It all started in 2013 when Braydon Moreno and Coby Kabili were students at San Diego State University, discovering the power of 3D printing. Kabili, an engineering student, needed something to aid in the completion of his senior engineering course developing a 3D-printed prosthetic leg. Moreno, a business management student, became fascinated by the technology and its potential of enabling students, businesses, and everyday people to bring their ideas to life. Together, the duo built their first 3D printer and launched it on Kickstarter with an initial goal of raising $49,000. They ended up surpassing their original goal by $600,000 and haven’t looked back since.
We chatted with Moreno and Kabili about their experience being Aztec entrepreneurs and the strong foundation they were able to build for their business, Robo3D, while at SDSU.
Technology: High-speed 3D printers & accessories
Headcount: 35 employees
Resourceful: Moreno and Kabili turned to the Entrepreneur Society (ES) at SDSU to guide them through the early stages of growing Robo3D.
This student organization aims to bring entrepreneurial-minded students together to realize their full potential. The organization provides its members with several events each semester, often featuring notable speakers from San Diego’s startup and tech scene. Members also participate in company tours and win cash in pitch competitions. ES is a one-stop shop for all the resources student entrepreneurs need to build a strong network before entering the real world.
Moreno recalls that ES, led by Bernhard Schroeder, was an instrumental “part of accumulating the knowledge, skills, and contacts to help us with the business in the early days. I highly suggest that students interested in entrepreneurship join ES and other groups on campus to help connect them with mentors and those who have lived the life of a startup.”
Speaking from experience, Moreno advises, “you will get the most success learning from the people who have experienced it before you.”
Mentors: Moreno says he has had many mentors in his entrepreneurial journey and that they “have each (played) a part in teaching me the ropes of building a business from the ground up.” He found these mentors through SCORE, a San Diego organization that provides entrepreneurs with free small business advice as well as a mentor program. Moreno also asked family members to connect him with successful entrepreneurs in their networks. “You’d be surprised at how willing a lot of successful entrepreneurs are to mentor a determined and motivated up-and-comer,” he says. He advises new entrepreneurs to “be authentic in your ask, and make sure to find someone who really understands business from the early garage days.”
Kabili, on the other hand, claims, “the Internet is my mentor. Every time I need to find anything or get inspiration from anyone, the Internet can provide it.” While the web is an excellent resource, it can’t fully replace the advisory functions of a human mentor. This challenge taught Kabili to become internally motivated and self-sufficient. “I wish I had a mentor to steer me in the right direction, but the biggest driver of business comes from within, and the need to accelerate on your own schedule, which most people can’t provide,” he says.
Learning Curve: When asked about a specific course at SDSU that helped him with his entrepreneurship journey, Kabili recalls it being a senior design engineering course. “This is the course where we really had to use our creativity and develop something unique.”
While academic courses provide student entrepreneurs with a strong foundation of business knowledge, it is action and experience that Moreno attributes much of his success to. “I truly feel that diving in, starting my business, and dealing with the struggles along the way is nothing you can really be prepared for in terms of education,” he says. “You have to experience it to gain the understanding and knowledge. The learning experience I have already had with Robo3D by doing it is monumental for the success I will have in the future.”
Snapshot: What started as a single 3D printer five years ago for Robo3D has grown into a variety of products, including 3D printing software, printing materials, an app, 3D print kits, and more. Customers in over 4,500 cities and over 100 countries use Robo3D products. The company continues to become a leading brand in the desktop segment of the 3D printing industry, and the young founders’ success even landed them on the Forbes “30 Under 30” list in 2017.
Funds Raised: Robo3D has raised over $10 million in multiple rounds of funding from the likes of GTT Ventures and Anthony Grist of Albion Capital Partners. The company has been listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) since late 2016 and occasionally does capital fundraising.
Recent Deals: In June 2018, Robo3D acquired MyStemKits (amount undisclosed), the owner of the world’s largest online library of STEM curriculums with 3D printable kits for K-12 schools.
Fast Forward: Moreno has a big vision on where he and the Robo3D team are taking the company next. “We just recently pivoted the business strongly toward education, which is why we acquired a STEM curriculum company for 3D printing,” he says. He shares that the company’s “plan is to dominate the educational space and build 3D printing stations in schools all over the world so students can have access to the technology and prepare themselves for 21st Century careers.”
Words of Wisdom: Having begun his entrepreneurial journey in his ripe college years, Kabili recalls, “the biggest challenge about being a young entrepreneur is the highs and the lows. The lows are low, but the highs are high.” The biggest piece of advice he offers aspiring entrepreneurs “is that no matter how bad things get, keep being honest and pushing toward your dreams, because eventually they will come to fruition. Don’t let the outside world dictate what you do, and keep on your path of determination.”
San Diego Scene: When asked whether he thinks there are enough resources in town to support companies like Robo3D, Moreno says, “there are tons of resources in San Diego, including some amazing companies. San Diego has a lot of clout in the tech scene.There is great talent here, opportunities for sponsors, and a big entrepreneurial community, including Startup Week in downtown San Diego. You just have to get involved.”
Taco ‘bout a Recommendation: Entrepreneurs don’t have time to waste on eating bad tacos. The Robo3D guys are no exception. Moreno says his favorite taco joint in town is Taco Surf in Pacific Beach, “hands down.” Meanwhile, Kabili reveals his unexpected guilty pleasure is Taco Bell.
Editor’s Note: AzTech is a new, original Fresh Brewed Tech series on San Diego State University Aztecs (current and alumni) who are blazing a trail in technology and entrepreneurship. These innovative ideas born in the halls of academia are making a great impact on our ecosystem and beyond. Don’t miss these compelling stories of passion, hard work, and problem solving by the next generation of entrepreneurs. #GoAzTechs
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