Xometry: Aaron Lichtig

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Aaron Lichtig of Xometry shares the ups and downs of going public, starting a podcast, and navigating supply chain in a post-covid world.

Their platform offers not only custom 3D printing services and additive manufacturing, but also CNC machining, sheet metal fabrication, injection molding, and urethane casting.

Danny:

– Well hello and welcome to the IndustrialSage Executive Series. I’m Danny Gonzales, and I’m here with a company that you’ve likely heard of in the news lately, very exciting, a company called Xometry. And I have Aaron Lichtig who is the vice president of customer marketing joining me for the second time on IndustrialSage. Aaron, thanks for joining us again today.

Aaron:

– Danny, it’s good to see you. Thanks for having me back. Excited to be here.

Danny:

– Oh, well I’m excited to jump in. Obviously there’s been a lot of change with Xometry for the better. A lot has happened since we spoke last, and I want to jump into all that. So for those who aren’t familiar with Xometry and who hadn’t seen your previous interview with us, can you just tell me who you guys are, what you guys do?

Aaron:

– Yeah, so Xometry is a two-sided AI-driven marketplace for manufacturing on demand. So you can think of us like Uber or Airbnb where you have supply on one side. We have over 5000 machine shops around the world who are part of our network, not just machine shops; 3D printing facilities, injection molding facilities as well. And then on the other side, we have engineers, designers, purchasing managers who are needing to make parts. A couple things make us unique. We have instant quoting and great AI-driven technology that is able to analyze the parts and give you pricing and lead time options instantly. We have a wide range of manufacturing processes available, 3D printing, eight processes that we instantly quote now. We just added binder jetting in our instant quoting engine, metal binder jetting. We also do CNC machining, sheet metal fabrication, injection molding, urethane casting. Those are all available on our platform.

And then on the supplier side of the marketplace, they come, and they’re able to take those jobs, get revenue, keep their cash flowing in to help their businesses stay in business, their businesses to grow. And we continue to innovate on that side of the marketplace as well. We now offer the Xometry Advance Card, the Xometry FastPay that allows small manufacturing facilities access to cash up front that Xometry provides when they take a job from our network. So we continue to innovate on both sides, and the business continues to grow. If you want to check us out, try the instant quoting engine. You can go to Xometry.com, X-O-M-E-T-R-Y dot com and see all the things that we’ve been up to.

Danny:

– That’s exciting. We’re seeing a lot—we were talking about it a little bit before, some of the innovation and some of the new technology’s starting to come out. I love the Uber or the Airbnb-type models. I think you’re going to be seeing a lot more of those across many different industries and different applications. I think it’s really exciting. As far as, there’s a lot of things that have happened since we spoke last. Probably one of the bigger ones is that you guys went public recently. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about that and some other things that you guys have been up to.

Aaron:

– Yeah, well that is the big news over the past couple of weeks. We officially became a public company listed on NASDAQ under the symbol XMTR on June 30th. So as of a couple weeks ago you can, not just make parts through us or take jobs from us. You can be an investor in our business as well. With any company, last time we talked, we were still pretty small. That was two, three years ago, and it’s obviously a big moment in the evolution of any company, especially one in our space. But for us, we still see it as day one. Manufacturing is an enormous market, and we want to continue to digitize it, continue to change it, make those markets as efficient as possible and be the marketplace for manufacturing in the United States and around the world. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us to get there and a lot of things we want to do to serve our suppliers and serve our customers better. Going public will help us to do that. So yeah, that is the biggest news in Xometry land over the last month or so.

Danny:

– Yeah, well congratulations on it. I know it must’ve taken a tremendous amount of work, but it’s a great achievement. So congratulations.

Aaron:

– Thank you very much.

Danny:

– Yeah, so let’s talk a little bit too about Covid, obviously. I think it’s hard to not talk about that relative to when we spoke last. Now, you said, going public is very big news, but how did that affect Xometry, and what were some of the results of that?

Aaron:

– Yeah, well I think like any business—you’re right. Covid has really shaped our industry and manufacturing in general over the past year or so, and I think it will continue to. But there are really two major trends that Covid accelerated that are relevant to our business and will continue to be relevant to how we operate moving forward. The first is continued digitization of manufacturing. Everybody went from, they weren’t in their place of work for periods of time. They were probably at their house. With Xometry, with instant quoting you can upload parts from your house, get a quote, order your parts, get them sent right to you no matter where you are. You don’t have to have a physical presence. You can do that from anywhere. And I think that trend will continue to accelerate, making those processes more digital versus handing a lot of things back and forth. We want to make that even more efficient.

