David Minich started in 2011 his company Make Eyewear to solve his problem that he could not find any glasses he liked. Now his company delivers designer glasses and personalized glasses — or Freestyle glasses as he calls them — as well. You can order their glasses online. What is interesting is that he uses 3D printing via Shapeways to produce the frames and assembles them before shipping them to customers. There is a great background article on Make Eyewear at Fast Co.Design.
What I like about the story is that it shows two things. First it shows that 3D printing makes startup companies who produce physical goods possible. And second that 3D printing can be used as a manufacturing technology.
Where the internet and open source software have significantly reduced the cost for startups to create online services 3D printing is doing the same for manufacturing. Startups look for product-market fit and need to quickly iterate through product designs based on customer feedback and behavior. The internet and web sites support this type of company development. But the same applies to 3D printing. An entrepreneur can quickly develop and manufacture a design without a lot of upfront investment. He can continuously update the design throughout product-market fit stage of the company.
In existing manufacturing there are two major drawbacks and that is the upfront investment — to create tooling and molds etc. — and lead time — assuming you produce overseas. Both are not helping entrepreneurs to get as fast possible to product-market fit.
Make Eyewear is showing that you can use 3D printing as a manufacturing technology and you can go quickly from design to implementation. I expect that Internet startups will be joined in the near future by (physical) products related startups as the fast rising stars in the business scene.