Manufacturing guy-at-large.

Undercurrent is gone

Added on by Spencer Wright.

Update: This post has received a bit of traffic over the past few days, and I've gotten some nice notes on Twitter as well. I would ask, however, that anyone who's truly interested in the people from Undercurrent (who are now all freshly out of a job) consider reaching out. While my own interest is in advancing industrial additive manufacturing, there are a lot of bright minds (I believe them to be the best in the industry) who are excited to explore and improve the effectiveness and resilience of ambitious organizations. If that's something that excites you, send me a note and I'll connect you with the very best people for the job.

Two and a half years ago, an ad on Radiolab caught my attention. I was listening to a lot of podcasts at the time and paid as much attention to the sponsors as most people do. But this one said something about "3D printing, and the future of human-refrigerator interaction," which was weird. I liked it.

My courtship with Undercurrent was long and slow. I was at a transitional point in my career, and in a lot of ways the skills I had weren't well suited for what UC did. But I stayed in touch, and made friends, and was working on interesting, challenging stuff myself - and being really public about the whole thing. And after a full year on the periphery, I joined Undercurrent full time in April of 2014.

In most respects, the work wasn't what I had expected. I didn't really know what corporate consulting was like to begin with, and Undercurrent's particular take on consulting was an additional degree of separation away from anything I understood.

But it fit, and it fit in a way that I had never experienced before. I made friends. We worked long days at client sites, and wrote long wrap-up documents on the plane back home. We had heated debates on random evenings about the future of 1099 employment law, or whether or not a hot dog could be a sandwich. We hustled; we worked hard. I did some of the most savvy, thoughtful, and critical reasoning of my life. I learned a lot.

A year after I joined, Undercurrent was acquired by Quirky, a startup developing products with the help of an online community. Quirky was one of the bigger New York startup stories for a while, and I had bought a few of their products - and had not enjoyed them. I had thought a lot about product development over the previous few years (and was in the midst of fulfilling my own Kickstarter campaign at the time), and had real doubts about Quirky's take on the subject.

And, so did a lot of other people. Quirky had already had some layoffs before we joined, and there was another round our first week or two that we were in their office. It was a pretty weird place to walk into, though to be honest it really didn't change my work much. We still had our Undercurrent client relationships, and I was too busy shipping radios out on the weekends to think much about how Quirky was doing. But it wasn't going well, and everyone knew it.

In the meantime, my desire to focus on manufacturing was growing. Undercurrent supported this, even giving me a cash budget to spend on titanium 3D printed parts. I was figuring out how to move the industry past the problems I had seen with additive manufacturing. Undercurrent was behind it.

At this point in the story, the details are mostly public. Over the past few weeks, both Quirky and Undercurrent began going through the motions of shutting down, permanently.

I'll miss it. UC valued my work and critical perspective more than anywhere I've ever worked. It offered more in the way of curiosity, and warmth, and just always felt like home.

I'm looking forward to the future. Undercurrent - and the clients we worked with - offered me fantastic opportunities over the past year and a half. But there are other opportunities out there, and I'm excited to find my place working on them. 

To my colleagues: Thanks for your support. I wish you the best, and look forward to working with you (it's a small world, after all) in the future.

To my clients: Thanks for your sincerity. I can't think of better people to have worked for, or better problems to have worked together on.

Over the next weeks, I'll be digging deeper into the topics in industrial additive manufacturing that I've spent so much time thinking about recently. If you want to work together, please drop a line :)