Trending: 5 things no one tells you about starting a startup

Tony Wright with an air plant holder he created with the Glowforge printer. Photo via Tony Wright.

Tony Wright is leaving Glowforge, the Seattle-based hardware startup he helped launch three years ago.

The long-time Seattle-area entrepreneur teamed up with Dan Shapiro and Mark Gosselin to start Glowforge in 2014, helping the company break crowdfunding records for its innovative 3D laser printer and raise more than $30 million from investors.

Wright, who was chief product officer, said he’ll continue advising the company and is unsure of his next adventure. Before co-founding Glowforge, Wright previously helped found companies like RescueTime, Jobby, and CubeDuel.

“There’s never a great time for someone to leave, but right now the vast majority of the energy at the company is directed at ramping up production,” Wright told GeekWire in an email. “We’re shipping our v1 product at an accelerating pace, users are loving it, and we have a pretty clear list of what we need to do next, fueled by feedback from our outstanding customers. The kind of work that I love to do most is that zero to v1 work — figuring out what to build to make customers happy, doing a bunch of product design work myself, and building an amazing team/culture.”

Shapiro, the company’s CEO, told GeekWire that “it’s Tony’s designs that turned into the best-selling crowdfunding campaign in history.”

“He created the user experience that everyone who prints on a Glowforge raves about,” Shapiro added. “His vision infuses the product from end to end.”

Via Glowforge.

After garnering attention with its crowdfunding campaign, Glowforge has had issues delivering its printer to backers on time. The company, backed by high-profile investors like Foundry Group and True Ventures, originally planned to begin shipping the $2,995 printer to backers in December 2015, but announced initial delays the following February. More delays followed in April and again in December of last year.

In the company’s latest update, Shapiro wrote that “our next milestone is to ship all of the orders placed during our 30-day crowdfunding campaign by the end of October.” All orders placed after the campaign are scheduled to be shipped by the end of November.

The Glowforge device is different from most other 3D printers — instead of making objects out of plastic strands, it uses a laser to quickly cut and engrave products. The device lets people use raw materials like leather, paper, plastic, fabric, or cardboard and make products with a push of a button.

Despite the delays, Glowforge keeps growing. The company employs 67 people, which is more than double from one year ago when Glowforge raised a $22 million round. In March it hired a new vice president of hardware engineering, Spencer Worley, who previously was an executive at Amazon and Sphero.

Here’s more from Wright on his thoughts about the future of Glowforge, and some lessons learned during the past few years.

GeekWire: Why do you remain a believer in the company’s success?

Wright: “We sold about $28 million worth of these things when, just a month before, nobody had ever seen one. Think how amazing that is! For every person who would buy this product sight unseen two years ago, with not a single review on the internet, I think there are five or 10 who will buy it the day they can read the 5-star reviews and click a ‘Buy Now’ button on the site. Now that we’ve shipped a healthy chunk of our pre-orders and the feedback is rolling in, I’m confident we’ve built something really amazing.

Keeping up with demand at the factory is going to be a lot of hard work that probably will never end. But complex hardware ships all around the world every day — that’s a solvable problem. The elusive problem that most startups fail to crack is ‘creating something that lots of people really want and will pay money for.’ There’s still a lot of product work to do, but we’ve clearly solved that problem.”

GeekWire: What were some of the toughest challenges you and the company faced, and what have you learned?

Wright: “Ooof, I think every founder could probably write a book on that. My purview was always the software experience, which I think was the biggest challenge of my career. So many software products nowadays are just forms, submit buttons and showing data nicely and there are so often clear design patterns that you can riff off of. With Glowforge, we had to create software that allows people to easily create a design with anything from Adobe Illustrator to just a pen and then effortlessly turn that design into an object made out of things like wood, leather, and more. There’s no roadmap for designing something like that!”

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to GeekWire's free newsletters to catch every headline

Comments

Job Listings on GeekWork

Find more jobs on GeekWork. Employers, post a job here.