SprayPrinter is proud. We have joined forces with a top investment fund. With people who share our values about both the small and bigger picture.
Where does it start
You need money to operate a startup. That much is clear. Most startups don’t start with a product/service that is ready for mass consumption. Besides, that wouldn’t be very productive. Because startup means that something is being completely reinvented. And to reinvent something you have to be able to test it and grow. And for that you need time. And money.
Often it also isn’t totally clear who your client is. And you better not fall completely head over heels for a potential market. Odds are that the definition of that market will change over time when you have more experience, more feedback, more data.
SprayPrinter has pivoted but also hasn’t
Print we did to emphasize the importance of saving the bees. Don’t use pesticides, ok?
Let’s start with the handheld printer. Cool technology. But who needs it? Is it a situation of a solution in search of a problem? We recoiled strongly when we were asked if we make everyone an artist now. No, no we don’t. Ideas make you an artist. But we did manage to give people a feeling of artistic success, give them the opportunity to feel that they’ve made something from scratch. It’s a good feeling.
It is actually a portrait of MEEEEEEE! I was very positively surprised when I came into the office one morning and my colleague Uku had created this.
As a sidenote, that’s why it’s important to drill certain simple habits. When you make your bed in the morning, that’s the first small success. And each feeling of success gives you more energy to accomplish more, be it answering emails or chopping wood.
Interior design element created with the handheld SprayPrinter.
People tend to feel like they know what the essential activities for life are. But often they underestimate the creative work. In reality, those too are essential. For the brain development, to be able to make connections. For emotional balance. We know when we feel good. Oftentimes we don’t think about the source of that feeling. Like a clean house. Beautiful design. Interesting environment. And it’s wonderful to know that I have created this. I am the creator.
That is something that we here at SprayPrinter believe in. That our environment has a huge hold on us. It determines a lot about what and how we think.
Taking a few steps back now, we started with the handheld printer. And we will still continue to make those. It’s interesting to note what people know about SprayPrinter. Depends on the audience. In Estonia the first reaction usually is: “Oh, you won Ajujaht, right?”
We won the Estonian equivalent of “Shark Tank”, it is called “Ajujaht”.
We did. That was in 2016. We were there with the handheld printer. But now a big part of our attention goes toward developing and testing the mural robot. And fulfilling the commissions we receive which is picking up pace rapidly.
Collaboration with Estonian street artist Edward von Lõngus in Kumu (Estonian Art Museum).
In short, we now also have a robot for big murals. But we do continue making the handprinters as well.
There are several answers.
We could start by first talking a little about market logic. As it relates to new technologies. It would be foolish to reflect that we did everything wrong in the beginning. Because if we hadn’t done the things we did, we wouldn’t be here today. “Today” means that we have an exhibition up at the San Francisco Midway Gallery. We are tight with the Burning Man art community. “Today” we have just printed eight murals for Nissan in Hollywood (for a considerable fee). And the list goes on. For example, we have made a deal with Superangel and our pipeline is full of promise with new deals coming up.
VIP reception for the artists in the Midway Gallery.
Having said that, of course we would make different decisions with today’s knowledge. A burgeoning startup has many different ways to raise money. Like incubators (done that!), investors (done that!), business competitions (done that!), crowdfunding (done that!).
Our inventor Mihkel is left-handed. As you can see, this is also a left hand. On the Midway Gallery, San Francisco. Printed during a massive art event Illuminary.
Our first crowdfunding campaign was on Indiegogo. We only had the idea. A picture that would take about 2-3 hours today, took 16 hours to make then and consisted of many loose wires and explosions along the way.
But we had an idea. Would it have been better to keep raising money and develop the printer to perfection? Who knows? Maybe the idea would have remained that and nothing more.
We pushed ourselves against the wall with that campaign. We had to have the printers ready by a certain date.
After winning a pitching competition in Berlin.
With crowdfunding it’s equally important to introduce your brand and product in addition to collecting money. We got hundreds of international media coverage deals, dozens of invitations to events, reseller and investor contacts etc.
All because we had the courage to just jump in. If we hadn’t taken that risk, a lot of things wouldn’t have happened.
In hindsight we knew what we could have done better. During Indiegogo we launched the campaign and just waited around to see what happens next. We got the money we asked, but we definitely wished for more.
After the printers were done, we collected feedback. We learned what our users thought was difficult, what functions they wished for etc. We also analyzed how we could do the crowdfunding campaign better.
We then prepared for the next campaign. This time on Kickstarter. We were smarter now, but certain things were still complicated. We had an idea in place for how the new printer SHOULD work. But we had also thought out the campaign specifics. In that you always have to have something going on.
The first test we did with the mural robot. We named him Albert. Guess why? Anyway, this mural was created with only 3 cans of paint. Only white, though. By now we are mixing paints on the wall, are waaaay quicker and more accurate. Still love this mural, though.
