Jonathan Schwartz HM ’13, Max Friefeld HM ’13, and Oliver Ortlieb HM ’12, were recognized by the Kairos Society in February as having one of the top 50 undergraduate businesses in the world.
Their company, Layer By Layer, is a platform for designers to sell their designs to customers for 3D printing without having to give up the rights to their designs.
After the Kairos summit in New York this February, Schwartz said that Layer By Layer changed its focus somewhat, and the team decided to specialize.
“We needed to find a single type of product and own that market and gain customers that way,” Schwartz said. “And the answer had been in my pocket the whole time—iPhone cases. They can easily be printed on our 3D printers. There’s already a large market for iPhone cases, but we can make great iPhone cases that you can customize easily.”
On layerbylayer.com, customers can buy a custom iPhone case for $9.99 if they don’t have a 3D printer; if they do own a 3D printer, it costs half that.
“This is just the starting point for us. We’re going to expand slowly from here, so once we decide we’re strong enough, we’ll add another section for toys and games and go from there,” Schwartz said.
Layer By Layer launched a beta version of its website the week of March 10, which Schwartz said was advertised only to the 5Cs, primarily at Harvey Mudd College. Within the first week, the company received more than 50 orders for iPhone cases.
The company’s next step is a kickstart campaign, scheduled for mid-May, in which people will be encouraged to donate to Layer By Layer’s cause in exchange for rewards, like free iPhone cases.
“Soon after that, we’ll open the website for purchases, and we’ll see where we go from there,” Schwartz said. “But we’ll be moving to either San Francisco or New York soon after the school year ends; who knows what’s in store for us then. A lot of hard work for sure.”
Layer By Layer works similarly to iTunes—just like the iTunes App Store allows computer engineers to sell apps they have designed without giving up their intellectual property, Layer By Layer will allow product designers to give consumers the ability to print their products while maintaining control over their design.
“The way it works is you have basically a filament of material, and you take it and you put it through a hot nozzle, so imagine like a hot glue gun, and moving it over a table so you create a little line, then you move up a little bit and do it again and again and again until you get the final object,” Schwartz said. “So it’s a layer-by-layer process.”
Schwartz said 3D printing technology has been around since the 1980s, but it wasn’t until 2007, when a number of patents expired, that affordable 3D printers could enter the market. The price of the printers went from being in the $10,000-100,000 range to being less than $5,000.
“In 2007, a market emerged for 3D printers that can sit on your desk right next to your computer that are actually cheap enough to be accessible to the average consumer,” Schwartz said.
Friefeld and Schwartz have been familiar with 3D printing technology for a while, starting in high school when they used the printers to make custom parts for robots. They also became familiar with using HMC’s $30,000 model when the engineering majors would make prototypes for classes.
“We’d been following the technology, and we knew about it, so we were both pretty excited about this emergence of an affordable printer,” Schwartz said.
“Last year Max and I were in class, and we were studying for a test, but instead of studying we were talking about cool things we wanted to do in the future, and we both established that we wanted to start our own companies,” Schwartz said. “We started talking about 3D printers and marketing them. So that night the idea kind of came to us, and we’ve been going ever since.”
Last summer, both Friefeld and Schwartz dropped the internships they had been planning to do. Instead, Schwartz moved to Long Beach to be where Friefeld lives in order to work on launching the company full-time. That August, they recruited Ortlieb, who had majored in computer science at HMC, as the third member of their company.
Friefeld and Schwartz hope that their platform will be able to move the 3D printing industry forward.
“That is the future; that is going to happen—it’s just a matter of when and how we get there,” Schwartz said. “We think Layer By Layer is just the first step.”
“I wake up every morning, and I’m excited to get to work because it’s something I love and something we built,” he added. “Its success is your success, its failure is your failure. That’s probably the best part about it.”