I think the second big trend is around supply chain flexibility and agility. During the Covid period, you had a lot of uncertainty. You had times where the disease was rampant in some places but not others. There were certain restrictions put in place by different national, state governments at different times. And we’ve also seen this in areas outside of Covid. Climate change is a major factor and can cause disruptions. You have unexpected things like the ship getting stuck in the Suez Canal that are beyond anyone’s control or ability to predict. And I think people are starting to realize and will continue to realize the value of a network-driven approach like Xometry has where you have many options. We have over 5000 partners all around the world, primarily in the United States where you can—something happens somewhere in one part of that network, the network is self-healing. You’re able to move a job to another place. You’re able to find capacity where it is open. And I think businesses will continue to experiment with different approaches there including using manufacturing networks like ours, but also potentially other options. There are many other ways that companies deal with that as well. So I think those two trends, we’ve seen those from the beginning, and they’ve been a big part of our model. And they will continue to be; we have seen those trends accelerate and get stronger over the past couple years.

Danny:

– Yeah, I think it’s interesting. We’ve heard this story over and over again. If I had a dollar every time I heard about resiliency… But it’s critical. It’s super important, as we all learned. It was interesting hearing a lot of stories of companies that had some of these supply chains, or the resiliency was built in versus companies that hadn’t. We were hearing stories, I remember. We talked to Flex Manufacturing, and they were able to, had never done anything, I think it was in the ventilator space. Within, I believe—and don’t quote me on this–I want to say it was six weeks they were able to completely go through their R&D process and get something on their manufacturing line and get it out there. It was because of the diversification in their supply chain and how they were able to do that and having some resiliency. So it’s interesting hearing these different stories. As you mentioned, these trends that you’re seeing or have seen, what does the future look like? Do you think those are going to stay? Is there going to be pull-back from there? Is that going to increase? What are you seeing or thinking?

Aaron:

– No, I think they will continue to be there. I think Covid was more an acceleration versus a blip in the existing trends. I think the digital technology will continue to get better. We will continue to add more manufacturing processes as time goes on. And so I think you will be able to buy a lot more of those parts digitally over time. I think that will definitely be there. And flexibility and agility will play out in different ways. The next thing that we see may not be a pandemic. It may originate in a different place. It may be something we can’t anticipate. But I think the key is right now if you have a supply chain that is only cost-optimized, single point of failure, it’s going to be tougher to deal with that. We live in a world that is more volatile than what we saw a decade ago or 30, 40 years ago. You need to have some redundancy built in. And something like a network-based approach gives you those options and also gives you, even if there is no crisis, you have a lot more flexibility. You have a lot more different jobs that can be done, a lot more different suppliers and technologies at your fingertips than you would have otherwise.

Danny:

– Yeah, exactly. I just think it’s very, very interesting. Like you said, a lot of the stuff is accelerating, and I think we’re going to continue to see that. It’s—I don’t want to say exciting—well, in certain areas, yes, it is exciting to be able to see that innovation. A lot of this was happening beforehand, and it was very hot to begin with. The gasoline just got poured on it for better or worse. And I think that that does create—there’s a lot of interesting opportunities that have been created, and there’s a lot of innovation that has been pushed, the need for more Xometrys in the world. One thing that I’d like to ask is that, if you had a magic wand right now and you could just snap your fingers, what would be that one thing that you would want to change or see updated or improved in the industry?

Aaron:

– Yeah, at large, a couple trends are really interesting to me. I’m still fascinated by 3D printing and everything that is becoming possible there. You always want some of those trends and the really cool stuff that’s out there to move even faster. Everything from continued better technologies for production parts—I think that will continue to be a trend that’s going to reshape a lot of different industries—to some of the fun stuff in 3D printing, like we made parts for an entrepreneur who built one of the first chocolate 3D printers. You can 3D print some chocolate. It’s really cool. It’s not going to reshape industry, but it’s going to be a cultural touchstone for a lot of people. It’s going to be something that people use and have fun with. So I think that is a big one. And I think in general, I love the fact that manufacturing has become more digital overall and has become more accessible and easier to use.

