Tech start-up of the week: FabAllThings

28 Jul 2013

The FabAllThings team, Miguel Alonso with Kate and Emer O'Daly

Our tech start-up of the week FabAllThings takes the power of the crowd to a whole new level. Everybody knows we are in the middle of a kind of function-meets-design renaissance as evinced in the swagger of luminaries like Sir Jony Ive and Philippe Starck. But for FabAllThings, the ordinary punters get a say in the design of new products. And they’re so nice they’ll even split their profits with you.

FabAllThings was started by sisters Emer and Kate O’Daly along with Miguel Alonso and describes itself as a social platform that puts the power of making things in the hands of designers and consumers.

Each month, the team will fabricate new products using 3D printing, laser cutting and CNC milling and then consumers are given the opportunity to design the products and pick what gets made and sold.

FabAllThings will manufacture, package and sell the designs and will split the profits with the community.

Emer O’Daly explained that the genesis for FabAllThings came about at the National Digital Research Centre. “There we met Miguel, who is a software developer and has a passion for 3D printing and digital fabrication. The three of us worked well together and later that year, we co-founded FabAllThings.”

The idea for FabAllThings came about through the sisters’ own experience as designers and makers.

“Kate and I set up a design company in early 2012 after I returned from studying in the US but we found it difficult to access digital manufacturing tools and resources. During my master’s at Yale University, I had the opportunity of gaining a lot of experience in digital design, CAD/CAM and 3D printing. And I could see how 3D printing and digital fabrication were set to revolutionise the design and manufacturing industries.

“What is really disruptive about these new manufacturing methods is that you can make small batches and one-off products quickly, easily and locally without setting up production lines or outsourcing manufacturing abroad. This is why the Economist heralded 3D printing as the catalyst for a third industrial revolution.

“With 3D printing and other digital manufacturing tools like laser cutting and CNC milling, you can bring new products to market incredibly quickly. It also means that niche and customised products are becoming economical to produce.

“We saw these advances in technology and manufacturing as an opportunity to bring designers, consumers and manufacturing together in a way that was not possible before. Joining forces with Miguel, we decided to combine the connective power of the internet with digital manufacturing to create FabAllThings,” O’Daly explained.

The power of the crowd

There is no doubt about it; design is the new mantra of the technology world. But all across the world, because of 3D printing and crowdsourcing, a kind of democratisation is occurring in terms of how products are conceived and backed.

“We hold design calls each month for different products; they could be for anything from jewellery to furniture to homewares to t-shirts,” O’Daly said.

“Designers submit designs, the community votes and FabAllThings manufactures the favourite designs, using 3D printing and digital fabrication. We then sell the products in our online shop and the designers get a royalty on each item sold.

“We aim to build FabAllThings into a global platform where anyone can get involved in product creation and consumers can find unique, well-designed and customisable products.”

Tradition meets traction

FabAllThings’ design platform is for design lovers and makers – people who want to design products and consumers who want a say in what products get made. What is fascinating about this is that these were traditionally two camps that never interacted, at least until products were conceived and consumers voted with their wallets and products either succeeded or failed.

“Since launching on 1st June 2013 we have had 225 designers sign up from all over the world. We received 24 design submissions for our first Design Call and over 2,000 unique visitors. We recently launched our online shop and have started making sales.

“Our interactive design platform can be used by anyone to either to submit designs or vote on what we make. You do not need design computer skills to enter our Design Calls – two of our winners last month drew their designs on paper and submitted photographs. We make product creation easy, fast and social.

“We are currently adding the designs from our first design call to our online shop, followed by three to 10 new products every month from the monthly design calls. We have been regularly updating our blog, Facebook page and Twitter, cataloguing our progress. Our site will expand over the next few months to include tutorials, videos and social elements, like a forum and designer profile pages, where everyone can engage with designers and manufacturing.”

O’Daly explained that FabAllThings monetises through the online sale of products. “Every month, we add new products from our Design Challenges. These Design Challenges could be for anything – from jewelry to t-shirts to homewares to furniture. We manufacture to order and pay the original designer a royalty for every one of their designs sold.”

Vorsprung durch Technik

FabAllThings maintains its production facilities in Dublin’s city centre, where it has a workshop of 3D printers, laser cutters and CNC mills that O’Daly describes as “a factory in the city for the digital age.”

You can’t help but wonder if FabAllThings is setting a template for a new kind of industrial revival where savvy social businesses are combining crowdsourcing and e-commerce with the prevalence of breakthrough technologies like 3D printers to generate new economic opportunities that could revive communities through job creation.

Last summer, the company received mentoring from the NDRC and since then some funding from Enterprise Ireland.

O’Daly said there is a start-up spirit that prevails in Dublin that entrepreneurs would be wise to tap into.

“We would advise anyone thinking of starting a business to attend some of the great start-up talks and meet-ups and apply to the accelerator programmes around Ireland, like the DIT Hothouse programme, NDRC LaunchPad, New Frontiers and Startupbootcamp. There are also some fantastic initiatives around, like Archipelago, who host talks for entrepreneurs. Russell Banks at the produces a really useful weekly newsletter, detailing what’s going on in the Dublin start-up scene. And there is, which is also a great source of information.”

Aw, shucks.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years