MWC 2016: Being small amongst the big

It was about time to write a few words about our attendance as exhibitors in this year’s Mobile World Congress, in beautiful Barcelona. First of all, this is not a thorough review of MWC, even though it will have few bits of that too. This post is about sharing with you, our experience and lessons we gained from such a significant Technological event like MWC.

I'll be writing about: how we got there, what we showcased, what is it like to be presenting your idea to all these important people from the world’s largest technological companies. What were our learnings and what could have been done differently? Throughout this post, I will be giving tips and thoughts for you to consider when exhibiting as a young startup.

 

 

Transform Making

We are 3DPlex. We are young but with large ambitions. We operate in the fields of 3D Printing and the Internet of Things. Our ambition is to transform the process of how things are made and by who.

In short, what we foresee is that 3D Printing technology will shape the world and disrupt several industries, in ways we can barely imagine. What is missing is a platform that will connect innovation, accelerate adoption and enhance simplicity. This is where we come in.

We do this by providing a novel open source framework for fabrication machines and the Internet of Things. We introduce a new source of innovation based on applications and services that run on top of 3D printers. An easy way to imagine this might be to think of the mobile phones evolution until the first smartphone release. The addition of software in a hardware-driven technology until then, completely disrupted the industry.

We are a team of engineers, product and UX designers and we all share a common passion for 3D Printing and the Internet of Things. I am one of the three co-founders of 3DPlex and my background is in User Experience and Visual Design with 5+ years on designing software and mobile applications for brands around the globe.

If you are at your start, find a company or person that would believe in you, mentor you and open doors in opportunities like the MWC

Our pass to MWC

First of all, we owe a big thank you to Canonical, the parent company of Ubuntu, for inviting us to be part of their booth. Even more special thanks to Maarten, VP of IoT for Canonical, for his belief in us and for making this happen.

Do not just find a company to partner with, find a company that shares mutual vision and beliefs with you

I’d say that our collaboration with Canonical stands in two main bases First, by using their technology and operating system, Snappy Ubuntu Core, a lightweight version of Ubuntu designed specifically for devices and clouds. Second and most important our mutual mentality, as we both believe in an open source philosophy. Of course, the use of Ubuntu and Linux also provides our solution with the right level of security and upgradeability. Finally, the established community of Ubuntu’s developers offers us a significant power and advantage.

“Bringing the first app-enabled 3D printer to our booth opened eyes to many. Apps on 3D printers will revolutionise the industrial IoT and many more fields. 3DPlex.io has been showing the future.”
— Maarten Ektors, VP of IoT at Canonical

The MWC microcosm

Personally, I have been in various conferences and Expos, but MWC has really raised the bar. In terms of organisation, glamour, installations design and of course exposure. Barcelona is considered the “World’s Mobile Capital” and thus it is no surprise that names like Mark Zuckerberg were involved in this year’s MWC.

Our stand was hosted at Ubuntu’s booth, found in the largest hall of the venue, Hall 3. This hall hosted companies such as Samsung, IBM, Microsoft, Sony, Cisco, Intel, Nokia and Huawei just to name a few. So as you can imagine the popularity and attractiveness of that space were naturally really high.

Along with us, there were other startups and companies that partnered with Canonical and showcased their use of Snappy Ubuntu Core into their offering. These solutions targeted areas such as Home Gateways, Industrial, Robots & Drones, Fixed Networking and Vertical Solutions.

Showcasing our offering through demos

Throughout our 4 days in the event, we’ve been showcasing two main demos of Apps for 3D printers.

  • NFC2Print transformed our 3D printer into an NFC-powered machine. This enabled to start the 3D Printing process, with a tap of an NFC card on the printer. This could function as an identification card, so only authorised personnel can use the printer or an NFC card topped with credits for pay-to-print services. NFC-powered 3d printers could be used in universities, libraries, or in local 3d printing branches where customers would easily pay and print their objects.

 

  • For the second demo, we developed tools that allow a 3d printer to be controlled by a web-interface. This solution would help businesses to create their own customised web applications and provide 3d printing services. Since we were at a mobile conference, we displayed and controlled our printer via a smartphone.

These apps would be part of a “Makers App Store” ecosystem powered by our framework.

Our (l)earnings

First and foremost the opportunity to interact with so many people who had a wide spectrum of expertise and background. This interaction can come as a benefit in many forms. When you are a young startup you owe to be open-minded to new directions and always go after gathering constructive feedback. That has always been our primary aim.

  1. Does the concept make sense to people that do not know the technology?
  2. Are people interested in what we are working on?
  3. What are their reactions on our demos?
  4. In what ways would they see themselves been benefit from such an offering?

No matter where your startup stands, the above are some questions that should drive your development.

“It is the first time I see such a unique approach in 3D Printing”
— Indiegogo representative

Another great learning for us was in regards of behaving and presenting our offering in such an event. An idea can only get clearer when you have expressed it out loud so many times and to so many people. Get your idea out there and listen to yourself, does it sound clear enough or can it be explained in a different way? In events like this, you have numerous people coming by your booth, but always remember that people’s time is very precious. Especially when they are aware there are so many other large companies they need to go and check. How do you make sure that you engender someone’s interest and fuel them with a positive feeling when they leave your stand?

Things we did well

  • Participating as a team — One of the most valuable assets, especially for a startup, is the team. You could hear many times the argument that when a startup is acquired, its team is acquired first. Our founding team consists of three. We are fortunate that our backgrounds and expertise cover a wider range of skills, thus different inputs can be given.. Different people coming by your booth would talk different “languages” (many times literally different languages too!). Going with a diverse team gives you the benefit of filling each other knowledge gaps, but also cover more mindsets. For example, I am confident on how to inspire others with our vision or respond to design questions, but when it comes to technical questions, I would probably pass the conversation to our co-founder and CTO who is an expert in this field.