Xometry’s mission is all about democratizing and making manufacturing accessible to more people. Anyone, whether you work at NASA or you’re an individual entrepreneur or an artist, you can come to our website and take advantage of the full range of capabilities that we offer and that manufacturing suppliers in our network can provide. It’s not like you have to be a big company to get access to some great technologies like Carbon DLS and HP Multi Jet Fusion which are really at the cutting edge of 3D printing. You can come do those tomorrow, get great parts shipped to your door in as little as a day in some cases. I love the democratic spirit of where manufacturing and digital manufacturing in general is heading. Manufacturing as a service does allow innovators to move faster. If I had my magic wand, I would want everyone to be able to do this because we need more innovation in the built world. I think being able to access that through our platform and through other sources as well, you can make five prototypes very quickly whereas before, you maybe could only make one slowly. Over time, those advantages are going to compound. You know this as a marketer, too. The first thing you do doesn’t always work. It’s really all about—

Danny:

– What are you talking about?

Aaron:

– How fast you can test things, how fast you can grow, how fast you can push forward and get feedback from your customers. And so if anything, I would just want to wave that wand and move it faster and make it accessible to more people around the world.

Danny:

– I think that’s super exciting, that accessibility piece, the democratization as you were talking about there. To be honest with you, I’ve always wanted to develop some sort of product. I don’t have that engineering mind. I have great admiration for the people who do that. You can see just some amazing innovations. But I think by opening that, that does open up the playing field so that hey, I have an idea. We want to do this. Let’s prototype something out there. To be able to do that I think is very, very, very cool, and I’m sure you probably have a lot of stories, like you were mentioning the 3D printing chocolate that you’re enabling people to be able to do, large and small.

Aaron:

– Yeah, we have examples from some of the largest organizations in the world where we worked with NASA on parts for the international space station. We worked with BMW on factory tooling for some of BMW’s best and most advanced manufacturing facilities. But we have also worked on some really interesting projects with smaller entrepreneurs. Building a 3D chocolate printer is pretty cool. We also worked on a great project with an organization called ClearMask which made masks that are transparent. During Covid it became very relevant to everyone. It was initially started by an entrepreneur who was hearing impaired, and that is a major challenge for people who are hearing impaired in a medical setting or another setting where masks are required. So helping to make that innovation come to life is really cool and shows that level of, we work with a NASA, but we also work with people who are just getting their ideas off the ground.

Danny:

– Absolutely, I think that’s very cool. I want to pivot to you a little bit now. I would be curious to know, what are you doing yourself—this could be because of Covid; could be not, whatever–to stay sharp? What are you doing to stay sharp as a leader? You’re VP of customer marketing over there. You have any magical things you’re doing?

Aaron:

– Yeah, in addition to continuing to learn about everything that is available from a marketing perspective and refined channels of messaging, I think one of the big ones that’s different from the last time that we talked was, I launched my own interview series, so trying to be the next Danny Gonzales. A poor job of it, but talking to some of the most interesting engineers and forward-thinking creative people in the space of engineering and design. Just by talking to them, it gives me a good perspective on what’s going on in the industry, where things are heading.

I’ve talked to some really fascinating people from all different realms, professional racecar drivers, BattleBots contestants, people who are working at a variety of companies, coming up with different ideas. It helps me stay in touch with what’s going on in the marketplace and also to think about some things that I hadn’t really thought about. I had a guest—and this was before the Mars landing, well before—talking about how 3D printing can be used to take Martian dust and turn that into a material that you can use to 3D print real, physical objects in an extraterrestrial setting which I had never really thought about, but it’s just at the far edges of what some of these really cool technologies can do. Xometry someday, we might be active on Mars, have manufacturing partners up there as well. It’s pretty awesome to think about.

Danny:

– That’s super fascinating. I think that’s awesome. What made you want to kick off the podcast? What’s the name of it, and then what made you say, “Hey, I want to do this”?

Aaron:

– Yeah, it’s called Ok Xoomer, in reference to, “Okay boomer,” but I’m too young to be a boomer, so we went with that. What made me want to do it, I think during Covid, I think a lot of people were consuming more content, and there was a bit less of that human touch. On a personal level, I just missed that, talking to interesting people every day that I got to do that when I worked at Xometry and in prior roles got to work with fascinating people who were sitting right next to me. I didn’t have as much of that anymore. I just wanted to get out there and keep learning from people, keep interacting with people, and sharing that type of knowledge with Xometry’s customers and suppliers.

Danny:

– That’s great. When did you start it, and what results or what have you gotten out of it? Obviously you’ve been able to talk with really interesting people and whatnot, but from a marketing standpoint, or for sales?

