For the past few months, we’ve been in a wonderful partnership with Midco®, the regional provider of business and residential internet and networking, cable TV, phone and commercial IT services. Midco has sponsored and supported the Trailblazers of our region, people like John Schneider. We’re grateful to Midco for their kindness and support of the creative community all around us.
I’ve met a lot of entrepreneurs in the past couple years I’ve been writing for OTA.
But I’m pretty sure I’ve never met anyone as educated and aware as John Schneider.
I’m envious with how much he knows and how much expertise he retains. But we can be like that, too, if we’re curious enough. And not just for ourselves, but for a community, a business, an entire industry.
Just like John.
John lives in Fargo, North Dakota, and co-owns a 3D printer shop. Fargo 3D Printing is a two-year-old startup company that sells spare parts and printers and makes repairs as well. It’s a prospering business, because we’re in a prosperous time. More than ever, entrepreneurs, inventors and engineers are testing out their ideas, and 3D printers build prototypes efficiently and faster than we ever could.
And it’s only the beginning.
This industry fits John well. Not only does he have an enthusiastic work ethic, always wanting to succeed, he revels in information. To John, research is fulfillment. Therefore, he needs a career with endless possibility, a path where there is always something to gain. A place where he can use his knowledge to teach us.
This is a good place to start.
John grew up in Morris, Minnesota, where he discovered early on he had a knack for business.
“My dad was a farmer when I was growing up,” he says. “He always worked really hard and always had something on the side.”
His family also ran both a woodworking and lawn mowing business, and John was quick to add to their entrepreneurial spirit.
“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always had little business ideas,” he says. “When I was in eighth grade, I became a beekeeper just because I read a book in the library about beekeeping. So I ran that like a business all through high school.”
At one point, he even had up to a dozen beehives, and he would try to convince his five younger siblings to participate.
“I would pitch to them why they should chip in their allowance money to invest in whatever thing I had going on,” John laughs. “I made a pretty impassioned pitch! How much money it cost to buy one beehive, here’s how much honey sells for, stuff like that.”
He couldn’t convince them, but his time would come.
John also had a business buying and selling Legos as a teenager.
“There is a niche market for pretty much anything,” he says. “There is an entire website out there just for buying and selling individual Lego pieces. So I did that out of my basement when I was a senior in high school.”
These business ventures didn’t carry into college, but the work ethic never went away. When he graduated from North Dakota State University in 2012, he asked himself the same question we all do at that age: Now what?
“I’d been looking at entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, and the computing industry they were getting into was just emerging. They got in right as it was getting popular.”
John wanted that same vantage point for his career, so he sought it out.
“I read an article on high-growth potential industries, and it mentioned 3D printing,” he says. “The more I looked into it, the more I saw that I could really wrap my head around that.”
3D printing is the exception
John is a big thinker. He doesn’t just dive into anything or give it a go, especially when it comes to a career. He gives it thought and attention and, most importantly, all the research and education to back it up that he can find.
“I’ve always enjoyed reading,” he says. “It’s almost a compulsion. I need to be reading something at all times. As a kid, I remember reading the ingredient list on a cereal box if I didn’t have a book with me, or reading what was in the tube of toothpaste as I was brushing my teeth.”
It’s a fascination that has served him well.
“When I get really interested in something, I very intensely study it and learn everything I can about it,” John says. “When I was younger, I would spend so much time reading about whatever I was interested in, that by the time I actually started doing the thing I was interested in, I didn’t enjoy it as much.”
For example, he would spend way more time reading about video games than actually sitting down and playing. “I would know everything about how the game worked, about what was involved and the technology behind it, but when the actual game itself came out, I lost interest.”
Today, 3D printing is the exception. He continues to be intrigued.
“Before I even had a 3D printer, I researched everything about it,” he says. “I would spend hours a day online absorbing as much information as I could. I would be on these message boards answering other people’s questions about 3D printing even though I had never touched a 3D printer! I had just learned that much information.”
In researching the market, John realized quickly how costly 3D printers were. The average was $2,000 for a printer, “and for a college student, that’s too expensive.”
So he got to thinking. “What if there were a bunch of people who went in to buy a 3D printer together and then shared the use of it?”
Like a maker space, where a community can share access to tools that enable them to make things. He was confident in the idea, and so he opened one. He called it Meld Workshop, and it worked out for a while.
Until he met Jake Clark.
Beginnings of a career
In 2013, John was invited to a 3D printing talk at the Fargo Public Library. It was there he and Jake met for the first time. Jake had already been working with 3D printers for a while, so the two stayed in touch. But by January of 2014, Jake asked John to begin a business venture with him.
They would call it Fargo 3D Printing.
“When we first began, our primary goal was selling 3D printers,” John says. They even had a big sale off the bat to a state agency that would take the printers into schools. But it was a difficult market with a lot of cash flow issues and little profit.
They didn’t get discouraged. They just started selling 3D printer parts as well.
MakerBot is a national company that produces 3D printers. At the time John and Jake got started, MakerBot had a very popular 3D printer on the market, but Jake noticed there was a specific part in the printer that always kept wearing out or breaking and had to be replaced. But MakerBot didn’t provide that spare part.
So, Fargo 3D Printing did.
“Jake just started making these little pieces of tape in his basement, and we would actually sell a couple per week,” John says. “So as we were selling the printers, these spare parts started taking off, too.”
They paid attention, and to feed that spare part market, they began making more pieces and included how-to videos on how to replace spare parts as well.
It was working. Within no time, the spare parts started to outgrow the printer sales part of the business, and they turned their focus to parts, not printers.
“It’s not quite as sexy of a business, but it does fill a need in the market,” John smiles.
Today, Fargo 3D Printing offers up to 68 different spare parts on their website. They also offer 3D printing materials, repair 50-60 printers a week and do still sell about five printers weekly.
“We’re filling a niche in an already niche industry,” John says. And it works.
A good fit
3D printing is a rapidly growing industry and, just as John had intended, he came in at peak time.
“The education industry is huge for 3D printing right now, because so many schools are bringing these printers into the classrooms,” John says.
Another industry Jake and John are paying attention to? Manufacturing.
“One thing we are seeing is that manufacturing in the United States is coming back in a pretty big way,” John explains. “But the thing is, not all the jobs are coming back with it. Production output in the United States is at an all-time high, but employment in manufacturing is nearly at an all-time low, because of technology like 3D printing.”
John says while it may take 12 hours for a printer to produce a product, you’re able to walk away for those 12 hours.
“It’s all automated,” he says. “And if you took that same design and handed it to a machinist who had to sit there and work by hand, that’s a full day — if not multiple days — work. In this sense, these machines are replacing people.”
It’s easy to be alarmed by that, John admits.
“The machine operators who have been working in manufacturing for years, going to work and doing the same thing every day, punching out after an 8-hour shift. That work is leaving,” John says. “Automated equipment is becoming less expensive to do that work for us.”
But we should be excited, too, he ensures.
“The design and creative side of things are going to be fine for many, many years,” John says. “Engineers, medicine and the service industry still matter. That’s too difficult for a robot to do.”
And John has faith. Not only in his own work, but what’s in store for us in the coming years.
“I spend a lot of time looking forward to the future,” John says. “I believe in more vocational work and people who are willing to work a trade. Automation is only going to get better, and a college degree won’t set you apart anymore.”
So what will?
Having the work ethic, the stamina and the ambition to learn, just like John.
We can learn a lot from an entrepreneur like him. We can learn a lot from anyone persistent with a dream.
Angela Tewalt, OTA