For the past fifteen years, Janne Kyttänen has dedicated his career to promoting 3D printing for the consumer market. As founder of Freedom Of Creation, his revolutionary designed objects, lifestyle accessories and fashion pieces have been bought by leading design musea, like Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, MoMa and FIT in New York.
Kyttänen predicted fifteen years ago that 3D printing would massively change the way of mass consumption, and to speed up this process he started working as creative director for 3D printer producer 3D Systems. After five years’ experience with rigid company structures led by quarterly results, their collaboration ended when Janne left the publicly owned company in May 2016. His experience there inspired him to start a brand new type of investment company, What The Future Venture Capital (WTFVC).
Why did you leave 3DSystems?
I have joined the whole 3D printed world for the sake of the consumer products. My interest is generally trying to get the consumer market going and bring as much content there as possible. I have spent nearly twenty years of doing this so far. That was my main interest into why I joined 3D Systems, and sold my companies to them. I finally had found a party with money, technology and sources. But it became clear that their fundamental strategy is purely focused on the industrial side. 3DSystems does not have any consumer site anymore, so for me it was game over, there was no purpose for me there anymore.
What has been the most important technical development in this industry in the last years?
Nothing has dramatically changed besides the social awareness. We are still making things by stacking 2-dimensional layers on top of each other, only a bit faster and cheaper. At first Carbon 3D sounded interesting and big kudos to the guys who started the company, but fundamentally it is just a fast SLA – invented 35 years ago – with a small twist, which others have also now done, so I am curious to see where that will go next. The industry is still having a hangover after the bubble burst about two years ago. A lot of these companies who used to be very industrious, like 3DSystems and Stratasys, are now moving away from the consumer world and going back into what they were good at: the industrial market, making high profit margins with a smaller amount of clients.
It must have been quite frustrating for you to see these changes happen?
Yes, it was. You must imagine, when I sold my companies, it felt like I was in a candy store, but I couldn’t eat any of the candy. It is frustrating that on one hand I’ve lost a few years of doing product launches, but on the other hand, I have learned how these companies are actually ruled by Wall Street. People can just play with your company, with your prices and products won’t get launched because of that. It really doesn’t matter what you’re making and what you’re innovating because you will hit the brick wall in corporations, all the time.
“Big corporations are very inefficient and I predict that a big shakeup has to happen if they want to be able to compete with the young ones in the future.”
Was that the spark for your new company ‘What The Future Venture Capital’?
Yes, it’s the fundamental reason why I wanted to start this company. I wanted to eradicate all these road blocks that just don’t add any value. Big corporations are very inefficient and I predict that a big shakeup has to happen if they want to be able to compete with the younger companies in the future. As we live more and more in a connected world; going to an office is going to be a thing of the past. Your office will be where you want it to be. The ‘ownership’ of ‘things’ will also be a thing of the past. You won’t need to own a car, you can take UBER. You don’t need a server for data storage, you can use the cloud, and so on. Overhead and organizational structure needs to be as light as a feather, but you still need to maximize everybody’s time and talent. I am curious to see how a future enterprise would look like in twenty years. Without my experience as a Creative Director at 3D systems, I would have never had the idea to structure a company in a different way. That’s the positive side.
Is WTFVC a design company or a venture capital business?
It is in fact a design company, but instead of designing just the products we design entire companies. I still design products, but I am more curious about how to design entire organizations. When you are designing, the nuts and bolts for your designs are important, to keep it all together. For a company, people are the nuts and bolts. You need to pick the right kind of nuts to put your enterprise together to work as a whole. In short designing an enterprise is just another design project for me. We want to create new and the most efficient organizational structures to date and multiply this across all of our ventures.
What will be ‘new’ about start-ups developed under the wings of WTFVC?
We are the start-up. These last years I’ve developed so much content, that it is sitting in my hard drive. We will pick up all these ideas and put them in the market. I am very excited about that. So, we will design the majority of the enterprises by ourselves. We will find kick ass CEO’s to run our ‘projects’, and we will give them equity, say 5 or 10% for their services. We work the other way around because most conventional investors just have the money, not the ideas. They say ‘we invest in your idea and then we will get 10%’. We’d rather invest in the people. We will launch our first ventures this summer. They will all be at the crossroads between tech and design. There will be an element of VR, AR, 3D printing and a bunch of other technologies, which blend well together.
