Alban Denoyel is the co-founder and CEO of Sketchfab, the largest platform to publish and find 3D content online. Prior to Sketchfab, he worked for four years in the 2D world of photography. He loves making 3D content with photogrammetry or VR sculpting. He graduated from ESSEC Business School (Paris, France).
How did the concept for Sketchfab come about?
When you create content, you need to be able to share it. Without an audience, content is pretty much inexistent. For that reason, every file format gave birth to publishing platforms: Youtube for videos, Slideshare for slides, Soundcloud for music, etc. Back in 2012, there was no solution to publish and share a 3D file. 3D creators were using fallbacks like screenshots and videos to share and showcase their work. We started Sketchfab to change this, and give 3D creators a way to share their 3D work in 3D.
How was the first year in business?
The first year was hard! We bootstrapped for a year, and we were just three co-founders. We started in Paris, where the funding environment was not easy if you had no business model and were a first-time founder (it’s much better now). But the hardest part was probably that the technology we were relying on (WebGL) was really in its infancy, so not really working or available for a lot of people. We had to ask people to install beta versions of browsers, which was often a no go to progress on any type of partnership. Yet, we were the first movers in our space, so were able to grow from a small nice of content creators.
What was your marketing strategy?
Our core distribution strategy, which still applies today, was to integrate with the 3D creation tools. We wanted to make it super easy to publish to Sketchfab directly from your 3D software. Very early on, we documented an API so that the community and third party developers could build what we call exporters: addons to publish to Sketchfab. We managed to get some of those addons to ship natively with the software, which had a double benefit: great exposure, as any user of a given software would see Sketchfab in their interface, and facilitated workflow, helping with adoption. Today, we are integrated with more than 100 3D creation tools, and over 70% of those integrations are native.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We were at 3,000 users and 6,000 3D models at the end of 2012, and 20,000 users and 70,000 3D models at the end of 2013, so pretty much a 10x growth.
How do you define success?
Our goal is to be the ultimate home for 3D content on the internet. Success for us is when every 3D file created is uploaded to Sketchfab, and as a result, every 3D file embedded is embedded with Sketchfab, and every 3D file downloaded is downloaded from Sketchfab
What is the key to success?
There are multiple keys to success, but from a high level, the main ingredients are providing the best 3D player, to get the platform integrated everywhere, and to grow a community around it.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
One of the main lessons is that distribution is key. Building a great technology is useless if you don’t have distribution.
What are some quotes that you live by?
“The cowards never started and the weak died along the way. That leaves us, ladies and gentlemen. Us.” – Phil Knight, Shoe Dog
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Probably at the very beginning, when we were trying to raise our first funding round. I had a commitment but it was tied to fundraising target, and so I had a month to find the required additional capital. I managed to do it, but when the day came to sign the paperwork and send the money, half of the round felt through. I had pretty much 48 hours left to rebuild the round and gather the necessary additional capital. I was in San Francisco while raising with French investors. I spent two days doing everything I could think of to put the round together, and eventually managed to get it done.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
In general, I think you need constant wins to move forward. Every day brings its set of wins and losses, highs and lows. You just need more wins than losses to be able to keep going. We’ve been lucky enough to not have too many losses, while lining up a lot of wins, in terms of integrations, partnerships, and traction.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
1) Distribution is key. Try to figure out early on scalable ways to distribute your tech.
2) Ask for help. Entrepreneurs are usually happy to help.
3) Be persistent. Most of our wins happened over multiple years, and with many, many follow ups, and not taking no for an answer.
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This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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