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In this episode of Unicorn Builders, we’re joined by Joseph DeSimone, co-founder and former CEO of Carbon, an idea-to-production platform that has raised over $680 million in funding. Joe shares his journey of taking Carbon’s groundbreaking 3D printing technology from the lab to large-scale commercial adoption, offering invaluable insights for founders seeking to bring deep tech innovations to market.

  • The evolution of Carbon’s technology from a rudimentary “toaster” to a full-fledged manufacturing solution, enabling the production of previously unmakeable designs at scale.
  • Navigating the challenges of category creation, from identifying compelling use cases to educating customers on the transformative potential of a new approach.
  • The power of lighthouse customers like Adidas in validating the technology, driving adoption in adjacent markets, and building momentum for the new category.
  • Overcoming skepticism and resistance to change by demonstrating clear value, cultivating strong customer relationships, and persistently evangelizing the vision.
  • The importance of an innovative business model, such as Carbon’s subscription approach, in aligning incentives and enabling customers to embrace a rapidly evolving technology.
  • Joe’s reflections on the emotional challenges of the founder journey, from the weight of responsibility to the loneliness of leadership, and the criticality of a strong support system.


Nail the Killer App(s) to Cross the Chasm:

Joe emphasizes the importance of identifying not just one, but multiple killer applications that uniquely leverage Carbon's 3D printing capabilities. From dental aligners to foam replacement in helmets, each use case served as a compelling proof point to drive adoption in a specific market. Founders must rigorously validate their technology's unique value prop in concrete applications to build a bridge to the mainstream.

Find Lighthouse Customers to Ignite Adjacent Markets:

Carbon's partnership with Adidas proved pivotal in establishing credibility and catalyzing growth in adjacent markets like helmet and bike saddle production. Joe frames this as a "bowling pin strategy" - using lighthouse customers to create momentum that knocks down subsequent pins. Founders should cultivate early evangelists who can serve as powerful references and accelerate the diffusion of their technology across industries.

Tell a Bigger Story Than Specs and Financials:

When pitching investors, Joe resisted the temptation to default to dry technical and financial details, instead crafting a compelling narrative around Carbon's mission to transform how the world makes products. He advises founders to stay true to the story they want to tell, anchoring their vision in the transformative impact on customers and society. Storytelling is a critical skill for bringing others along on the journey.

Design Business Models That Fuel Co-Evolution:

Recognizing the rapid pace of Carbon's technological evolution, Joe pioneered a subscription model that allowed customers to continually benefit from innovations without fear of obsolescence. This aligned incentives and fostered a collaborative partnership as the technology matured. Founders should explore business models that create a win-win, enabling customers to grow alongside the company.

Embrace the Mantle of the Missionary:

Joe candidly acknowledges the immense pressure and emotional toll of leading a company like Carbon, from the burden of meeting payroll to the isolation of the top job. He attributes his resilience to a missionary mindset - an unwavering belief in the worthiness of the cause. Founders taking on the audacious challenge of bringing a new technology to market must cultivate this sense of purpose to sustain them through the inevitable trials.

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