3D Robotics announces VC funding, expansion plans!

Last week you may have seen the news that I'm going to be leaving Wired to lead 3D Robotics full time as CEO. Now I'm delighted to announce our other exciting news: last week we closed a $5+ million funding round with two premier firms, which will allow us to accelerate the growth of 3DR and expand into new markets.

 

The round was led by Jon Callaghan at True Ventures and Bryce Roberts of O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures. Both of them will be joining the 3DR board.  These are two of the most far-seeing VCs in the Valley, and both are part of the "hardware is the new software" trend, including investments in Fitbit, Makerbot, Littlebits and Instructables. And they share our vision of the power of open source, the Maker movement and personal robotics. Chris Michel, an investor and long-time entrepreneur (and former Naval Flight Officer) will also be joining as an investor and board member.

 

I'll be opening an office in the SF Bay Area ("3DR North"), which will focus on sales/marketing and community development. Our San Diego headquarters will continue to be the R&D and engineering center, while our Tijuana manufacturing is expanding to handle more and more of our production. My co-founder, Jordi Munoz, will take over the role of President, overseeing operations.

 

With me joining as CEO and the funding round, we'll be growing the company quickly. We're now at 40 people, but will be hiring more hardware and software engineers in San Diego and sales, marketing and community management people in the Bay Area (probably in the Berkeley/Emeryville area).

 

The aim of this ramp-up is simple: more cool stuff and a great customer and community experience. As part of this, we'll be launching a new 3D Robotics site/store, new product sites, manuals and tech support communities and a expanded customer support team.  And of course a wave of exciting new products, focused on making drones and other aerial robotics technology easier, more powerful and cheaper than ever before.

 

This is going to be fun ;-)

Views: 12818


Distributor
Comment by Dany Thivierge on November 5, 2012 at 1:02pm

Congratulation (again) and glad to be part of this!

Distributors are a bit on the edge with this but let's see where it goes.  At least it means more products, better prices and more support/documentation.  Getting Jordi some help up there is a nice thing. 

Chris CEO title sounds good! :)

Keep up the good work.

 

Dany

Comment by Cliff-E on November 5, 2012 at 1:05pm
Congrats guys ;) Looking forward to new developments!
Comment by Jack Crossfire on November 5, 2012 at 1:14pm

Always good news when venture capitalists invest in robotics of any kind, let alone flying robots.  The field is still mired in dogma of investing strictly in dot com flea circuses.  To convince someone to invest that much money towards a physical product with actual value takes quite a bit of selling.  It does make me wonder how much of the value they perceived was the social network & how much was a product.  Having watched many VC processes, now you just have to reach their unattainable goals & follow their unworkable direction.

Comment by Peter Meister on November 5, 2012 at 1:22pm

Congrats Chris and Jordi well deserved!

Comment by sergei lupashin on November 5, 2012 at 1:28pm

congrats!


3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on November 5, 2012 at 1:41pm

John Arne: Absolutely. That's already underway. 

Comment by Jim Turpin on November 5, 2012 at 2:18pm

" These are two of the most far-seeing VCs in the Valley, and both are part of the "hardware is the new software" trend, including investments in Fitbit, Makerbot, Littlebits and Instructables. And they share our vision of the power of open source, the Maker movement and personal robotics."

 

I sure hope this doesn't go down like Makerbot's Vulture Capitalist money. That VC funding turned open source into "open source" which is actually now closed. They also kicked out one of the founding members because he didn't agree with the closing the source.

 

 

Comment by Brent Crude on November 5, 2012 at 2:29pm

Congratulations!

--

Now I guess I'll ask the obvious question, since no one else has: 

How is VC funding commensurate with an open source project like ArduPilot? That's $5M for something; I know you've gone to pains here to express how much the VC team "gets it", but their interests by definition can *not* be aligned with that of an open-source community. No amount of hand-waiving or slick quotes can change the fact that that entity expects profit on investment -- and embedded in the VC culture of Silicon Valley, quite a lot -- coupled with a rewarding exit. That's quite far removed from the open-source game.