  • Having working demos — Talking is great, but showing is what really excites people. Do not forget that as humans we are very visual beings. The word demos does not necessarily mean to have a completely functional well thought out product to showcase. As long as it helps people understand better what you are talking about, the job is done. In our case apart from the mockups and demos, even the noise from our 3D Printer was a reason for many to get curious and come by our stand

  • Going beyond the business card — Handing out business cards is an aged medium of exchanging information, but this is not to say it does not work. Nevertheless, is it enough to stick in someone’s memory? In an event like MWC, it is very common that by its end you will end up having hundreds of business cards. Differentiating yourself in a deck of cards can prove tricky. In our case, we decided to hand out few 3D Printed items, that were printed on the spot. Since we were hosted by Ubuntu it felt right to hand out small 3D printed Ubuntu key chains. For someone to own a 3d printed object is still not very common so this worked to our advantage.

 

  • Providing different use cases to different people — Different people can have different needs. People that approached us varied from C-level executives and entrepreneurs to software developers and hobbyists. Any of these groups could help your business in different ways so underestimate none. Try to understand who you are talking to and “customise” your story around their interests and needs
     

Things that can improve

  • Managing a dialogue — It is not to say that we were bad at this, but definitely made us realise how important this really is! Possibly due to our excitement, many times we found ourselves having a long introduction about us and the product. Just to realise a bit later that the person we were talking to had no basic knowledge of what we were describing or their field was really different than our provided solution. Gradually we realised that we need to drive a dialogue rather than a monologue. So present yourself really quickly and then ask them what they do and what made them pass by your booth. You are discussing with humans after all, you are not presenting on a stage. You will be surprised sometimes on what people have to say before you say anything!

  • Every detail in your stand matters — This possibly sounds like common sense but in our case, an interesting finding occurred. Along with other assets for our stand, we had few A5 leaflets prepared with a brief explanation of what we do and our contact info. We were happy with the result and placed them in a nicely designed 3D printed base engraved with our logo. So we were certain that people would take most of these leaflets with them. Nevertheless, after the end of the second day, I noticed that almost none of them had gone. So I decided to simply take them out of the base and place them normally on the table. And yes, this simple change made a huge difference, as the leaflets started to go very fast. Having them on the base possibly made people think of them as some kind of signage. This simple change though was enough to alter people’s behaviour.


Building relationships

Undoubtedly an event like MWC is a great opportunity to extend your network by having in-person interactions.

Exhibitors — Getting to know well our fellow exhibitors gave us great insights in their way of work and experiences. Additionally, it was very interesting to see how Ubuntu Snappy was implemented in their products. These varied from app-enabled drones and robots to ethereum and blockchain solutions. Remarkably our friends from Slock.it won the first prize for 4YFN IoT Awards.

Clients — Many of the attendees we discussed with, ended up seeing opportunities for their own business, so meeting potential clients was another important relationship to achieve. I have to say that we were really surprised on how many people need cases for their products! Especially when 3D Printing can offer customisation and cost efficiency for their requirements.

  Slock.it Raspberry Pi instantly customised and printe


Slock.it Raspberry Pi instantly customised and printe

Community — Another important relationship for us lies in building a strong community. Empowering the community is in our core values and the level of disruption we want to achieve depends heavily on that. We were really excited to talk with a plethora of developers of all kinds who showed interest in getting their hands dirty with our framework straight away. This gives us the confidence that once our framework is in beta, there will be innovators that would want to be the “first” to try it out. Of course, community does not end to developers. Early adopters and simple everyday enthusiasts are vital to us too. These people that would take a picture of your product and feel that it is worth sharing it with the world? Sure!

Partnerships — Finally, a crucial relationship, especially at the stage we are now is about attaining collaborations and partnerships in order to help achieve our goals faster . It is also about mutual assistance and exposure. For example in our case, Ubuntu trusted that our expertise in 3D Printing would showcase nicely the capabilities of their OS, so having us there added to their brand image. Similarly, they offered unique exposure to our brand.

A specific type of partnership that is important to us are the 3D Printer manufacturers. We aim for our solution to be compatible with all 3D Printers, and thus we need to test our framework to as many machines as possible. In the meantime, we have and we will participate in many more technological events. Using a brand-specific 3DPrinter to show our demos can give great exposure to this brand. For instance in MWC, there were numerous people asking whether we sell the 3D Printer or how they can buy the same one for their own use.

So by the way, if you find yourself in any of the above types of relationships, do not hesitate to contact us at info@3dplex.io :)

What the future holds

I am comfortable to say that we are still in the post-MWC era. Dealing and managing everything that happened in an event like this can prove tricky. Loads of business cards to go through while trying to remember every type of discussion you had with each one, follow up emails, arranging calls, demo viewings etc. Make sure you consider the post period as one of the most important periods when attending an event. This is when you have the chance to maintain valuable relationships and move your brand in a strategic manner.

For us this period while the lights are down again, we focus better on developing further our framework but at the same time talk to anyone that could help fulfil our vision faster.

So we are not planning to hide for long, we are delighted to announce that our next public demo will take place in IoT Tech Expo, that is taking place in vibrant Berlin this June.

MWC snaps

For the end I’m leaving you with some of the moments we captured in MWC.

As always thank you for reading this far! Of course, any comments or questions are more than welcome. I would be especially interested to hear whether you have been an exhibitor yourself and if so, how this worked out for you?

Follow 3DPlex on Twitter @3DPlexLabs