Apparently Inventables, otherwise know as the “hardware store for designers,” has been nice this year, because according to an SEC filing this morning, Santa brought the company $1.65 million in new funding (out of a planned $2 million raise). This is good news for the thousands of modern “makers” and MacGyvers out there, who just put together their 2013 to-do lists.
What trade shows and gear magazines used to be to past generations of this community, Inventables is to today’s crowd. It’s the kind of place that you’d go to buy a 3D printer, an open source CNC milling kit, and the raw materials to pass through them, as well as obscure novelties like the fan favorite, flexible magnets. More interestingly, from a business perspective Inventables is not simply an online retailer. The Chicago-based company operates a highly targeted two-sided marketplace which connects vendors with customers.
According to Inventables, customers and vendors alike range from major multi-national corporations like P&G, Dupont, Kraft, and Nike, to individual garage tinkerers. For many of the projects completed by these customers, it can be a challenge to source materials in small enough quantities to make experimentation, aka “desktop fabrication,” economically viable. Inventables has found a niche in delivering these micro-quantities.
Vendors list their products for free on Inventables and are notified by email when there is a purchase inquiry. The vendor then has the option to pay the marketplace to receive the details of the sales lead. For Inventables, each transaction is another datapoint to be used in making personalized product and vendor recommendations to its customers.
Founded by serial entrepreneur and mechanical engineer Zach Kaplan, Inventables previously raised $2 million from True Ventures in January 2010.
Benchmark VC Bill Gurley wrote about the power of two-sided marketplaces in the context of his recent investment in DogVacay. Inventables seems to tick a number of the key boxes on Gurley’s checklist for the category, with the possible exception being the size of its marketplace opportunity. The maker phenomenon is incredibly hot right now, but the sheer size of the audience is still somewhat limited – although tapping into corporate R&D departments is a nice way to boost this market size and that of its respective checkbook. Depending on the share of this growing market it can capture, Inventables has the potential to be the next McMaster-Carr, or the modern day Acme catalog.
If nothing else, I just think it’s awesome that I can buy a heat shielding gel capable of protecting a plastic water bottle from a blow torch. Maybe Kaplan should register the domain Incredibles and setup a redirect.
[We’ve reached out to Inventables for comment and will update this post when additional information becomes available.]