Strength in 3D printing needs to come from a number of areas for true success: in materials, in 3D printers, in software, and, above all, in the team behind the advances. One company that exemplifies strength throughout its offerings and operations is Massachusetts-based Markforged, which is well known for its reinforced materials and industrial 3D printers capable of precision and production, as well as metal 3D printing on the desktop. The team behind these offerings is every bit as innovative as you’d imagine, as well, bringing a broad mix of MIT-trained engineers and others from a variety of backgrounds together to develop viable high-strength solutions for additive manufacturing.
To gain further insight into what makes this company one to watch, I recently had the pleasure of talking with Cynthia Gumbert, Markforged’s Vice President of Marketing. As we continue in our Spotlight on Women series, we’re seeing that engineering backgrounds can lead to a variety of positions in this industry. Gumbert offers us an inside look at what drew her to 3D printing and how a breadth of voices can only offer additional strength to operations — as well as her thoughts on why STEM education is critical as a starting point for enhancing the diversity in technical fields. 3D printing offers both challenge and passion to daily work, which Gumbert exemplifies in her work with Markforged.
Can you tell us briefly about your educational/professional background, and how you came to work in the 3D printing industry?
What made Markforged appealing to you in joining this industry?
“I have a mix of science and business in my background: a degree in Materials Science from MIT, MS in Mechanical Engineering from Tufts and MBA from Harvard. I began my career working in materials research at Raytheon. I then moved into the semiconductor industry as an application engineer, traveling the world. I loved being with customers, getting product feedback and making them successful. I eventually moved into a product development/management role before going back to business school. I enjoyed seeing the results of launching new products and had one launch that did especially well which got me interested in moving deeper into marketing.
After business school, I spent many years working as a marketing executive at manufacturing software (MES) and enterprise IT software and hardware companies (Dell and CA Technologies). I led broad functions from product to segmentation and demand generation to helping launch new areas of growth in larger, established companies. While I only came to this industry recently, 3D printing is a perfect mix of everything I love: software, materials and engineering with a lot of creativity, fast demand growth and solving business challenges.”
“There were three key reasons I made the big leap from an executive role at a $5B company to the much smaller Markforged:
First, the product itself: I was impressed with the design of the printers and how the founding team paid so much attention to a high quality bar: every detail of the mechanics, the software and the materials. The outcomes were also remarkable – the parts off the printers are uniquely strong and they look great! Having a solid product makes my job a lot easier as a marketer. I’m at my best when I truly believe in and get excited about our products.
Second: the passion of our founder and CEO Greg Mark. He’s surrounded himself with people equally dedicated to the success of the company, who all share a love of their jobs, and making something excellent. Everyone is passionate about materials, which was very refreshing to me and takes me back to my way-back days 🙂
Finally: the challenge of taking on this role! While it’s fundamentally ‘easier’ to market a great product with a dedicated customer following, running marketing here meant building up the function in its early days. Hiring, developing a strategic plan, implementing the right tools and technology stack, and testing different creative approaches all needed to happen. The opportunity to grow all aspects of marketing in this role as the company grows at a lightning fast rate was a big appeal.”
Markforged takes a unique approach to staffing, including a high proportion of engineers throughout all positions — which Greg Mark has described to us as “a strategic advantage” — as well as a focus on diversity in employment; how do you feel the attention paid to these aspects of the company serve its performance and growth?
How do you feel companies taking the time to focus on a diverse workforce can ultimately benefit even a startup?
“Markforged technology employs a different approach than other 3D printing methods with our continuous fiber reinforcement of parts. As a result, it takes ‘engineer-to-engineer’ interactions to best explain our capabilities. It’s not only about marketing and selling a new printer, it’s about educating engineers, manufacturers and the industry about how to take advantage of this type of printing. It’s amazingly powerful when we help customers uncover places they may not have thought to use 3D printing before, because they now have access to tremendously strong parts. We’re constantly learning from our customers as well, and through ‘talking shop’ we discover best practices and techniques that we had not considered internally.
However, not everyone here is an engineer which is important to note as well. The various diverse backgrounds of our employees is so beneficial to how we operate. Hearing different perspectives always helps make everyone smarter, and no one is shy about speaking their mind around here!”
As an experienced executive in the tech field, do you feel your overall experience has been in any notable ways substantively different from those of men in similar positions?
“We now have a network of resellers and customers around the world. As a company committed to diversity and to growing our customer base worldwide, it’s a great positive reinforcement cycle. We have people a few steps away from me who speak Japanese, Mandarin, Spanish, Arabic and other languages. We can make a connection to customers and resellers in any part of the world and start to build a better relationship than being just a supplier to them.
There are a lot of studies showing that public companies with diverse boards and executive teams perform better than those without diversity. While we are not that large yet, I see daily the impact and outcomes of meetings where people come in with very different opinions and we get to a brilliant outcome.”
