2011: the year Toys Get Serious

a new year’s note from Ponoko co-founder Dave ten Have

In 2007 Derek and I made a big macro-economic bet. We knew the world needed a new kind of factory; so we decided to take a shot at re-writing the rules of manufacture.

We wanted to reshape how people made things and how people consumed things. We wanted to encourage people to be critical about their products, and we wanted people to form relationships with the designers of those products.

In the beginning we were told constantly, “You can’t do that.” Powered by nothing other than our naivety, idealism, and the ability to write software, we went ahead and did it anyway.

It was like standing on the precipice of madness, but as 2011 rolls around that precipice has disappeared over the horizon.

Ponoko now stands on firm ground, and companies like ours are now on-shoring manufacturing and catalyzing breath-taking creativity.

The tools for creating and distributing products are now solid, tested, scalable, and for you guys, our customers, profitable.

Our new factory isn’t centralized; it’s spread over the globe. And because of that we are able to tap into cycles of creativity that are more like software, where important factors like locality and relevance can be taken into account.

Even the players on the periphery of this new way of manufacturing are starting to craft their tools to work with the systems that our company and others have created.

One of my favorite authors, Clayton Christensen, writes about how innovations take hold. His key premise is that core innovations are dismissed as toys by the incumbents — until it’s too late.

In 2007 our industry was dismissed as a toy… In 2011 we have customers who run their businesses on top of us.

You, our Ponoko users, are able to run efficient product companies with inventories measured in days – a metric once only available to large corporations. You can create products that are relevant to your needs or the needs of the people close to you. You are able to express yourselves in new ways, breathing life into new objects. You are literally able to teleport products around the world where they are produced as close to your customer as possible.

Ponoko started as a science fiction dream, and we did it all on the smell of an oily-rag. Yet over the last four years we have seen a small but very significant shift in the way things are made — culturally, technically, commercially, and most importantly, in spirit.

I’d like to thank you guys for believing in us. It’s really your support that’s made any of this possible.

So here we are in 2011, and what does the future look like? Well, we get to say “Jetsons” and “Star Trek” without a hint of irony these days — so I figure it’s gonna be fun.

Here’s to toys changing the rules!
Dave ten Have

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One Response to “2011: the year Toys Get Serious”

  1. Matthew Dimond Says:

    My friend- who is working on a documentary about Charles Eames- sent me this quote today after reading this blog post:

    “Toys are not as innocent as they look. Toys and games are the preludes to serious ideas.” -Charles Eames