Therefore, I read this announcement with deeply mixed feelings. It seems to me that DIY Drones is rather riven to its core by some contradictions that this VC funding announcement aggravates and brings to the surface. I think this community needs to ask (again): where does DIY Drones end, and where does 3D Robotics begin?

Last December, you were careful to make a distinction between "DIY Drones" and "3D Robotics" by noting that "DIYDrones is a not-for-profit website, not a company", but "3D Robotics, in contrast, is one of many for-profit companies (others are JDrones, Undrones and many regional distributors) that serve the DIY Drones community."

Of course, what you meant by "distributors" was "distributors [of 3D Robotics equipment]". Of the two mentioned, the former (JDrones) is now very closely connected with the 3DR team, so much so that I've seen his shop in Asia confused in news stories as being actually a subsidiary of 3DR (and who knows, it may very well be); for the latter (Udrones), you've bought them as your "Tijuana factory", and they are in fact now an official subsidiary.

OK, a wee bit alarming for a die-hard open-source guy like myself. But things seemed OK to me on the management end at other times--in June, you said that 3D Robotics is "managed to generate no pre-tax profit"; that it's run "as a break-even enterprise" for the sake of investing everything into R&D. That statement kinda reaffirmed my trust in what was going on behind the scenes; it sounded great!--

--but surely, as of this announcement, it's no longer accurate.

I've been on this board for some years, usually as a lurker; I've contributed here (in its prehistory; been a while) as elsewhere to most of the open-source autopilots out there today. And I have to say, DIY Drones / 3D Robotics / ArduPilot is starting to look an awful like a commercial entity that's used an open-source project/maker community to not only build its customer base, but crowdsource its R&D work--and all leveraged by a guy with extremely high public visibility to make it click. Yes, DIYDrones / 3D Robotics have been vulnerable to these criticisms for a long time; but a VC round makes it much more poignant IMHO.

[And as an aside, I'm curious -- of the "equity" offers for ArduPilot contributions, how much equity has been given away by 3DR to high contributors? Were they consulted in this decision?]

Anyway, I know the pro-VC refrain will be "better support! lower prices! better R&D!" But honestly, I'd rather see that from competition, than from consolidation. You have a distributor here in the comment list who has already indicated some anxiety about today's announcement, and I'm sure these proceedings, so I know I'm not off-base in my observation.

So, there it is. As for my $.02 (now at $2 perhaps...), I think the "store" button on DIY Drones either needs to redirect to other manufacturers/vendors (as well as to 3D Robotics), or we just need to rename this whole thing 3drobotics.com/forums and be done with it. With serious money and a serious aggressive marketing push (which I'm sure comes next), I think this community is at a critical point where it needs to define its identity and not just muddle through these issues.

Request for Comments, folks.

[And by the way: Chris Anderson created this site... it says so at the bottom of every page. :p Credit where credit's due--money's been spent, effort's been made, it's absolutely legitimate to receive compensation for that. Even spinning off a hardware supplier to support the community--that's fair game too. It's not the concept, but the execution, and the uneasy symbiosis with a community > 3D Robotics, that's of concern to me.]


Moderator
Comment by Alex on November 5, 2012 at 2:40pm

Some interesting points, I do think its great that 3DR are successful and deserve a congratulations!, but lets hope they dont go down the makerbot road! with APM3 being closed source hardware with semi open source software.

Comment by Brent Crude on November 5, 2012 at 2:47pm

@Alex: my guess is we'll start seeing multiple tiers of product lines, with some closed-source and others open-source. No VC group is going to invest in a company that explicitly has the words writ large in its DNA "no IP".

But that's a really tricky place to be in with a supposed open-source community that's, to date, done the majority of innovation.

The thing is, the IP here is not ArduPilot -- it's the community. And that's what... kinda sucks. Chris has said elsewhere that the community is basically what stands in the way of APM and the Chinese cloners. But then in some sense, that means I'm now being harvested for TrueVenture & O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures ;)

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