Chris Dixon: 3D Printing Will Transform Manufacturing, Social Media Startups Are Facing “General Fatigue”

Chris Dixon, the entrepreneur-turned angel investor-turned general partner at VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, today said that he believes the 3D printing movement has the potential to revolutionize manufacturing and that it is an area where he would like to make multiple investments in the future. In contrast, he described startups in areas like social networking facing “general fatigue”. Earlier this month, Chris Dixon and Andreessen Horowitz led a $30 million Series C round in Shapeways, a 3D printing company, where he has now joined the board.

Shapeways is indicative of an untapped opportunity in hardware, he said. “3D has been talked up a lot, but it’s received very little investment from traditional VC firms,” Dixon said today on stage in an interview TC Disrupt.

“For us, we think it’s a major, incredibly significant innovation. It will transform manufacturing and I can see us making multiple investments.” Indeed, a lot of the smaller hardware players have turned to platforms like Kickstarter instead not just to raise money but also to drum up consumer interest and profile for their projects. This has almost become like a testing ground, with the most successful then eventually converting that growth into more traditional investment routes for startups.

New York, he said, has become a kind of “hub” for hardware, and it has opened up the opportunity for new startups and new investing in the city. New York, he said, is at the center of what he calls a “hardware renaissance”, with the clever engineers who had in the past put all their efforts into working on social networks “now working on hardware devices.”

He said this is because social networks are in the middle of a “general fatigue” and so people have turned to wanting to do “something tangible.”

The huge rush of smartphone devices hitting the market has also had an impact on the larger market for hardware and wearable computing products, he said. “The smartphone explosion has lowered the cost for a lot of components and that has dramatically lowered the costs of producing devices,” he noted.

He points out that the kind of disruption that a company like Shapeways provides is “innovation at the high end.”

He also compared hardware developments to “the same forces that when you think about what the internet did for written work.”

“Before the Internet you had to go to a publisher and get an investment. Now you can publish you ebook or blog and it dramatically lowered the cost and enabled the long tail, democratized writing. We can see 3D printing doing that to manufacturing. You can cut a deal with manufacturing now and have a Shapeways printer and the batch size is one.”

Dixon also compared the general climate for startups in New York in general to life in San Francisco.

“There are plenty of great investors here and that attracts a lot of entrepreneurs. The one thing that is missing is a whole mid-level layer. If a company has a hit product and want to scale and hire employees 50 to 100. If you want to go international, or scale a sales force. If I want to figure out a monetization thing in San Francisco I can go to Google to get that.” That acceleration is still developing here in New York, he says.

San Francisco is similar to New York with a lot of consumer stuff. Down the peninsula you have infrastructure and hardware but San Francisco is pretty similar to the New York scene, taking technology and applying it to the real world.

Watch the full video of Chris Dixon’s interview here: