3D laser printer startup Glowforge lands $20M following release of AI image generator feature
by Nate Bek on May 17, 2023 at 7:14 amMay 17, 2023 at 7:39 am
The news: 3D laser printer startup Glowforge raised $20 million as part of an extended Series E round to help add new product features and grow its subscription business.
The product: Glowforge makes a line of laser-based 3D printers that cut and engrave various materials. Unlike traditional 3D printers that use plastic strands, Glowforge works with a wide array of materials: leather, paper, plastic, fabric, cardboard, and more. Glowforge printers cost anywhere from $3,995 for a basic model to $6,995 for a pro version.
Generative AI: The new funding comes three months after it launched Magic Canvas, an image-generator that turns natural language prompts into artwork formatted for its printers. The AI tool is the latest addition to the company's subscription tier, which also includes a range of designs, projects, and fonts.
The company previously said the images created by Magic Canvas will be "copyright-free and ready to use for their project."
Impact on creativity: AI generators, which are gaining in popularity, provide a launching point and are not always intended as the final product, said Glowforge CEO Dan Shapiro.
Shapiro said he made his wife a sweater design for Mother's Day using Magic Canvas. The idea was to create a mashup of the Golden Girls with the Goonies using the image generator. The resulting design would be laser-printed onto heat transfer material and then attached to a sweater.
The tool produced an initial creation, which Shapiro described as "perfect." But he then tinkered with the design until he came away satisfied.
"It's enough that you can make something great, but to make something truly wonderful, that's where you really invest your time," he said.
The subscription: The idea is to convert Glowforge customers into paid subscribers without paywalling any services that were free initially, Shapiro told GeekWire. The startup plans to use the new funding to boost product development, rolling out new features at a "rapid fire" pace over the next year, he said.
More than half of its customers are already subscribers, with prices set at $50 per month or $239 annually. The subscription model, launched two years ago, is an "enormous and growing part of the business," Shapiro said.
The customers: Glowforge initially focused on direct-to-consumer and later partnered with large craft retailers such as JOANN and Michaels. The company also expanded to serve schools and universities in 2021, and now boasts more than 4,000 clients in the education sector, which accounts for a "meaningful portion" of its overall revenue.
Shapiro said that by diversifying its clientele, the company has been able to sustain a consistent demand amid economic swings. Consumer demand surged during the pandemic, while orders from schools declined, for example.
The supply chain: Glowforge, founded in 2014, set a crowdfunding record for its 3D laser printer. But the company faced trouble fulfilling orders early on, delaying production and shipping numerous times.
Glowforge worked closely with manufacturers to streamline production, addressing some of the initial clogs in the system by traveling to factories and troubleshooting, Shapiro said. Part of the new funding will be used to continue to bolster its supply chain, he said. The startup has reached its production targets over the last two years.
"We really have a business now that's able to scale and grow along with the demand that we’re creating," Shapiro said.
The founders: Shapiro co-founded the company with fellow startup veterans Mark Gosselin and Tony Wright, who left Glowforge in 2017. Shapiro previously created Robot Turtles, a coding board game for kids that was one of Kickstarter's most successful campaigns ever. Glowforge is nominated as a finalist for Hardware/Gadget of the Year in the GeekWire Award.
The funders: The fresh cash arrives during a period of a broader slowdown in startup funding. DFJ Growth and Foundry Group co-led the round, which included participation from Revolution Growth and True Ventures.
The latest round coincides with a number of Pacific Northwest-based hardware startups attracting investor interest, including Carbon Robotics, Roboto, Group14, and others.
Total funding to date is $135 million.
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