“While I’ve had the good fortune to work with F500 companies that were recognized and awarded for their diversity, I spent my early career being a lot more out-numbered. ‘Unconscious bias’ remains a big factor no matter where you are, even in the most diverse environments. As a woman in leadership, it’s important to be aware that you’re judged differently based on the words you use, your tone, body language and how you present information. You have to find the right balance between ‘too aggressive’ (which is typically a positive quality in men) and ‘too nice’ in order to be effective. I’ve encountered situations where I want fix something and I’m always thinking ‘Who am I going to offend?’, ‘How do I get everyone to do this without sounding too bossy’? Then I’ll recognize that very few male peers of mine would ever go through that thought process!
Also I’ve learned that you need to force yourself to be a good networker and over-index in this area compared to many male peers: have ‘offline’ meetings, build alliances, and do some pre-selling of your ideas – all the political stuff that engineers and marketers by nature don’t like since we just want to do our work. I’m not comfortable bragging but sometimes I need to go there to build up some credibility.”
What do you see as being key to growth in the 3D printing industry as it matures?
“3D professional and industrial printing needs to further embed itself into mainstream business processes for manufacturers. The industry has evolved from the novelty stage to the real ‘enlightenment,’ phase where printing can provide bottom-line value and help manufacturers rapidly scale. If 3D printing becomes essential to production and not just occasional prototyping, then you have sustainable growth. Affordable metal printing as well as access to engineering plastics with high strength make this potential more of a reality.
The 3D printing industry needs to evolve its workforce from largely engineers to attracting more people with strong business, production, operations, and supply chain backgrounds. People in these functions will help develop the scaled processes and uncover more opportunities where printing will make a real impact across manufacturing. This will bring in a different kind of diversity into the industry that we can all benefit from.”
How do you think engaging with the community can benefit companies involved in 3D printing?
What do you see as the biggest challenges to diversity in the 3D printing industry?
“Boston is a thriving hub for technology startups, entrepreneurs and researchers.
On the education side: 3D printing has been successfully incorporated into engineering and STEM education as well as makerspaces. I loved seeing my 5th grader come home with a PLA printed part after a two-week, 3D design print mini-course. However, the more we – as a supplier – invest to support and deepen learning curricula, the better for the community and for us. Training and information on the different types of 3D printers, when and where to use specific materials or printing techniques can enrich learning and prepare new graduates to find new ways to help their companies. We support our education customers where and when we can with custom training.
We also support incubators and community maker spaces in various ways, since access to strong printing makes a large difference for rapid product development.”
The biggest benefits to a more diverse workforce?
“There currently isn’t a very large pipeline of new female engineers graduates who are heavily into 3D printing. There are some, but workforce diversity needs to starts in schools. We need more STEM education programs that encourage younger girls and students from diverse backgrounds to become involved with 3D design and printing. The software industry has introduced some great initiatives such as ‘Girls Who Code.’ 3D print companies should work together to develop a ‘Girls Who 3D Print’ program? 3D print companies are very competitive with each other but can definitely find common ground in a program like this!
Also expose more of the women and generally diverse leaders who are today in 3D printing so they become role models for younger generations. This series is a great example of that!”
“The industry is growing and needs talent and creativity, and especially that ability to bring value to our customers. A lack of diversity means companies are missing out on large potential sources of talent. Creating a diverse workforce also ensures you have mentors and hiring managers who will also then seek out talent from more diverse backgrounds.”
What advice would you have for a young woman looking to start a career in tech today?
“Look for mentors in the industry who are willing to spend time with you and provide advice on anything career-related.
Be ready to have to build up some of those ‘soft’ skills around communication that become more important as you progress in your career.
Show passion for the technology that interests you the most but also consider rotating into sales or marketing positions, even if for a short time. There’s nothing more challenging than learning to sell effectively – by convincing others to adopt a technology or a product in a way that benefits them. It makes you a better engineer overall when you know how to sell the end result of what you’re working on!”
As Gumbert so eloquently explains, diversity in business operations isn’t just a boon — it should be a standard. Through the incorporation of a variety of voices, each given consideration, a company can only stand to grow stronger. Through enhancing access to and fostering interest in STEM subject areas, our educational system can help to create and inspire the all-important next generation of leaders in 3D printing. Companies like Markforged will be ready to benefit from the hopeful future influx of well-rounded individuals coming from a variety of backgrounds and bringing new approaches, new ways of thinking, to the 3D printing table. Discuss in the Cynthia Gumbert forum at 3DPB.com.
If you are interested in sharing your story, or know a woman we should get in touch with for this new series, please reach out any time. Send us an email or connect on Twitter. We’re looking forward to sharing more stories about women in 3D printing. Find all the features in this series here.