‘Make It in America,’ Says Makerbot’s Bre Pettis

TechCrunch Disrupt's Brooklyn maker panel talks about making things locally.

Progress on the poster for the Brooklyn Makers panel at TechCrunch Disrupt. (Photo: twitter.com/imjamesjlopez)

Those crafty Brooklynites! TechCrunch Disrupt’s “Brooklyn Makers” panel this morning featured a lineup of hands-on hackers from the better borough, who chatted about the wonders of Kickstarter and the question of manufacturing in China.

Until you get to a certain critical mass of units, like 100,000 or whatever it is, make your product in America, advised Makerbot’s Bre Pettis. Otherwise, you risk making a boatload of products only to discover a defect after the fact. “Get intimate with your technology. Make it at home.”

“There is this new model of making gadgets,” said Amol Sarva of Peek, which used to make Twitter and email PDAs and now sells software services. The new model relies on small-scale production, he said.

Peter Semmelhack of Bug Labs (open source hardware) agreed. “There are markets that are not measurable in millions of units but are still good markets,” he said, pointing to how small-scale manufacturing allows for targeting niche markets “which is a much more coherent and logical and sane way to do it, versus going out and raising a bunch of money and making a bunch of things.”

Ayah Bdeir of littleBits has to do her manufacturing in China, she said, because littleBits makes low-cost mass market pieces for electronic modules kits. “It’s very difficult to make it in America,” she said.

“China’s changing,” Mr. Pettis countered. “Over the last year, wages have doubled.”

He bemoaned the fact that Kickstarter wasn’t around when Makerbot started. “We would have been able to raise that money without giving away part of the company,” he said.

Duncan Frazier of Bit Banger Labs, who launched a highly-successful Kickstarter campaign for a mask that is supposed to aid in lucid dreaming, was also on the panel. The campaign for Remee raised $572,891 on its $35,000 goal. Who wouldn’t envy those terms?

‘Make It in America,’ Says Makerbot’s Bre Pettis