We came upon the idea for a wall printer to cover huge surfaces. At first, it was more of a publicity stunt. And it worked great as that. But the handprinter was still our main vision.
With the world’s most succesful angel investor Jason Calacanis (in the middle).
However, we came back to the coolness of the mural printer over and over again. When we talked about ourselves at startup events and showed videos, the mural printer was the thing that people really responded to. They instantly saw various use cases for it. About 6 months later the world’s most successful business angel, Jason Calacanis (an early investor of Tesla, Uber… and SprayPrinter), told us to concentrate on the mural robot, because “That’s a f******g money-making machine!”
Testing, testing, testing, testing, testing….testing….
And so we did.
We collaborated with an Estonian theatre Tartu Uus Teater and created two murals of Jaak Joala. Joala was an Estonian singer and he was an A-class star in the Soviet Union, similar to Alla Pugachova. Tartu Uus Teater created a play as a tribute to him and we helped to promote the play. All the tickets were sold out and our murals helped gain attention and it had direct impact on the ticket sales as well.
After all, it was our third time to be featured on Reuters.
In fact, that’s exactly what the theory of marketing new technologies teaches. Specifically, in what order come the people you have to convince. For example, in Geoffrey A. Moore’s book “Crossing the Chasm” (a must-read for all marketing and startup enthusiasts) there’s a simplified trajectory of adoption for new tech. It’s as follows:
- Innovators – An extremely small market. Tech enthusiasts, who just want the newest and latest. These are the people who contribute to crowdfunding campaigns.
- Early adopters – A slightly larger group. Visionaries, often investors. In addition to the tech itself they also consider the business side of “Where can you go with this?”.
- Early majority – A significantly bigger market. Pragmatists. They have to know that the tech works and is useful to them.
- Later majority – The same size market as the previous. Conservatives. “Why do I need a new phone when I can call perfectly fine with the old one?” They need to be absolutely sure that everything works as intended and it’s at the best available price point. And as simple as possible.
- Laggards – They don’t want new things. A very small market. Skeptics. A good group for marketers to listen, to know what they’re doing wrong. Everyone else may also have the same arguments, but they get over them more quickly.
Why mention all this? Because it’s extremely important to realize that you can’t just jump over some segments. You can’t just approach the biggest mainstream market from the start. Mainstream consists of early and late adopters. Every segment wants the endorsement of the previous segment. Every segment wants to know that the previous segment sees some potential in the thing.
Wall-scouting in San Francisco. Ugly blank walls make me feel oppressed, anguished.
This was the wall we most often ran up against when doing crowdfunding campaigns. On one hand, we already knew or supposed that artists don’t need our product. The handprinters. They already know how to do this stuff. And although the market for artists who want to use it to mix different mediums, exists, it’s very small.
The owl is still one of my favorite prints.
Crowdfunding campaigns are really meant for the first two segments. Higher demands and expectations push the ideal client more and more closer to the mainstream (the third and fourth segment), but they are not used to participating on these platforms. They want to be sure that what they get is of a certain quality, but the things offered on these platforms are mostly very raw. That’s why the projects on these platforms have changed quite a bit, but that’s a discussion for another time.
From a week long printing session in Hollywood. Our inventor dedicated a whole blog post to it.
Anyway. Where is SprayPrinter today? We are moving from the early adopters to the early majority. The recent Nissan print in Hollywood is a good example of this jump. Nissan’s clients definitely do not belong in the innovators or early majority segments. Their market is the mainstream. But Tesla and other similar car companies have put rest of the manufacturers in a position where they have to think differently.
Before we got that deal, though, we had to prove ourselves to the early adopters. Show them that everything works. That what we promise, is what you get.
So, what do we promise?
A picture on a wall is one thing. Faster, cheaper, easier.
Secondly, attention. We haven’t done a picture yet that hasn’t gotten a rapturous response from people walking by, journalists and social media.
We make cities more beautiful and the ads more creative. We give people things to talk about.
We’re a bridge between the physical and virtual world.
That’s something an ordinary billboard doesn’t do. Unless its message is very provocative.
We are proving that ads can be made differently and without the usual slogan of “Buy! Or buy TWO!”
And this is also how we can make the handprinters into a successful mainstream product. First, you need to let people get used to the idea that this is possible. And it’s possible on a grand scale. And in your own home. In hindsight, we’re glad that we didn’t start to mass produce the handprinters straight out of the gate. We probably would have if we had the means then. The masses have to be able to get used to the idea from a distance first.
Why should others care?
This is a good time to talk a little about the major differences between Estonia and Silicon Valley. Estonia has less money. Estonian investors are more pragmatic. They add up the numbers and want to be sure that they get their money’s worth. Totally understandable. After all, it’s their money. They don’t have to give it to whoever comes asking.
Silicon Valley is after the unicorns. Something that is completely and totally different.There, everyone has already seen the parking apps. To us, the energy that comes from Silicon Valley is extremely important. That is why we decided to shake hands with Superangel. They are Estonian investors, but with a Silicon Valley mindset.
