With all the news of expansion and increasing competition at the entry level of the 3D printer market, it was only ever a matter of time before something happened to pull us up short. That something has been mounting at Makible, manufacturers of the Makibox 3D printer, for a few months it seems; but has played out more quickly and rather vociferously in a number of quarters over the last 10 days. Makible first made headlines at the end of 2012 when the company announced a $200 3D printer, solid in performance and promoting accessibility to a much wider audience. Currently, it competes with the QU-BD and the Printrbot Simple 3D printers, with the MOD-t entering the market segment end of this year, early next in real terms.
The question at hand is, is Makible on the brink of going under? A source close to the company has told me this is looking ever more likely, particularly in light of the fact that Jonathan Buford, Makible’s Founder and CEO has gone dark. No one seems to know where he is and all his regular hang-outs (in person and online) are silent. I have been reliably informed by the same source that at least one employee has left after not being paid for months and there are murmurs of Paypal investigations into fraudulent activities. Fraud is a strong word and not used lightly here — and it should be said, Makible still has active investors and resellers working towards fulfilling all orders, with some supporters cheering from the sidelines and some paid-up Makibox customers still waiting patiently and hopefully.
The first hint I had of any of this was a couple of months back. As an Editor you get all sorts of emails landing in your inbox, a fair number of which can be quite angry tomes voicing frustrations at perceived bad products or bad service, demanding retribution in print! You’d be surprised! When it’s a lone voice, however, it is not usually sensible to pick it up and run with it. Every industry, and any company, can suffer from Friday afternoon models — although there is huge variance in corporate processes and procedures for dealing with such issues — and that obviously includes the 3D printing industry. Similarly, delays from order confirmation to receipt of 3D printer, is not a new phenomenon, particularly for companies starting out with a prototype and a crowd-funding campaign. But nothing seems to get people so hot under the collar as silence. But when a number of people are saying the same thing, independently, it provides a reason to investigate further.
So first, let’s look at the accusation of fraud: my initial email correspondent, Arthur Haglund, in his latest email at the end of last week informed me that “Makibox is now under investigation for fraud by Paypal, due to their continued pretense of building and shipping new orders within 6-10 weeks from time of order.”
A second source, the one quoted above as being close to the company, and wishing to remain anonymous, confirmed the investigation is taking place. Some trawling around the Makible forum shows that there is a significant number of customers — at different levels of frustration— questioning the lengthy times they have been waiting for their orders to be fulfilled. Many are weeks over the Makible quoted lead time, which is still stated on the website as 6–10 weeks, with the caveat “This does not include shipping time,” — lots of jokes about “slow boats” about that one on the forum. But Makible is on record as saying that shipping can take a further 2–9 weeks. So the customers waiting more than five months certainly have a valid complaint, while those that have been waiting the longest — more than a year in some cases — are also justified with their grievances.
Some Makible customers, notably the more recent ones, such as Cadeamon, are content to wait it out expecting a delay. Just a few days ago on May 29th, he/she posted “I did my due diligence before ordering, I went to the forums/ blogs and read and read and read some more. I had no delusions when I ordered this in February 2014 that I would be receiving it within the 20 week mark. I’ve been waiting years to get a 3Dprinter. I can wait a few more months.”
Others have given up, such as jlogajan who just over a week ago said: “Well, Makible just got one more email — my cancellation request for $800+. They can’t say I didn’t give them time to ship”
It seems that while the delays are causing frustration, it is the lack of customer service, lack of communications — about delivery and refund requests — and the seeming disappearance of the CEO that have caused the ramp up in discontent and brought things to a head over the past week. As an example of the company’s communications, this one speaks volumes, and has likely exacerbated the discontent on the forums; it was posted by a community moderator:
“I’m not going to quote your e-mails to us here, but let’s just say they were less than “nice requests” and more hassles, insults and spam.
Currently we have to deal with more than usual refund requests, and more and more people think that flooding our mailbox is the way to go. We’re getting more than enough e-mails as it is, but if there are hundreds of spam and duplicate mails, it only adds to our workload and seemingly nothing gets done.
I’ve been sick these past weeks and couldn’t get any work done, so there’s a nice fat backlog of stuff to take care of now, which will need a bit of time.
