Around the turn of the millennium, Bertier Luyt was a relatively successful producer of dance music in his native France. But with the rise of Napster, iTunes and – later – streaming services, the music industry gradually got tougher and less lucrative, and Luyt’s business suffered to the point that he was left unemployed.
For about five years Luyt worked as a freelance on decoration work for events, and helped out on renovation projects.
Then he discovered 3D modelling. After starting his own interior design business in 2005 and using SketchUp to show clients his ideas. Today, he’s a highly successful entrepreneur and has found worldwide fame as the founder of Le FabShop, France’s answer to the US chain The Tech Shop. Partly a community of ace designers, partly a 3D print on demand and partly an importer and retailer of maker gear.
Luyt got the idea for Le FabShop at New York World Maker Faire in 2011, and went on to organise Mini Maker Faires in his home country. He’s currently in South Africa to speak at Maker Conference 2015, which takes place in Cape Town next week.
htxt.africa: For those who have never made anything and have absolutely no interest in becoming a maker, what would you say to them to get them involved?
Bertier Luyt We say everybody is a maker! It’s a human thing to make, [be] that be cooking, writing, woodworking or building robots. It only takes someone to admit he is a maker, whatever he likes doing. What define Makers from the rest of the world is not only the fact that they like doing something, but they want to share it, meet people with the same kind of interest, learn from them, teach them. Meeting the community can happen online on dedicated websites, reading magazine, joining groups/clubs/non-profits, going to local hacker / maker spaces or FabLab, and participating into events such as Maker Faire or other Makers inspired activities. [The] best thing to do is to reach out !
Was it more difficult for you to get involved in the maker community as a self-educated individual?
As a self-educated individual, I had the chance to choose what I wanted to learn, most of what it takes is find the good sources to learn from. After teaching myself 3D modelling in the early 2000’s, I started an interior design practice and a wood working workshop with my wife. I first discovered the Maker Movement online, looking for informations to build my first CNC machine.
I found some dedicated websites where different people shared their experiences building their own machines. On the forums, I could ask questions [about] materials, software, best practice and loopholes!
At first you can be intimidated asking questions, but it’d proven to always be rewarding; the communities I had the chance to meet with were always very kind [with] sharing their knowledge. In fact, I mostly met curious, generous, smart, optimistic, sharing and caring people in the makers communities. A few months later, on the same websites, I could share my own experiences with new people interested into building their machine.
Then I had the chance to attend my first Maker Faire in New York, where I met some people I had talked to before on different websites, and they were as nice in real life as they were online. It’s a great feeling to finally be able to meet people you’ve been inspired from, and have the opportunity to thank them in person.
As someone who has already achieved it, what advice would you give to makers looking to turn their hobby into a profession?
Zero to Makers is the state of those who want to make something, kids and adults. They will join a local club, read a magazine and go to events to get into it.
Makers to Makers is what happens when Makers meet together at a local fablab, a makerspace or a Maker Faire. When someone specialises in knitting, for example, meet a hacker with electronic skills, they will quickly start thinking about [putting] electronics [and] knitting together! That’s when one plus one equals three!
Maker Pro is only a fraction of the two previous states of making. Some makers projects will find a lot of support in the community, and a lot of reach on their website, forums and social media. Either it’s the original idea to go to market or it’s by public demand that their passion will turn into a business.
We have the chance to live an extraordinary era for turning a hobby or a passion into a profession and take control of our life. Today with very little money it’s possible to prototype an idea, find its community, get funding and start a business. Online tools, open source software, cheap prototyping electronics, desktop manufacturing and 3D printing machines, crowdfunding website such as Kickstarter, social media are almost free today, all it takes is a computer and an internet connection.
At my company, we can have an idea in the morning, make a 3D model before lunch, print it in 3D early in the afternoon, shoot a video before the end of the day and share it to our community on social media. On the next day, we have enough feedback to know if it’s worth investing more into developing the original idea.
With your experience, what can you say to those looking to create their own maker events and Faires?
Organizing a makers’ event or a Maker Faire is always a very rewarding experience. While looking for makers, you will meet great people, original characters of all kinds. Organizing the event will take a lot from you but it will bring twice as more. During the event you will be granted a lot of smiles and laughter from the audience who discover the makers and their projects. Usually it’s a good opportunity to meet with press, officials and local entrepreneurs. If done well, the makers and the audience will be grateful and they will want you to do it again next year.
