This post is authored by CEO and Co-Founder of Seurat, James DeMuth
As the co-founder of Seurat, I never thought our seven-year birthday would look like this. We have made an incredible amount of technical and commercial progress, and with progress, comes experience. When my co-founder and I spun out the Area Printing technology from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in 2015, we didn’t know that we would need to also completely reimagine how pulsed lasers are architected. Creating a laser that is 40X higher average power than anything in its class and getting it to elegantly couple into a thin layer of metal powder required more failure and recovery than we could possibly imagine. Persevering and pushing through the challenges has allowed our vision of making manufacturing better and more realizable every day — for our people and our planet.
This was my first full year as Seurat’s CEO. Here are some of the most important lessons that I learned in 2021:
1. Always be fundraising
Shit happens. As Eisenhower once said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything”. When life throws you a curveball, you can either tighten your belt, which inhibits growth, slows things down, and reduces your ability to act, or you can bring in more money to scale and accelerate.
Fundraising can be intense, emotional, and unpredictable, but after closing our Series B round of $41M in June 2021, and then another extension in December, it has all been worth it. I’d rather let my team thrive with the money they need than put our mission on a diet.
2. Invest in marketing before you think you need it
I recently shared at a founder’s camp hosted by True Ventures that being "quiet" created challenges for us. There’s a finite group of venture capital for digital transformation investments and an even smaller subset for hardware investments. Investors can either only make so many investments in a given sector, or they are not always educated about the nuanced differences between the various processes, e.g. Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF), Binder Jet, and others. Even though Seurat is targeting vastly different application markets, investors can perceive that our offering overlaps with other metal additive manufacturing (AM) companies.
In retrospect, we didn’t bring on marketing DNA soon enough to tell our story on why we were unique and worthy of their investment. I changed that by recently making our first marketing hire, but I truly wish we invested in storytelling and communications much earlier on.
3. Who’s hungriest for metal AM? It’s those who are currently being sidelined.
Aerospace and medical applications seem to be quite happy with existing metal AM technologies. These early-adopters are creating intrigue in other industries, but additional participation has been hindered by cost and quality. Public opinion argues that LPBF could never scale up to the quantity and quality requirements of the automotive and consumer electronics industry. Yet, this year, we established commercial agreements with Fortune 100 companies in those specific industries because we can not only demonstrate that Area Printing is 10X faster than existing LPBF but how it can scale to compete at price points and production rates comparable to high-volume conventional manufacturing. By being price competitive with traditional manufacturing, the economic decision to switch is made easy for Finance departments, while also providing a roadmap for further improvement by taking advantage of the benefits of AM by Engineering groups. By 2030, we should be able to rival the price points of forging. Industries that care about mass manufacturing have a radically different perspective of metal AM. These industries are not being served today and are by far the hungriest.
Looking ahead to 2022
It’s an interesting challenge to size the market potential of Seurat. Aaron Levie, the founder of Box.com, communicates exactly why that is.
This year, Seurat secured seven letters of intent to join our commercialization program, and we are well on our way to our first commercial programs starting in Q1–2022. In 2022, we will build our first production-grade system which is targeted to produce parts at $300/kilogram — comparable to parts produced by machining. But cost reduction doesn’t mean much without good quality and surface finish; we have also demonstrated that our Area Printing process can decouple resolution and speed, so the production process is actually scalable. We have our sales and marketing team in place and our engineering organization simply can’t grow fast enough. I couldn’t be prouder of our team’s accomplishments and look forward to 2022 with nothing but optimism.