If you have any questions, mail me at [email withheld] (In English or German).
For order specific problems you still have to contact [email protected].”
Arthur Haglund was not prepared to just sit and wait, his persistence, with a strengthening voice, has also been a contributing factor over the past week. I asked him to go on record and tell me his story, which he has:
“I checked out Makibox and contacted them prior to purchase, five months prior in fact, when they told me that everything was as advertised. As an inventor, I saw the continued worldwide interest and advancement of the home 3D printer community growing and felt it was money better spent than paying another company to build me a few prototypes, as well as the security risk involved. Makibox had been touted as a good solid printer and the cheapest.
I am on SSI disability and being affordable was major consideration for me. Well, my wife and sons pitched in to get it for me for a combo birthday, Christmas present and the Makibox 3D printer was ordered on 4 Jan 2014.
I was not worried, I had been assured, pre-purchase that it was a real 6-10 weeks until mine would be produced and then another 2-9 weeks for the shipping. Then as the time entered the promised production zone, I contacted them to check in, not really wanting to bother, and asked how things were going. I was told that Makible was happy to announce that they were finally going to be able to finally get all the orders out from year 2012!
I figured that was a simple typo.
So I did a web search — it was not a typo!
Makible promised to produce my printer within 10 weeks, when people had been waiting for over a year!
I believe that they knew that they lied to me about the lead times. Then I had an email telling me I would receive it by the end of April, then another by the end of May. Daily checks on their claimed shipping report and the continual blog posts of others who have been waiting MUCH longer than I have been, brought no resolution, so, I decided to ask for a refund, which the company’s communications assured me I could do at any time. After about a week of requesting a refund and their not even bothering to acknowledge the request, I contacted Paypal. Of course, PayPal only gives buyer protection up to 45 days, so even the 10 week time frame is outside their help.
I called and talked for about an hour, explaining that I had also contacted Makible through a second email, still using my real name, and enquiring about production lead times. They assured me that they had a tiny snag with hot end issues, but I could still order with confidence because my printer would be produced and shipped by the 10 week mark, no problem.
I should mention that I studied business law and any lie or deception that is used to entice someone to part with money is called fraud, in the USA. Makibox lied to me twice, I believe, via email, when they told me that they would, indeed, meet their advertised production schedule, so that I would give up $$$. I believe they knew it was a lie because they knew they could not and would not meet the deadline.
Paypal told me they would initiate an investigation into Makible.
It was only after this that Makible did indeed, refund my money with one of their managers commenting that I was very rude and bothersome. Imagine that, the person being defrauded is told by the fraudulent party that he is not being nice!!!
Anyway, I have since bought a different printer — it exists and will be shipped tomorrow.”
His story is echoed across the various forums and Facebook and Google+ pages associated with Makible. It is a sad testament to the issues and trials a new 3D printing start-up can face. Customers react differently, they have different circumstances and needs that drive these reactions.
Arthur’s reaction received its own dissent, most notably from Andybox, who may or may not be associated with Makible: “You seem to be stating your legal conclusion as fact to MakiBox’s prospective customer base, when it may not be – it’s a mere allegation by you at this point. Look up ‘defamation’ and how much it might cost you if it turns out not to be fact, but third party supplier issues that are being felt by the entire industry due to the demand explosion. You want in early on any technology, you have to suffer the pains that go with it.”
I’ll round up with the more moderate opinion and sad conclusion of NarimaanV however, who said: “….throwing out legal accusations like ‘fraud’ might be a little bit much, but there is a valid point in that, this wasn’t supposed to be early access or anything, the printer was supposed to be finished and out into production with regular shipments going out to fulfill the demand for the printers within the given lead time. I think that all this panic would me much less if Jon actually updated us on what’s going on, even if he gets hung (again) for delivering the inevitable bad news that they’re trying to get the issue with the hot ends sorted out before sending anymore out. Given Up on Waiting, Don’t Care if it Comes Anymore”
Ultimately when things go wrong, running away is probably not the best solution. Different sources are quoting different times on Jon Buford’s disappearance — from 10 days to three weeks since he was last heard from. My understanding, at this point in time, is that there is a board of investors still working to salvage the situation with the remaining Makible team, but bankruptcy is also a potential option. But as my source points out — “they’ll need a PR genius.”