You’ve been to many maker events around the world, have you seen anything that they have in common, regardless of their location?
One of the common traits of Maker Faire and makers events around the world is the optimistic feeling. Something I learned over the year is that Maker Faire is a cool place for smart people, but also a safe place to talk to strange people! Makers are usually very interesting but also curious about what you make, what you bring to the event.
At these events there is a vibrant feeling of intelligence, creativity, fun, and optimism. Because we’re smart, because we care, because we share, there are no challenges this community can not take. Young makers inspire kids to make something, makers sharing what they do with visitors unlock mental blockage and show it’s easy to start making.
Finally, what’s common to all these events is the spark in the eyes of the crowds, the smiles on the faces of the kids and their parents, the excitement of discovering new and creative things.
Do you see any differences in the maker events and communities between developed countries and developing ones, such as South Africa?
I am very lucky to have been invited to Cape Town for the first Maker Faire in South Africa. I can only imagine what local makers will bring to the show. I’ve seen different projects from Africa in the last three to four years, notably a 3D printer from Senegal if my memory is correct, made of recycled computer parts, and several prosthetic projects. It seems to me that the scarce resources force makers to be more creative, more careful. I don’t expect much differences in the event itself, but I am curious of local makers culture, creativity and originality.
South Africa (and a few other countries besides America) produces a lot of its own maker resources. There are local businesses that make and sell their own designs of 3D printers and maker boards. How do you think this influences the local maker scenes when there are already established, foreign resources?
It’s a global world we live in, but what’s great about it is, it’s open for opportunities. Open source software, open source hardware and communities are what fuel the Maker Movement. I see more inspiration than competition, one innovation bring ten more. Some will prefer to buy a board from the original creator abroad, others will be able to make locally their own iteration, both will inspire people to make something on their own.
Making is, by definition, extremely open and free to use. Do you think that, as it becomes more commercialised and successful, making will become more closed off, regulated and controlled?
Of course making is a human thing, but it needs tools, it needs support and documentation. Making is not only a movement it’s a market too. A few months ago in 2015 the Guardian estimated that makers are worth billions of dollars in the UK only.
In 2013, the consultancy company Deloitte wrote a report on the Impact of the Maker Movement, what it pointed out is that not only the makers are a market or provide the market, but their creative minds, their original ways to iterate change corporate innovation, and accelerate products development.
More and more companies start new programs such as Open Innovation for example. Research and development is [no longer] the privilege of said department, but innovation can come from every other department of the company. Open culture bring competitive companies to collaborate on projects together. It accelerates prototyping and brings products to the market faster.
Since every one is a maker, I am not afraid of regulation or control. We already see big companies, not involved in the community using makers’ codes, I call it ”Maker-washing”, I am more concerned with this, because it doesn’t benefit the community.
What new development in making excites you the most right now?
There are so many exciting things going on everywhere you look. In our speciality, the future of making things is fascinating with changes in design, software, hardware, tools and over all materials. I am very curious of bio hack labs, they are blooming all over the world, facing challenges in renewable energies, sustainable agriculture, or medicine. Of course robotics and drones in particular are really hot right now, there are so many new usages for these in our society: protect wild life, plant trees, cargo medicine and deliveries to remote places…
I wait for my Pancake Bot. Miguel the maker behind this project first showed it at Maker Faire over two years ago. It was a Lego kit for making fun pancakes for his daughter’s breakfast. Last year he came to Maker Faire Paris with an advanced prototype. Early 2015 he ran a successful crowdfunding campaign. Now he is about to launch production. I am sure he will be at CES next year in Las Vegas! What you see at Maker Faire, is two or three years ahead of consumers products
Finally, what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever made for yourself or someone else?
One of the cool project I did this year is the stone carved Makey we made with my friend Eric for Maker Faire Saint-Malo. It’s a robot carved in stone by a robot, it’s really cool and when you send a message to it through social media it blinks in colours. It lead to a more serious project we released for historical heritage preservation and restoration.
If you’d like to see Luyt (or us) at Maker Faire Cape Town you can find out more about it in our past stories on the event.