Aaron:

– I started it, I think we recorded the first episodes in April of 2020, so it’s been over a year now. We have 61 episodes. They’re on Xometry’s YouTube channel. We do it mostly over video format, over Zoom. What have we gotten out of it outside of thinking and ideas? We do get them out on our social platforms. We will send them around to customers and partners who are interested in them and share them generally with different communities online. It’s not the primary marketing vehicle for Xometry or anything like that, but it is a way for us to introduce ourselves to some new people and have them see Xometry as someone who’s providing them interesting, entertaining, and informative content and not just a company that is a manufacturing business with a quoting engine. We are about ideas, and we are about being on the cutting edge in a number of different areas.

Danny:

– Awesome, excellent. That’s really cool. My mind is racing a little bit on that. I have been seeing this a lot; obviously we’re seeing this before a little bit more, and this is off-the-cuff here, but do you think, or are you seeing that companies have, there’s going to be a growing need from a content standpoint to be able to either create their own content, or community, rather, around their content and around their brand? It seems to be part of what podcasts and these different types of content series are doing. Are you seeing that? Is that something you think in the forward years, that might be a bigger thing, or fleeting?

Aaron:

– Yeah, for sure. I think content and community are important for just about every business in every industry. Humans are social, and humans do like to interact with other humans, and I think more so after the pandemic where we had periods of time where that was more limited. I think that it will continue to be something that’s huge. Xometry, we have a supplier community now where our suppliers can go to our site and discuss things with us as well as with each other, which is really interesting. There are a variety of other interesting communities online that are starting to develop in our space, whether they’re more bulletin board-style or things like Slack Communities and Zoom gatherings that are late at night with people from around the world. I’ve done some of that. We did our first Clubhouse event back in February, which was a cool experience and met some great people there who ended up being guests on my interview show. I think people are hungry for community, and having a direct voice to your potential customers is always a good idea.

Danny:

– Yeah, absolutely. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. We traversed quite a few different topics here, but I think it’s super interesting and fascinating. Obviously you guys have got quite an interesting story, and it sounds like it’s just beginning now. I’m excited to see where things are going to go. Thank you so much for spending some time with me today and with the IndustrialSage audience and community. Like I said, congratulations with the achievement of going public, and obviously like you mentioned, a lot, a lot of more work ahead. So we’re excited to see what you guys do.

Aaron:

– Thank you very much, and it’s a great moment for us and a testament to the work of many people and certainly to all the hard work of our customers and our partners as well, making what they make and building what they build. That’s really what it comes down to. That’s the most important thing. Yeah, we look at every day as a new start and day one and a lot more opportunity for us to push forward and better serve the customers and suppliers on both sides of our network.

Danny:

– Well excellent. For any of those who are interested I’m sure you could check out, go to Xometry.com.

Aaron:

– Yeah, X-O-M-E-T-R-Y.

Danny:

– Xometry.com, and then the podcast, I’m sure we could find that on iTunes or Spotify or something like that.

Aaron:

– It’s on Xometry’s YouTube channel.

Danny:

– Oh, that’s right. You mentioned that.

Aaron:

– That’s the primary vehicle, so check out Xometry’s YouTube channel. Just type in Xometry on YouTube, and you’ll see all the episodes there.

Danny:

– Cool, we’ll make sure to put the links on there for people who are interested in learning more about Xometry and certainly the podcast, they can go take a look at that there. Aaron, thank you again so much for your time. Maybe we’ll do a follow-up here in another year or two. We’ll see what happens and go from there.

Aaron:

– Sounds good.

Danny:

– Alright.

Aaron:

– Thanks again for having me, Danny.

Danny:

– Thanks for being on. Alright, well that wraps today’s episode, another great episode on the Executive Series. I think it was a fascinating story. I think it’s really interesting to hear about Xometry and how they’ve gone public, obviously hearing a little bit about what Aaron is doing to stay on top of his game. I love the fact that they launched a podcast doing this in the midst of Covid and just building communities and learning from other people and really staying connected that way.

Anyways, that’s all I’ve got for you today. Thank you so much for watching or listening. If you’re not subscribed, I highly encourage you to go to our website, and you can subscribe there, get on the email list there. Or if you’re on Spotify or iTunes, anything like that, you can certainly subscribe there. So that’s all I got for you. Thanks for watching. I’ll be back next week with another episode on IndustrialSage on the Executive Series.

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