Welcome to 13 Questions, a series aimed at bringing a human face to notable figures in the world of startups, hardware, and tech. Ever wonder how your favorite designer learned to love tech? Curious what’s on your favorite VC’s bucket list? Want to see the person behind the media hype? 13 Questions is here.
This week, MakerBot founder and former CEO Bre Pettis talks about his upbringing and what he regrets about his time at the helm. He’s now working at Bold Machines where he is designing the next generation of printable objects.
1) Here are a few easy ones: Android or iOS?
2) Super Nintendo or Sega?
3) Your first car?
1973 Jeep Commando
4) Who was your childhood hero?
My parents had a software company making children’s software for the Apple II+, Commodore 64 and Acorn computers. They hired these teenagers to program the software and these guys were true hackers trying to get more colors and sound and animation out of those computers. They were my heroes and they helped me hack Wizardry by changing hex values so I could have infinite gold.
5) What’s your earliest memory of technology?
My father was a ham radio geek and I remember the glow of the vacuum tubes from a Hammarlund receiver that became a hand-me-down to me. When I saw Star Wars at age 5, I remember thinking that R2-D2 sounded like ham radio static.
6) Who was your most influential teacher?
While at The Evergreen State College I met Doranne Crable and she was so dynamic and adventurous that I decided on the spot to take whatever she taught. I ended up spending a few years studying Butoh dance and joining the dance troupe “Kagami.” Butoh is a post-apocalyptic Japanese art form that mostly involved shaving all my hair, painting my body white and drooling publicly. The physical and spiritual training is a touchstone in my life with a focus on being present while performing.
7) What smartphone app could you not live without?
I have a passion for old cars and so I read bringatrailer.com obsessively. I am almost smart enough to not own old cars.
8) What company most pushes the maker community forward?
I don’t think there is any one company that pushes the maker community forward, so I would say, Adafruit, Evil Mad Scientist and MakerBot because each of those companies, including the one that I led, is dedicated to providing their customers with the tools they need to innovate.
I would also give a shoutout to Make: Magazine because they really helped get the whole thing off the ground and because that is where I was able to deeply indulge my obsession with making.
9) What mistake do you wish you could correct?
I feel like I’ve lived a life of making mistakes and learning from them and doing my best to only make each mistake once. Looking back, one regret I have from my time on the rocketship that was the MakerBot experience is I wish I had taken more time to spend with friends.
10) Who was, or currently is, the biggest influence on your life?
My person who had the biggest influence on my life is really a community. When I was a teenager, things got rough at home and I figured out how to spend my summers at Bar-41 Dude Ranch and Summer Camp by working there. For all my teenage years, I would go there as soon as school got out and I would work. I did all sorts of work from dishwashing to groundskeeping and anything else. From the people at this camp I was empowered to explore who I am and build friendships. I rode horses a lot, mostly bareback which is a special kind of freedom. This experience of being on my own and among a community that was a mix of cowboys/cowgirls and people who truly believed that there was a bright future if we could all get along and appreciate differences was way more powerful than all my k-12 schooling combined.
11) What’s something on your bucket list?
I look forward to relaxing in a driverless car.
12) What gadget or technology item do you plan on purchasing next?
This spring I’m going to start a small kitchen garden. I’m looking forward to automating it.
13) If you didn’t live in the New York City area, where would you live?
There are a few places I’d like to revisit and live for 6 months to a year to explore life and get to know friends there better. Kobe, Japan. Berlin, Germany. Reykjavík, Iceland, and Taliin, Estonia.
My favorite place in the world is the Orkney Isles in the North Sea of Scotland because I’m a megalithic monument nerd, but it’s a little remote for me to think about living there.
Next week we will have 13 questions for the one and only Mark Cuban. Do you know what he considers his first investment? You can find out then. (Hint: He was 10.)