packed up all the ceramics gear and 3-D printers and put
them in storage.
At Applestone’s o;ce, Pettis discovered “a team that
could build an absurd machine” and, in Applestone, a leader
“capable of building a product with zero returns, happy
customers, and precision.” Customers like Ryan Silva, a U.S.
Air Force major and engineering fellow at Draper Labora-
tory, gave a glimpse into the transformational power of
Applestone’s mill. Silva had been developing a new type of
medical device, but every time he needed to make a new
prototype, it cost him $2,000 and took him a week to out-
source production to a computer-controlled mill. Once he
purchased the Othermill, he was able to produce hundreds
of prototypes a week for a fraction of the cost, right in his
lab. “For a non-microfluidic lab to publish a paper in the
prestigious academic journal Labona Chip using an o;-
the-shelf CNC mill was a crazy idea,” says Silva. “My lab
just broke into the synthetic biology space with this mill.”
But Pettis also realized that Applestone wasn’t sure she
wanted to stay with the company. Her team had once num-
bered 26, but through attrition, layo;s, and the knowledge
that the company might not survive, it had been reduced to
eight. Applestone needed help with sales and marketing, and
she needed to have a clean relationship with whoever the
new owner of the company might be. If she couldn’t get that,
she was willing to let the company live on without her.
Pettis didn’t want to run the business day to day, and
he had a suspicion he and Applestone could actually work
well together. The two weren’t close, but he had been a
casual supporter of hers over the years. When Applestone
was asked to join the Henry Crown Fellowship program
at the Aspen Institute in 2016, it was Pettis—a member of
the previous year’s class of fellows—who had filled her in
on what to expect. When she’d had manufacturing issues,
he had advised her.
Applestone suggested they meet with Joe Hudson,
her executive coach, to see if they could be compatible
as potential partners. By then, Hudson had a solid understanding of what made Applestone tick. “If you look at her
early life and how she got out of her situation, there is a
deep desire to empower people,” says Hudson. “She is
trying to create the avenue of escape for tens of thousands
of other kids.” Typically, observed Hudson, business partners think about their relationship when it’s too late. He
was impressed that Pettis—even before committing to
acquire the company—agreed to meet with them in a candid session. “I’ve never had anybody do that,” says Hudson.
Applestone was confident Pettis, still considered a hero
by many in the maker community, could fill in the gaps.
He was a master at storytelling and getting the word out,
which was exactly what her company, and all of desktop
milling, needed. But he also had baggage, and she had to
initiate some uncomfortable conversations. She asked
Pettis why “there’s all this negative stu; out there” about
him. She’d watched Printthe Legend, a 2014 Netflix documentary that paints Pettis as the 3-D-printing movement’s
Steve Jobs wannabe. In it, former MakerBot employees say
that Pettis—once seen as the visionary leader of the next
industrial revolution—was changed by power, becoming
tyrannical and inhumane, driven by money at the expense
of those around him.
Pettis explained to her the challenges he had been up
against at the time—the knocko;s, his singular mission to
get MakerBots out into the world. But he also
told Applestone certain minds would never
change. “That movie gave an opportunity for
lots of people that I fired to say lots of nasty
things about me, and I’m not going to say
anything bad about them,” says Pettis, who is
upfront about his own mistakes.
As a founder, Applestone could empathize.
She had made her share of controversial deci-
sions too, including the removal of a co-founder
in the name of cost-cutting. At the time, she felt
she was in a “save the company” moment, but she under-
stands that everyone involved may not have agreed. “I was
satisfied with his answer,” says Applestone. “I completely
understand that I am not going to know the whole back-
Applestone needed a financial partner who had grown
a brand and a company on a global scale. She decided she
was going to trust Pettis. On May 1, 2017, for an undisclosed
amount, the entrepreneur best known for MakerBot
became the new owner of Other Machine. In Applestone’s company, Pettis now gets a second chance. “I don’t get to go back in time,” he says. “But in this case, I feel I get to resolve a bunch of stu; about how to grow.” In October, half a year after he purchased Other Machine, Pettis and Applestone are in their o;ce, housed in a low-slung brick build- ing sunlit by floor-to-ceiling windows. Pettis till lives in Brooklyn, but flies to Berkeley each month for a couple days, typically camp- ing out in an Airbnb. Applestone is still learn- ing what it’s like to have a boss, and Pettis is learning how to be the boss without being the CEO. They see eye to eye on their company’s mission, but when it comes to running the company, they often find themselves in a
dance between Pettis’s cynicism and Applestone’s ideal-
ism—she is, in some ways, a version of Pettis’s younger self.
At one point during my visit, Applestone starts discussing suppliers with me—until Pettis tells her that she should
“I still cringe when I think of the leader I was and the choices I made.”