Last spring, we named WobbleWorks one of the 10 most successful companies created on Kickstarter. At the time, it had raised $3.9 million on the crowdfunding platform in two campaigns for the 3Doodler, a 3D printing pen that launched there in 2013. Turns out, that was just the start for WobbleWorks, which had sales the year spent around $20 million from three different lines of pens and recently signed licensing deals with Cartoon Network and CBS for kits featuring, respectively, the Powerpuff Girls and Star Trek.
Just like 3D printers, 3D printing pens allow users to easily create three-dimensional objects. Users simply draw what they want, usually with plastic instead of ink.
“In a couple of months, we will be at our millionth pen, which for three and a half years is an impressive achievement,” says Daniel Cowen, 35, a former lawyer and one of the company’s three co-founders. Perhaps most surprisingly, the fast-growing company, which has 34 employees and offices in New York and Hong Kong, is cash flow positive and has avoided taking on investors or debt.
As 3D printer technology advanced, numerous companies sprang up to take advantage of it. For the inventors of 3Doodler, Max Bogue and Peter Dilworth, the idea of having a 3D printing pen was a simpler and more intuitive idea. As inventors of toys, they conceived the idea as something fun, but it is also beginning to have more serious applications. The home 3D printing market is expected to reach $2.35 billion by 2022, according to estimates from research firm Research and Markets, and today 3D pens, sold by companies including Kuman, Mynt3d and 7Tech, as well as 3Doodler, they are a booming business. “You can use 3Doodler to create whatever you can imagine pretty quickly and by hand,” says Bogue.
Bogue, 35, and Dilworth, 51, had previously worked in research and development for WowWee, a Hong Kong-based robotic toy company, and Dilworth had also worked as a researcher at MIT. In 2010, they came together to create WobbleWorks, their own toy invention company that initially licensed concepts to large toy companies. “We were doing it successfully when we came up with 3Doodler,” says Bogue.
As with so many inventions, a fortuitous accident sparked the idea for the 3Doodler. Dilworth had invented Troody, a walking bipedal dinosaur, and he and Bogue were working on a new version of it. One day, they were printing a dinosaur leg for Troody on a 3D printer, and the printer made a mistake. “Peter nudged me and said, ‘I wish you could take the nozzle off the printer and use it.’ Then we hit our heads and said, ‘Why doesn’t that exist?’” recalls Bogue. They searched to see if anyone had created something like that and couldn’t find anything. So they printed some 3D printer parts to create a 3D printing pen and wrote 3Doodler on the side. “It worked horribly,” says Bogue, “but we said, ‘That’s great.’ Then we went to see if any of those toy companies we’ve worked with in the past were interested and they said, ‘Uh, no.’
Undeterred, Bogue and Dilworth turned to Kickstarter, enlisting Cowen to help them, eventually bringing him on board as the third co-founder. The 2013 campaign for what it called “The World’s First 3D Printing Pen” raised $2.3 million from over 26,000 backers, far exceeding its original goal of $30,000. “Obviously it was a big turning point when we went from two people making a couple of hundred thousand a year to a company making $2 million on the internet,” recalls Bogue. A second Kickstarter campaign, for the reimagined 3Doodler 2.0, in 2015 raised nearly $1.6 million from more than 10,000 backers. By going directly to the consumer, the inventors at 3Doodlers were able to prove that there was a demand for the concept instead of begging retailers for an audience.
Today, WobbleWorks makes three different 3Doodler product lines. Its flagship pen is the 3Doodler Create, priced at $99. A year ago, it introduced a 3Doodler pen for kids, called Start, which is thicker and made of kid-safe plastic and retails for $49. And in September, it released a Pro version, priced at $249, designed for architects, engineers, and designers. The professional offering allows users to set the temperature and speed to give access to a wider range of materials, such as wood and metal, in addition to normal plastic. “We expect the Pro Pen to be in retail stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s because it’s an effective repair tool for filling cracks. The commercial applications are pretty amazing,” says Bogue. The pens could be used as a replacement for CAD modeling, for example, or to repair pipes with polycarbonate.
In February at the annual New York Toy Fair, WobbleWorks announced its new licensing partnerships, which will allow it to sell 3D kits that include instructions and doodle molds so users can create characters from The Powerpuff Girls, in one case, or from Star Trek. in the other one. “It goes back to the original audience, which is quite tech and geeky, and gives them something to get excited about,” says Cowen. Additional license agreements allow them to sell architectural kits to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House.
Today, the 3D pens are available for sale at Target, Michaels, Best Buy, Amazon, Brookstone, and in retail stores in 60 countries as far afield as Turkey, Spain, and Nigeria. With the three product lines and the new licensing agreements in place, Bogue expects revenue to reach $30 million this year. While other entrepreneurs might have taken on investors or debt in an effort to build quickly, the guys at 3Doodler have steered clear of both. “Chasing money is a full-time job and we didn’t want to get into that,” says Bogue. “We prefer to spend time creating products.”