to school what do you do? You imagine things. At the same time, my daily
life was practical. I made things. I was
living in both imaginary and practical
worlds. Almost anytime I could imagine something nice, I could make it
happen. I’m not happy thinking just
about a concept. I’m constantly asking: Where will this lead? How can I
make this useful? Why would people
want this? How could it improve people’s lives?
I have a long attention span, and
can visualize things from start to end.
It could be my literary background. If
you’re trained in literature, you think
about designing a complete piece—
you think about the reader, the components to put in place, the point you
want to make, and the flow you want
to achieve. It’s not discrete, single-problem solving. I had the ability to
combine conceptual with practical
problem-solving from early on, and
was able to put it to good use in computer science.
at the end of 2000, four years
after you founded Geomagic, you
faced a financial crisis that you
overcame within a year. What
challenges do you now face as
a growing company with more
than 100 employees worldwide?
The challenges are quite different now.
In 2000, the challenge was to survive
and build a viable company. We survived and have thrived. Now the challenge is to build a company that will
not run out of momentum. It seems
simple, but the things you think about
when your goal is not to run out of money are very different than when your
goal is not to run out of momentum.
This stage is much harder. Despite
recent events, the concept of not spending more money than you make is not
difficult to understand. But to not run
out of momentum you have to continue
growing at a rapid pace when the risk
is higher. That’s a daunting job. Each
stage of growth for a company is like
climbing a mountain that is 10 times
higher than the one you’ve scaled. And,
you have to go down before you go up.
When you go down, you’re not sure if
you’re going to go up again.
Then, there’s the people aspect.
How can you educate people in good
times to change? It’s easier to moti-
i believe the 21st
century is the century
where we’ll see
the end of mass
vate people in bad times. Nothing I’ve
done in the past 10 years is useful for
the next 10. I need to continue to learn
new things and face the unknown
again and again. I also need to bring
the whole team along. It is a difficult
task to be a leader in unknown territories and to provide clear directions for
others to follow.
Many entrepreneurs sell their companies at this stage, typically too early.
When you reach this point, the easiest thing to do is to sell and go back
to a situation where you know what to
do. That’s why there are so many serial entrepreneurs. If you start another
company, you know how to do it better
than before; you have experience and
more money. It’s a lot harder to take
a company to the next level: one bad
thing happens and you can fail because
the monthly burn rate is so high. You
can’t put a second mortgage on your
house or use your own savings to save
the company anymore. It’s a different
game. The challenge for Geomagic is to
constantly transform itself for sustainable growth.
how do you do that? is there some
kind of blueprint out there?
No, there’s no blueprint. You can’t apply the principles that you have learned
and your friends know. You’re going
through a no-man’s land, where the
company is too large to be small and too
small to be large. This is the stage where
more companies die than survive, and
they die for different reasons. It’s not
like start-ups, which typically die because they don’t have a good concept or
enough money. This is the stage where
you already have a proven concept and
are making money. If you continue to
thrive, you’ll go on to have a very good
company. But, no one knows why one
company dies and one survives.
the technologies Geomagic is
developing are having a profound
effect on the way goods are
designed, engineered, and
made. how do you see design
and manufacturing evolving
over the next five to 10 years?
I believe the 21st century is the century
for customization, where we’ll see the
end of mass manufacturing. We have
the technology to do that today. The
bigger changes are behavior and process changes, not technology. It will
be the ecosystem enabled by technology that will drive change. Technology
by itself is overrated. It enables less
than 1% of what needs to happen before your vision becomes realized.
Customization in the 21st century
will be less about hits and more about
fit. In the last century, you could have
a massive hit product with little or no
customization. Now it’s becoming
harder to simply throw things on the
wall and see what sticks. We’ll be seeing more variety of customized products, and organizations becoming
more decentralized. Conglomerates
will downsize, and there will be more
small- to medium-sized companies.
it sounds a bit like preindustrial Revolution.
The difference is that we will have bou-tique-sized companies with global distribution channels enabled by digital
technologies. Before the 20th century,
there were a lot of handmade, boutique
products but no way to disseminate
them widely. If you have a boutique
business in today’s world you can support it within a huge, worldwide ecosystem. I call it “digitally enabled cottage
What effect will this have
It will completely change the concept
of outsourcing. We now outsource for
cheap labor. In the future, outsourcing
will be a way to infuse products with local culture; to get authentically made
products. We’ll not outsource for cost,
but for variety, sharing of knowledge,