Makelab focuses on customer service as a way to grow
The small 3D printing startup in Downtown Brooklyn explain how they’ve managed to expand steadily
November 13, 2019
On Downtown Brooklyn’s Gold Street, just off bustling Flatbush Avenue, sits The Clocktower Building, a seven story 1920s cast concrete building and former printing press. The building is now home to a community of graphic designers, film producers, clothing designers, animators, and engineers, and one of its tenants, Makelab, specializes in printing for a new century: 3D printing.
Last week, as part of DBP’s Open Office week, Makelab generously opened its offices to Downtown Brooklyn students to talk about what life in the tech world is like, and to give advice to students entering the workforce. We talked to founders Christina Perla and Manny Mota about their story.
Downtown Brooklyn Partnership: Could you start off by telling us how Makelab came to be?
Christina Perla: My co-founder, Manny and I went to Pratt to study Industrial Design. I graduated about five years ago. We started doing some industrial design freelancing together and oftentimes, with prototyping, you need to make stuff quickly - take it from the computer screen and see and feel what that object is like in real life. So we started 3D-printing. We became friends with the company we sent our 3D files to, and when they moved to China about two and a half years ago we acquired their company, and then we changed the name to Makelab.
I thought to myself, “this is the future of making everything.” And I got excited…
Manny Mota: We began using 3D-printing early on for our clients. In the beginning, my first 3D-printer was a Printrbot, made out of wood, that I put together myself, but I never got to work! I tried everything. But still, just the way that you build things with 3D printing, to me, it just makes sense. It’s more like nature, where you’re growing things instead of banging or bending things into shape. I thought to myself, “this is the future of making everything.” And I got excited.
DBP: What’s been one of the hardest things about running a business?
CP: A lot of the conferences that are geared toward young entrepreneurs focus on high level concepts: here’s where your mind needs to be; here’s what habits you need to have. But, really, what it comes down to, especially the first three years, what makes or breaks a company, is operations. If you don’t have your workflow down, if your customer experience isn’t smooth, it’s not going to work. I became obsessed with workflow and making things super-efficient.
Makelab founders Christina Perla and Manny Mota.
MM: Just because someone might have a small order doesn’t mean they might not come from a large company that could become a large client. We value longevity. Ten years from now, when 3D-printing is everywhere, whoever was there from the beginning and was good to the people who used their services, that’s who people are going to remember and use. So that’s what I’m thinking about when we treat everyone with the same service and respect and quality. We’re here at the beginning of this and we want to be there at the end.
DBP: You now have several people working for you now. How many are you?
CP: We’re a team of four and we now have five interns.
“Downtown Brooklyn is such a central location. 50 percent of our clients prefer to pick up rather than have their products shipped.”
DBP: When you’re hiring, what makes somebody stand out?
CP: I don’t think I’ve found a formal way yet. I feel things out a lot still. Bold actions give me a good sign that you can be a leader. Going out of your way is a really good sign. It’s like those little things that a lot of people don’t do.
DBP: And on the flip side, what’s a red flag when you’re interviewing someone?
MM: Being a know-it-all…
CP: A talker not a listener…
MM: Someone who treats it like it’s just a job and doesn’t want to grow more and learn more. I know a lot of people are looking for what they want to do, but if you don’t show interest in what you’re doing at your current job, for me, that’s a bad sign.
CP: I think what stands out to employers is you as a candidate taking some control and telling your prospective employer how you could fit in and how you could help. And not a lot of people think like that.
DBP: Why did you choose to base the company here in Downtown Brooklyn?
CP: Downtown Brooklyn is such a central location with a plethora of accessibility with all the trains, buses, and major roads that we intersect. With 50 percent of our clients preferring to pick up rather than have their products shipped, we couldn’t sacrifice the opportunity it gives us to develop a relationship with our clients.
DBP: And what were the pros and cons of the location?
CP: The pros of the current Makelab location really is how accessible it is. We have many clients coming in telling us how easy it was to get here. We have a major landmark that we always reference when people ask where we are located – Metrotech - and almost everyone has walked by or through it at least once in their lives. It’s super-recognizable and simple. This also works hand-in-hand with the Makelab branding of being accessible and simple. The cons are that space can get a little pricey! We’re in the process of expanding, but the accessibility is a part of our business we aren’t willing to give up .
Makelab inhabiting a building previously built for a printing press is precisely the kind of 21st century development we’re so excited about in Downtown Brooklyn. Christina and Manny are forging ahead in a sector that could become a mega-industry in the new economy, and provide a useful service for the many design and architectural companies in the area. We thank them for their participation in Open Office and wish them luck!
To find out more about Make It in Brooklyn and stay in the loop about events and opportunities, sign up to the Make It in Brooklyn newsletter to receive the latest news and updates.