fun and frolic soon gave way to internal politics and strife between cofounders.

Formlabs’ troubles, on the other hand, stemmed from outside when the industry leader 3D Systems slapped it with a patent infringement suit. The inability to ship the first product owing to technical issues did not help either.

The makers of Print the Legend also presents viewers with a debatable yet dangerous perspective. It comes in the form of Cody Wilson who calls himself an information anarchist, but clearly, he is a gun enthusiast. His mantra – If the police can have it, you can have it, too.

Documentary review - Print the Legend
Cody Wlson (image source: Flickr.com)

He comes across as a mad genius for whom the distinction between private and public information does not exist. Infuriated by MakerBot’s move to remove his 3D gun designs from its website, Cody tested a fully functional 3D-printed gun called The Liberator in 2013.

Cody Wilson’s case underlines the debatable use of technology and also raises the moot point – where do you draw the line?


Conclusion

Print the Legend is also a cautionary tale about how a startup’s frontman can lose vision.

When MakerBot switched to proprietory hardware from open-source under duress from investors, it lost a lot of fans both inside and outside.

As so often happens in the Startup world, Bre Pettis started to gravitate toward people for whom nothing beyond RoI mattered, thus, alienating the zealous bunch he had at MakerBot.

“Something they don’t tell you about working in a startup is it takes a physical and emotional toll on you.

Michael Curry, Former Designer, Makerbot

Soon he morphed into an authoritarian figure who forced out people whose views did not match his. And, that also included his co-founders.

Overall, the documentary is a superb effort to present the knotty challenges that founders face, especially when their ventures shed the early-stage tag and break out into a bigger league.


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