Embracing The DIY Economy: How To Win Big By Thinking Small


Think back to your childhood. You are in the fourth grade and you’ve been invited to the birthday party of a classmate. You anticipate the typical party elements: cake and ice cream, presents, and in all likelihood a fascinating game of “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.”

Now advance to present day. My niece, Taylor, recently attended a modern-day children’s party. The theme: 3D printing. The kids designed their own toys on a user-friendly CAD system (TinkerCAD), printed them on 3D printers, decorated those toys and took them home as party favors.

In a near disaster, one of their 3D printers went down during the party. No worries – they simply printed the replacement part from the second printer.

Anyone out there sensing they were born at the wrong time?

Taylor lives in the Silicon Valley – this stuff is normal to her. Taylor’s mom (my sister-in-law) works for a company called Arx Pax in Los Gatos. Among their many products: the Hendo hoverboard. You can see a video of the legendary Tony Hawk trying out this space-age marvel here.

Arx Pax does rapid iterations of parts and concepts using 3D printers, especially for their Whitebox development kit. Founder and CEO Greg Henderson states, “We would still be hovering things, but it would be in the first generation not the twentieth. We have saved a great deal of money by using 3D printers, absolutely”.

It’s not just 3D printing that is leading the charge of change. Microprocessors are so small, so efficient, and so inexpensive that their applications are multiplying daily. Soon your milk carton will identify your need, order the milk for you, and have it delivered to your door (via drone, if Jeff Bezos and Amazon get their way).

Ranchers are already placing microprocessor chips inside the collars of their cows. The rancher gets a message on his computer indicating that a cow is in heat. I’m led to believe there are less glamorous ways to ascertain this information.

If you’ve received a new credit card this year I can just about assure you that there is a microprocessor embedded into that card. Soon you’ll never lose your car keys, your wallet or your glasses. You will call them, and they will respond.

The Democratization Of Ideas

These developments are leading us to a radical shift in how we live, in how we communicate, and in how we do business. The “Little Guy” suddenly has access to amazing technology reserved for the privileged few just a short time ago.

The result is what Peter Diamandis calls “the democratization of ideas”. He writes in his (most excellent) book Bold, “Democratization is what happens when hard costs drop so low they become available and affordable to just about everyone”.

Some friends of ours are in the process of building a home. He is a music producer; she is an artist. Creative, right brain people all the way, right? They are not engineers and they are certainly not trained architects. And yet they designed the home entirely on their own using a do-it-yourself software application.

Every detail appears in their 3D rendering down to cabinet height and closet depth. They handed their drawing to a structural engineer and said, “Here, make sure this is to code.”

Welcome to the democratization of ideas.

The Ramifications

Let your mind run wild with the applications:

  • “Honey, I can’t find the scissors.” “Well, just print a pair.”
  • “Ladies and gentlemen, our speaker today is coming to us from London via hologram. Please forgive her if she looks a tiny bit fuzzy.”
  • “Wait up – I’m just tying my levitation shoes.”
  • “I just got a text alert. The corn is ready for picking.”

The greatest shift, however, will not take place in the technology. It will take place in how we adapt to this brave new world. This abundance of technology means that every mom and pop with an idea is now a player, and every teenager in a basement is a competitive threat.

So who wins? Who prospers in this radical paradigm shift?

The Experience Economy

In 1999, just at the dawn of the Internet of Things, Joseph Pine and James Gilmore offered a fascinating glimpse into the future with their masterwork, The Experience Economy. Pine and Gilmore suggested that we would move beyond a service-based economy and into an experience-based world.

They opined that people would insist upon (and pay more for) an experience than they would for a service.

Disney figured this out decades ago. Starbucks, Apple, Nordstrom, and Southwest were all early adopters. More and more companies – especially small companies – are jumping on the experience bandwagon.

It is no longer a matter of improving the service. Rather, successful companies redefine the experience. I may never get in a cab again; the Uber experience is just far too superior.

Ask the guy working in the produce department at the local grocery store if you can taste the fruit and he’ll pick out the best and cut it open for you. Full-service car washes provide shopping and entertainment while you wait.

The Experience Of Personalization

Be-Bold-And-Win-The-SaleBut the best innovations will most certainly be those that are the most personalized. Our greatest impact in the future will be one-on-one.

Consider the concept of eatwith.com. Suppose you are vacationing in Manhattan, or Lisbon, or Buenos Aires. You want to have an authentic meal. I mean a truly authentic meal. As in, with one of the locals and in their own home.

Go to eatwith.com and you’ll find a plethora of options to do just that. Select a home based on the chef’s credentials, on the menu, on the ambience, or on the price. You can even get a cooking lesson if you prefer. Eat with four other couples or eat alone.

Look what just happened there. You love to cook – you use existing resources (your kitchen) – you utilize the marketing power of the Internet – you crowdsource your offering – you turn your kitchen into a restaurant – you make money and improve people’s lives.

We might have to recalibrate the cool scale.

The Adjustment

This is all just the beginning of the conversation. The application is up to you. May I encourage you to do this one thing: Think out of your imagination, not out of your history. Dare to dream what could be possible. Set high hard goals.

Or don’t. Keep on with your goal of incremental tweaks. And get run over in the process. Your call.