MakerBot + Pinterest = Craft Juggernaut
Provo Craft, the world’s leading producer of desktop manufacturing tools, started out as a craft store in Utah that sold glitter, felt and googly eyes. Today they have millions of users, hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and a business model that is equal parts Pinterest, Zynga, and MakerBot. Provo Craft is the sleeping giant of the d…
Provo Craft, the world’s leading producer of desktop manufacturing tools, started out as a craft store in Utah that sold glitter, felt, and googly eyes. Today they have millions of users, hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, and a business model that is equal parts Pinterest, Zynga, and MakerBot. Provo Craft is the sleeping giant of the desktop design movement.
The Cricut personal paper cutter is the primary driver of Provo Craft’s transformation. It looks like a small printer, but instead of depositing ink, it cuts flat materials into patterns based on digital input. Most people use Cricut devices to cut paper, but the enterprising also cut fabric for quilting, fondant for cake decorating, even acrylic for making stencils.
Why are the printers so popular? Before photosharing apps like Instagram, there was scrapbooking, a $3.3 billion hobby in the United States. The Cricut has hundreds of uses, but most people still buy it for scrapbooking, cardmaking, and other “memory crafts.” Instead of applying a retro filter to a photograph and sharing it with friends, crafters use the Cricut to cut borders, words, and other embellishments from sheets of colorful paper. They then paste their photo collages of family and friends into the Facebook of yore — a scrapbook.
When the first Cricut launched in 2005, it revolutionized the craft industry. Before its debut, crafters had to amass a collection of die-cut punches, specialty scissors, and other pricey and inflexible paper cutting tools. The rise of the Cricut could be compared to the arrival of the desktop printer in the 1980s. Both gave kitchen-table artisans a newfound creative freedom.
Scrapbooks may be low tech, but Provo Craft’s executive team is heavy on Silicon Valley vets. CEO Ashish Arora hails from Logitech. His vision for Provo Craft? To create “a new form of social networking around creativity.” That includes developing tools that allow people to connect and collaborate on projects on the web and mobile devices. Though it produces hardware, Arora is positioning Provo Craft as a content company. “It’s really the content that brings our machines to life,” he says. Pin boards like Pinterest are serving millions of pageviews to a similar audience.
A Fully Baked Business
Provo Craft’s products aren’t limited to paper. In 2010, the company expanded its already booming business with the release of Cricut Cake, a machine that cuts fondant into letters and shapes, helping amateur bakers produce frosted art on par with top chefs.
“Food crafting” may sound like a niche, but it’s a $2 billion industry. Though the company no longer releases financial data, in 2010 Provo Craft’s revenue was reported to be $280 million. If sales have kept pace, the company is on track to have generated a billion dollars of revenue or more since its first product release in 2005. By comparison, MakerBot has sold approximately 7,500 machines since 2009, generating an estimated $10 million to $15 million in revenue. Glitter can equal gold.
As with any successful hardware business, it’s not long before imitators jump into the ring. A host of derivative paper cutters have emerged, including Craftwell and Wishblade, forcing Provo Craft to reduce its prices. And as the company makes the bulk of its revenue from selling decoration cartridges and other accessories for its printers (Martha Stewart has a branded line), piracy is also a constant threat. The company has been aggressive in its efforts to block such activity, suing software companies that looked the other way. But users revolted on Facebook, accusing Provo Craft of trying to lock them into buying expensive premium content.
Digital tools like SketchUp, MakerBot, and Cricut are creating a surge of interest in desktop design. People who write code are now talking to people who bake cookies. Marc Andreessen once said that “software is eating the world.” With tech tools that make cakes, the opposite is also true.
Some scoffed at the first computer hobbyists for using their tools for silly things — like to control model train sets. But those hobbyists went on to transform every facet of our world. Scrapbooks and cupcakes might seem like a frivolous application of technology, but the Cricut could represent the first step in a consumer-driven manufacturing movement that could grow to be even bigger than the PC.