The news is not all that surprising given the rumors last week, but I have to say I am a bit surprised by the price. Makerbot had about $45-$50 million in revenue over the past 12 months, which translates to about a 8-9x trailing revenue valuation.
Yeah, so what, you say? That’s a fair valuation for a company with Makerbot’s growth, isn’t it?
Maybe. But here’s the thing: Makerbot has very little proprietary technology (after all, its printers are primarily an offshoot of the open source reprap project), hasn’t developed a significant retail channel network in the consumer space (most sales are online) and is already facing significant competition from other lower-priced 3D printing machines from the boatload of new reprap/Kickstarter variants and a much lower-priced entry level system from 3D Systems in the Cube 3D.
And yet here we are, with Stratasys, the company that invented 3D printing and one with a significant amount of patents that have yet to expire buying Makerbot for just under half a Tumblr.
What that tells me is that Stratasys felt it couldn’t develop its own consumer brand in a market that is moving very fast, and that it probably felt it needed to react quickly before 3D Systems did so with the Cube. They were probably also worried that a big consumer products company like HP jumping into the shallow end (consumer) of the pool and making a big splash as well. .
And then there’s Thingiverse, which I still believe is the most valuable part about Makerbot. The 3D printing services and digital design marketplace is a much bigger potential opportunity in my mind than low-margin 3D printer market*.
So I think it boils down to those two things: Stratasys felt that despite its huge trove of 3D printing technology and the embryonic stage of the market (remember - Makerbot’s only sold 22k printers in the last 12 months, about how many iPhones that Apple’s probably sold in the time you’ve read this post), they couldn’t take the chance of letting the company with little technology but a lot of brand in the 3D printing space get away.
*unless, of course, some company manages to create a proprietary “ink” and really razorblades the hell out this market, but unless I’m missing something (which is possible), I don’t see that happening with the current filament market.