probably not reveal proprietary information.
“I’m an open book,” says Applestone. “This is a small
company. Everyone knows many of the decisions we make
He reminds her that a lot of their development sta; is
on contract. He can easily put himself in a competitor’s
shoes and think: Well, the software team is on contract—
I’ll just go hire all of them. “I’ve had to deal with a lot of
espionage, so I’m sensitive,” says Pettis. “It’s all fine until
you have 200 Chinese knocko;s.”
“The software is not knocko;able in the same way [as
MakerBot’s],” replies Applestone.
“It’s designed to work only with our
machine. If ease of use is one reason
people are using it, you need to go to
us to get that.”
“They’d download your software
on a clone and then come to us for
support,” says Pettis. They talk some
more about knocko;s. “How much
time do you spend thinking about
this?” says Pettis. “Like, I have anxi-
ety about it.”
“Hardly ever,” she says. Then, as
if to insinuate she’s no longer in charge, she cuts back: “It’s
also not up to me.”
“It is up to you,” says Pettis. He usually looks at Apple-
stone with pride, but now he sticks his tongue out at her
in frustration. “Sometimes you pull this and I don’t know
why you do that. I don’t feel like it’s up to me. If there’s
a disagreement, we have to work through it.”
One of the first big decisions the pair made together
was to rename the company Bantam Tools. (It takes only
one conversation along the lines of “So, are you going to
use this machine or the other machine?” to experience
brand dilution.) Pettis also persuaded Applestone to relo-
cate the company out east this spring, to the unsexy town
of Peekskill, New York, a few hours from Ithaca, where
Pettis grew up. For what Bantam had paid in rent in
Berkeley, it could buy entire buildings, and its manu-
facturing employees could a;ord to buy houses.
But what’s most invigorating for both Applestone and
Pettis is the freedom they have to be patient now that they’ve
stepped o; the treadmill of venture capital. Applestone and
Pettis had been planning to unveil a next-generation mill at
January’s Consumer Electronics Show. But a few months
earlier, they realized if they really wanted their mill to break
new ground, they would need more time to develop it. With
venture capitalists, they would have felt the pressure to
make the big splash sooner, even if the product was subpar.
But with the new arrangement, they scrapped CES, instead
allowing themselves another nine months to properly build
what they believe is an even more transformational mill.
Over a dinner at Comal, a hip Mexican joint on
Berkeley’s main drag, Applestone and Pettis discuss build-
ing hacker spaces in schools and libraries so kids can get
involved in making physical objects. Then the conversa-
tion turns to VC money—and neither ever wanting to go
back to that dark place. “The future of our culture is being
defined by venture capitalists who are not thinking about
the future of our culture,” says Pettis. “The valued culture
is the startup. Feast or famine. If you’re in a startup and
you’re not hockey-sticking, you die.”
Instead, he’s committed to running a sustainable small
business, one that can have an impact on the world and be
a reliable partner to its customers. He anticipates growth,
but not crazy growth. In five years, Bantam Tools may
have 50 people. Or maybe two related companies, each
with a few dozen employees. He and Applestone are still
figuring it out.
In big and small ways, the new partners are the inverse
of each other. Applestone has been working her entire life
toward this and she’s 37; that’s the age at which Pettis first
founded MakerBot. They renamed the new company
Bantam as an homage to a small breed of chicken known
for its disproportionate strength. Applestone grew up
raising chickens in Arkansas; Pettis had them during
college in Olympia, Washington. Pettis seems energized
every time he says “fuck” or “nontrivial,” which he does
a lot. Applestone seems both inspired and wearied by the
thought of transforming engineering education for an
entire generation. For Applestone, Bantam Tools is a
chance to get her product into the world; for Pettis, it’s
that and a chance for professional redemption.
As the evening wears on, Applestone starts talking about
the early days of the company—how it was supposed to be
funded by that Darpa grant that never quite came through.
This is the first time Pettis has heard the details. Suddenly,
he realizes they have another strange overlap: He had
applied for the very same grant for MakerBot.
They try to figure out why Applestone won it over him.
“It’s because you have a PhD in materials science,” teases
Pettis, who then refers to his partner as Doctor Danielle
Applestone. But they never get to the bottom of it.
By the end of dinner, Pettis has located his Airbnb
on his phone. It’s in the Berkeley Hills, some three miles
away. His luggage consists only of a small backpack, and he’s
excited to walk over there, although he looks more like he’s
going to skip. The flight of tequila is finished, but no one has
touched an order of quesadillas. Applestone asks the waiter
to pack them up, and takes them home to her son.
KIMBERLY WEISUL is an Inc. editor-at-large.
“The valued culture is the startup. Feast or famine. If you’re in a startup, and you’re not hockey-sticking, you die.”