I felt like an entrepreneurial Jesus the day I created SherkShop. My dream was simple: I’d use my newly obtained 3D printer to create new-age products, please my customers and fill my pockets with cash. Soon enough, I’d be exchanging hearty laughs with my longtime role model, Elon Musk, creator of Tesla and SpaceX, aboard one of his private rocketships.
Before SherkShop opened, I had been obsessing over 3D printing for years, closely following the rapidly evolving printers. I was entranced by the way the machine pumped out thin layers of plastic and created a solid object. The more I thought about the possibilities of products, the more I thought about how I could use one to create a business.
By Christmas of junior year, I had received my own Cube 3D printer. I’d already invested in plastic, glue and had created a basic business plan for SherkShop – my very own 3D printing business. I even had a logo. My parents and I had invested time and money into this idea, and I had the highest hopes for my business.
As soon as I took this leap of faith, my lack of preparation began to shine through. I lacked any sort of marketing – I felt those who bought my products were “donating” instead of actually wanting a printed product. The products themselves were rough, and my inexperience with the machine led to many failed prints and wasted plastics. I had no experience in customer relations or managing finances, so I was constantly refunding money to those I felt I had cheated by giving them a low-quality product. My love and overexcitement for the technology behind 3D printing had blinded me to the realities of business. I had gone in unprepared.
I persuaded friends to order 3D printed phone cases with promises of high-tech protection. For days, I would come home and churn out products, deliver them and get paid. Then the complaints came. SherkShop phone cases broke after one drop. I reimbursed those who I had sold faulty products to and, in turn, lost money. My most popular item was no longer an option.
After that, my marketing was still flawed. There were simply too many products to choose from – a customer could choose from an almost infinite amount of trinkets, models and gadgets to be printed. When I delivered my sales pitch to my customers, I explained the massive expanse of items I could make. They became perpetually overwhelmed, and many never chose something to buy at all.
As the months passed, the few people who knew about SherkShop were driven away by unsatisfactory products. And I was too. I would avoid the dreaded printer, tortured by the idea of a failed print or wasted use of the expensive plastic that cost $50 a cartridge.
In taking my leap of faith, I had leaped off a cliff – and bashed every rock on the way down, leaving SherkShop bloodied and barely breathing in the dust.
But still breathing.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket exploded June 9, 2015. Yet Elon Musk still stood tall. He released reports of what was to be learned from the crash and how the company would make a comeback. Musk, my entrepreneurial idol, reminded me that success is not easily obtained. I was inspired by his resilience; I couldn’t give up on my dream just because things were going poorly. As Musk began building his next rocketship, I began working to make sure I’d be on it.
Instead of ignoring my failures, I studied them. I figured out why so many products turned out poorly. I calculated the amount of plastic that a print used and charged just enough to make sure I would make money. I began updating my Instagram (@sherkshop) frequently so consumers could browse a “menu” of products and help them narrow down what they might want to purchase. My business is still gradually recovering in response to my enlightenment.
Now, I’ve learned the machine; I know that products with have overhanging edges don’t turn out well, I only print with a reliable type of plastic and I designed a more durable phone case. SherkShop has gained enough strength to rise from the dust, regardless of a few broken plastic cartridges. I’ve realized I can survive these explosive failures, just like Musk did and continues to do. As long as I focus on the endgame of success, the downfalls are never fatal, and my bounce backs are just part of the entrepreneurial game.
As SherkShop walks forward, I aim to print better products, make enough profit to exceed my debt and put more faith in my aspirations. When I look to the future, I still see Musk and I sharing a hearty laugh on a rocketship. This time, maybe the rocket is 3D printed.