Founder of 3D surf and sail boards company MADE LLC, Shanon Marks, describes the lead up to his Eureka Moment as (pretty much) his entire life. “I’m 37 years old and it probably took me 36 years to get to this idea,” he said. Growing up on the water, and competitive sailing as a kid, water sports were a big part of Shanon’s life. “My older brothers all pooled together money to get me my first sailboard when I was 13 and I rode that for five years.”
Still, the issue with his sport of choice always seemed to be the equipment. It was expensive, it was hard to find, and it was even harder to get it customized to his needs. “It took a really long time of looking at these sports and building this nagging question – why is it so expensive? And if you love something and you want to share it with the people you love, you look for ways to remove those barriers.”
Shanon’s real Eureka Moment came in the Summer of 2012 when a bad back injury forced him to spend time indoors instead of surfing. “It give me a lot of time to think and reflect. I was sitting in my living room, looking at a web retailer for windsurfing, and I just thought ‘There’s got to be a better way to do this.’” Shanon finally came to the conclusion that with his social, mobile, and web know-how – plus a day job as a Creative Director – he had the means to stop questioning, and start acting. With help from a fellow surf-lover, Mark Laughlin, MADE LLC was born.
Their first focus? How should MADE boards actually be made. Shanon and Mark wanted their sail, surf, kite, and paddle boards to push the boundaries of technology and create an experience totally unique yet affordable. They set their sights on 3D printing technology, which would allow their boards to be endlessly customizable and completely void of non-reclaimable waste. 3D printing required only the material for the board – no more, no less, making it both cost-effective and eco-friendly.
That’s when they faced their first big challenge – 3D printing has a history of being used mostly for rapid prototypes for massive industries (think Lockheed, Boeing, Ford…) and therefore too costly for consumer goods. Shanon researched suitable companies, and came across Stratasys. “Our main concern was if we’d be able to make these boards at an affordable price point. Stratasys was really the name that came up time and time again as it related to durability of their products and a kindred spirit of innovation” he said. Over six months of “relentless pursuit and nagging and frustration” working through Stratasys’s marketing department and sculpt department, Shanon finally connected with someone who believed in their plan – Business Development Manager, Chris Holshouser. Chris loved the fact that MADE was a company that could make 3D printing accessible to a larger group of consumers.
Shanon and Laughlin went on to make their first prototypes with the help of Chris. “We modeled it, we shaped it, then Stratasys printed it. All that was incredible – the board arriving at our doorstep, opening the crate to reveal a beautiful inner structure. Then came the ride. Riding the world’s first anything is a pretty incredible experience, especially when it’s the product of your own imagination,” said Shanon.
Shanon plans for customized MADE boards to go hand in hand with a mobile app called VOLUME, which tracks a user’s athletic performance and preferences – often while they’re on the water. That information will then be used to design a board tailored exactly to their skill level, usage, and physique. He plans to spend 2014 going into full-scale production, launching VOLUME and the first MADE riders.
As for Shanon’s advice for new businesses looking to get off the ground – “I spend a lot of time working with my hands and the adage measure twice, cut once has applicability far beyond 2×4’s. Take the time to plan. Hard work, long hours, and consistency are the fuel to power the engine of your ideas – but vision and faith that your idea will succeed is something you have to remind yourself every day.” We’d say that’s pretty sound advice.
To learn more about MADE (and stay posted on when their first boards are available!) you can find them at madeboards.com
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