Is 3D printing overrated in its use for the consumer market?
Yes, at the moment 3D printing is totally overrated . Only a selected few have machines in their homes. I still believe in the industry though. In the last 25-30 years, it has been growing steadily with 25-30% every year. There will surely be more consumer machines, especially now that the Chinese have joined the race and are cutting prices at an astonishing rate. However, it will take a lot longer than people expected. There are two sides to the story, as always. When 3D printing becomes easy, fast and accessible for everybody, it will create plastic junk on exponential rate, which I fear will just end up in the oceans. On the other hand ease of use, increased speed and cheaper materials, will also lead into innovation on an industrial level, which is now happening on a very fast pace.
What would make it more interesting for consumers?
We need real innovation with new technologies and crucial is a drop in material prices; if that doesn’t happen then there is no way this technology will ever compete with Chinese bulk production. And then there’s the problem with speed. It takes two weeks to get a product from a 3D print platform. It’s also very difficult to run these machines, there are a lot of technicalities involved. People want to see some kind of microwave, pressing a button and then something comes out. It’s a fight between two worlds at the moment and it’s interesting to see how that will play out.
You created the first 3D printed dresses over fifteen years ago. Karl Lagerfeld only last year experimented with 3D printed couture pieces. The fashion world clearly hasn’t jumped on board so far. What’s going on?
A lot of fashion brands have made some parts and they all tried something, but to get it in the whole system of the companies, that’s a whole different ball game. Let’s take the 3D printed button that’s customized for a jacket. The middle level people in the company try to push it because they think it’s great and cool for the customers. Then it goes up in the chain of the company and by the time someone has ordered the parts, the finance department will look at the excel sheet and then be like ‘Wow, we used to pay one penny for a button in China and we ordered millions of them, and now you want to spend ten dollars on one button? Forget it!’
How do people ‘value’ products made with 3D printing compared to traditionally crafted and ‘hand made’ products?
People still don’t understand or value computer designs that much. They say ‘Oh, so it’s just made by software….’ Well, I’d be happy to show them what ‘just the software’ does. My designs are also made by hand, but instead of a hammer, I hold a mouse; it’s a different tool and the product forms are different, but it’s still ‘hand work’. It’s a problem in the fashion world as well. When I was trying to consult fashion companies about 3D printing, the problem was talking to the designers. They felt threatened and responded ‘Who are you? You come here and want to take away our jobs?’ There are still a lot of prejudices and misunderstandings to deal with, and nobody thinks about that. I do believe that the attitude towards 3D printing will eventually change, but my feeling is that is going to take a long long time.
It’s not just the ten dollar button that’s the problem?
No, the major problem is not the price but the structure of these companies. It’s very rigid and it only goes from one line to the other. Even if a particular idea makes good sense for the company, it’s dropped because it doesn’t fit into the structure. Furthermore, production for most fashion houses is done through cheap labour countries like Bangladesh, where people live on one dollar a day; this makes the margins for these companies astronomical. It will take a long time before 3D printing will hit these margins, so they won’t adopt the technology, unless it somehow really adds a dramatic edge, but so far, nobody has figured out what that is.
In the first years of Freedom of Creation, you said that 3D printing would shake up the industry and make stock production and overproduction obsolete. What do you think now?
The fundamental reason why I started Freedom Of Creation sixteen years ago was to build a future industry, which would eradicate the plastic from the oceans and enable us to localize production all around the world. People would get smart on what to make and then recycle their materials into new products. I co-designed the Ekocycle 3D printer together with Scott Summit, Will.i.am and Coca Cola. In fact it does exactly what I envisioned sixteen years ago. It all makes sense: the machine is made from recycled PET bottles and thus it’s able to close the loop of production. But if you’d really want to make this into a successful product, it will take a very long time. I could write a book about how complex it all is and why it takes so long. I am sure that one day it will work, but today it is evident that it is still very early. There are so many parties in the mix, that when you look at the big picture, it’s still economically cheaper to produce new plastic in the conventional way. So where does that leave us? Well they are all great ideas, but it’s just too early for some of our projects.