When you’ve been in the startup business for some time, the concept of “money’s just money” becomes quite natural. Money is just one of the means to an end. Ideally it should get you ahead. But there is also the pragmatic side. And of course the investors want to know what is being done with their money. But things take more time in the hardware business. It’s like with people – a person’s best and worst attribute is usually the same. And in hardware, because it’s complicated and more time-consuming to develop, it’s also harder to copy thanks to that.
That’s why it’s good to know that investors understand that. Sometimes it’s a bit funny when somebody asks “But what about the revenue?”, like it’s some big discovery.
What about it? Yes, by now, we’re on the plus side. And the more we can just concentrate on what we do instead of reporting on what we do, the faster we generate revenue.
During a printing session in Auburn. The whole town treated us extremely well.
This means that you shouldn’t just take any money with open arms. Ideally the money should come with some extra value as well. Like know-how about some specific market or useful contacts. And a similar worldview.
And it’s no use denying that the Superangel investment caused quite a strong debate internally at SprayPrinter. Because we have so many paying customers already lined up. Maybe we’re giving away our shares too cheaply?
Shared values as the deciding factor
Then we decided to talk to others about this union as well.
When I started to write about it I pretty much knew what I wanted to say. I also know what people might be confused about. So I decided to talk about why we do the things we do.
I looked through the Superangel website. First impression – these guys skydive together! As a communications person I really liked this first wave of information.
Veljo Otsason from Superangel.
Because what do these shots tell us?
- They do things together.
- They are not afraid to take risks.
- They have fun doing this.
- They understand that personal growth requires overcoming fears.
And that’s exactly what we want. So I started to think of how to write about it. But damn, I can’t copy-paste anything from this website. I asked Rain Rannu about what they mean by values exactly. But he said that he’d rather I commented about them myself.
I have to admit that I was really afraid at first. Rain Rannu is behind Fortumo for example – one of Estonia’s most successful startups.
My god! Me?! How can I…? Wait. Me! ME! He trusts me. That’s it. Trust and responsibility. How you can turn fear into joy.
I remembered one of Rain Rannu’s lectures where he talked about how they got started. Back then they only had this stupid mobile application. Today it’s totally worthless. But! The important thing was that they stepped out of their comfort zone. They tried. Experimented. Because that’s the only way you can achieve something. And the fact that you don’t have all the answers is totally fine.
SprayPrinter’s Chief Evangelist Richard Murutar and Rain Rannu from Superangel.
So, here’s my understanding about the values of Superangel and why they are important in the context of SprayPrinter:
- No typical 3-month mentor programme. Yes. Please. We’ve had experience with the Launch Incubator in the states which lasted for exactly three months and was very useful. Also intense. It helped us take many big steps forward. But. The best situation is when you have investors-mentors constantly by your side. So it’s not simply a report-feedback relationship, but they are part of the whole process. All the time. They always know what’s being done with their money. And the format is not about proving yourself but it’s an open conversation. That is usually one of the stumbling blocks. Startups want to desperately prove that everything is great, no reason for you to worry, and the investors want to know what’s really going on. And often they don’t like that reality. And this is not a recipe for an honest relationship.
- Small number of startups. Yes. Please. Then the investors can keep track of everything. When they have 50+ startups they have to make conclusions based on something. And what’s easier for that than numbers? But numbers don’t tell the whole truth about potential. This is a very welcome approach. Quality over quantity. It makes me glad that our investors really want to understand us thoroughly.
- No demo-days. Yes. Please. Of course it’s important to show others how your technology/service works. We get a lot of invitations saying “Come and show off your tech for free. You’ll get a lot of exposure!” Right. But we’ll get exposure the same way when we get money for it. In the beginning, yes, you have to do a lot of things for free. But there comes a time when every startup needs to say “No, we have to keep our focus.” We can’t go around everywhere doing things pro bono. We have to keep in mind how we can grow as a company. How to conquer new markets. And for that you need money. You can propose us free demo days. But you’re not the first ones to come up with the “brilliant” idea of offering us exposure in return.
And in our context, we can offer you the same thing – We’ll offer exposure to You. It’s good to know that investors understand this. That when we do our demo, we won’t be doing anything else that day. At a certain point, endless demos interfere with your focus. They can do a disservice.
In the city of Auburn with artist Frank Ordaz. We sprayprinted his work “Stella! Stella! Stella!”. Ordaz has also previously worked with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.
So. We have a lot of supporters. We’ve got many visionaries who have our back. Superangel is one of them. They invested 250 000 dollars in us. It’s always good to get money. But more importantly, it’s great to know that these people really believe in us and our vision. They get why more art in public spaces is a good thing. They get why we don’t always do things “the way they should be done”. They know that we have a very powerful tool at our disposal.
And it feels good.