It isn’t easy running a business. It’s even more of a challenge to run two businesses, but that’s what Christina Perla does. Perla is the Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Makelab, a 3D printing service bureau based in Brooklyn, New York. She’s also the Co-Founder and Creative Director of Tangent Design, a product design and development firm also located in Brooklyn. Perla has a degree in industrial design, and her work has led her to become an expert in 3D printing. Through Makelab in particular, she helps bring the technology to clients every day, offering professional 3D prints for a variety of applications using both FDM and SLA technology. Her work allows her to have an up-close view of the 3D printing industry and its trends, and she was willing to share her thoughts on the industry – as well as what it takes to run two businesses at once – for the latest installment in our Spotlight on Women series.
Please tell us about your background, history and current work.
“I attended Pratt Institute for Industrial Design. While in undergrad, I accepted an internship at Converse for Accessories Design which turned into a job upon graduating from Pratt. I then made the jump to the startup world by working at a small wearable technology startup. While I was working at the startup, I began to freelance and eventually left my full-time job to freelance full time.
Meanwhile, my partner Manny, also an industrial designer, was doing custom prototyping and model making. We had this crazy idea that maybe we could start a business together, and after a few months of talking about it, we did. We started Tangent Design. Our focus with Tangent is taking on industrial design projects and provide a full spectrum of services. During the process, we utilized 3D printing pretty heavily through a company called 3DUniPrint. We 3D printed with them so much we became close with the owner, Rico. About a year later, Rico's situation changed resulting in him and his family moving to China. To salvage 3DUniPrint's operations, Rico asked Manny and I to take over his company and that's when Tangent Design acquired 3DUniPrint. A few months later, we changed the name to Makelab. So in a timespan of 2.5 years, we started a company and acquired another. It's been a whirlwind of a time, but a good one to say the least.”
When and how did you first become interested and involved in 3D printing?
“I've known about 3D printing for a pretty long time now. It was available during my time at Pratt Institute, but I never really utilized it. I didn't fully understand it and was actually quite terrified of it so I was hesitant to touch a machine. 3D printing seemed so intimidating at the time – it's funny looking back now. It wasn't until my partner, Manny, purchased a first generation PrintrBot that I started to open up to the idea of it. Around the time we started Tangent, we realized we would be needing rapid prototyping and bought an XYZ Da Vinci. A few months later, we upgraded to a MakerGear (after the Da Vinci stopped working). After messing around with 3D printing, I realized it wasn't as terrifying as I thought and actually pretty simple to pick up.”
What inspired you to begin Makelab?
“With Tangent Design firm in place, it was an organic business move that made sense for us to improve workflow efficiency and also cut costs by bringing 3D printing in-house. While still 2 separate companies, it is tremendously easier to prototype having all the software resources and a well-rounded team to execute our designs.”
What are some of the challenges of owning two businesses?
“The startup world is infamous for it's ‘hustle and grind’. Multiply that by two and it can be nuts. I've definitely had to step up my time management and organize my life a bit more. I use a variety of tools to keep up with my own life and maintain these businesses. Staying on top of tight operations for one company is difficult enough before adding in the complexities of switching gears from one company to another. Both Tangent and Makelab have extremely different systems, processes, sequences, and challenges. It's something I'm still conquering now. I spend an hour or two a day just recording the day's happenings so I don't have to try to keep everything in my head. Then begin every morning with a review. I've embraced Evernote which has become my personal assistant.”