3D Platforms

Analysis:  What future for Shapeways?


Shapeways is an animal with two heads: on the one hand it’s a marketplace where users can buy 3D printed products from stores set up by designers. On the other hand it’s a service bureau where designers and users can have their products 3D printed in an increasing range of materials (print on demand service). We can see them as a cross between Etsy and a print bureau. Since its inception in 2007 as a spin-off of the lifestyle incubator of Royal Philips Electronics, Shapeways has attracted over $76M of investment from large VCs including HP Ventures, Union Square Ventures and Index Ventures.

Since 2007, competitors have emerged on each of their 2 business segments. Thingiverse, MyMiniFactory and other social media platforms have grown significantly. They are offering access to 3D printed products, as are an increasing number of Etsy sellers. On the service bureau side of Shapeways’ business, many new players have entered the market. Among them, the larger players are Sculpteo, Materialise and 3DHubs. A multitude of local players have also emerged over the last 3 years. I’ve learned from my experience that companies can rarely succeed to manage two core businesses at the same time. Therefore I’ve decided to embark on an analysis of Shapeways revenues since 2009 to figure out which of the two segments have been most successful and what to expect for Shapeways in the coming years.

Shapeways Designers earn less than $100 per year on average

Shapeways is a private company. Collecting financial data requires some effort. From presentations available on the internet, I estimate that the number of stores available at the end of 2015 to be very close to 35,000, nearly 5 times what it was at end 2012.

Shapeways in numbers
Shapeways in numbers

Shop owners made on average of $65 per year in 2012 (source Shapeways), a number stable from 2011. Considering the total number of stores opened at end 2015, total revenue made by Shapeways shop owners comes to near $2.5M. This is the total of the markup revenue for the designers. With average markup at half the cost of printing charged by Shapeways, the total revenue for Shapeways associated with the printed objects sold on the platform should be closed to $5M. This corresponds to the marketplace segment revenues.

Shapeways is a centralised service bureau not a social media platform

The second business line is the Service Bureau. In 2015, Shapeways printed around 4M parts for a total revenue in the region of 30 to 40M$. Breakdown of revenue per Shapeways business lines is as follow: 88% comes from the Service Bureau while 12% comes from the Marketplace.

Shapeways in numbers - revenue breakdown
Shapeways in numbers – revenue breakdown

From the revenue split, it appears that Shapeways is clearly essentially a centralised service bureau, an alternative to 3DHubs, a decentralised service bureau. Talented designers struggle to make revenue. Shop owners prefer Etsy or physical markets to sell their products. Popular designers rarely attract more than 1,000 followers. Shapeways CEO stressed this lack of social aspect in his last interview with 3DPrintingIndustry. As it is expected from a B to B business, internet traffic is relatively contained, as the Alexa ranking graph shows below. The ranking has been stable since end 2013, while 3D printing platforms like Thingiverse, MyMiniFactory and 3DHubs were becoming more popular.

Shapeways in numbers - Alexa ranking
Shapeways in numbers – Alexa ranking

Strong competition expected in the years to come

In the coming years, I would expect strong competition coming from local service bureaus investing in the latest 3D Printers, usually cheaper and of better quality. This is what happened with the 2D print bureau industry in the 80s, when local shops opened in large numbers. Apart from this competition, online platforms connecting service bureaus could also take market share from Shapeways. It will be interesting to see how Shapeways will respond to these threats.