Planting the Trees That Grow Money: A Manufacturer’s Cheat Sheet for Disruptive Tech

Ryan Kelly / March 31, 2017

“Money doesn’t grow on trees,” is an adage parents across the U.S.A. have used to quiet money-grubbing teenagers for generations. Money, as we’ve probably all been told ad nauseum, comes from hard work. If you’re lucky, it might also come in the form of an inheritance or a lottery win or as a result of sound investments. Trees, however, never enter the equation.

Surely a Florida orange grower would disagree.

So it goes with truisms and rules. Exceptions may be few, but they almost always exist. While you may feel more comfortable doing business with an established company than a new upstart with something to prove, that feeling of comfort won’t pay your vendors or bring in new market share.

In an age of remarkable technology, it’s becoming increasingly common for rash newcomers to make big and impressive gains quickly. It’s also becoming increasingly common for those who partner up with them to benefit, and for those who hesitate to lose. “Slow and steady wins the race,” may have gotten the tortoise to the finish line ahead of the hare, but consistency — as important as it is — still needs speed in today’s marketplace. If, as Alan Kay says, “The best way to predict the future … is to invent it,” we must create new paths to innovation and revenue to survive.

It’s time to embrace the exception rather than the rule. Regardless of whether you’re moving CNC machining procurement online or designing solar energy-collecting roof shingles, it’s time to plant some trees that grow money.

Trees That Grow Money

Examples of companies leveraging disruptive technology to seemingly pull money out of thin air abound. Hotel Tonight, Uber, PayPal, Amazon, SpaceX, Airbnb, Facebook — these former startups and others like them have transformed everything from our nation’s economic landscape to how we communicate, pay bills, shop, store data, sleep and travel. They figured out how to plant trees that grow money.

Of course, hindsight, especially in the realm of disruptive tech, is always 20/20. How is a manufacturer or CNC machine shop to tell which of the newest technological trends will help them strike gold? How do you know which trees will grow money before the first crop of greenbacks appears?

The secret seems not to be in the tech itself so much as in how it’s leveraged. After all, back in 2008, everyone knew about cars and taxis and had access to smartphone app-making technology, but only Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp came up with the idea that is Uber. Similarly, the World Wide Web, while new, was already a commonly adopted and well-used tool when PayPal came online, but it took forward-thinking investors and inventors to see the potential in how the web could transform banking.

Technology, then, is just the gate through which visionaries step, and as these examples show, it’s not the tech that makes a money tree. It’s the idea in how to use it.

Start With the Problems

Let’s level with one another. You and I probably aren’t going to come up with a groundbreaking, earthshaking new idea. It happens so rarely, that only a fool would aim for it. If flashes of radical insight come to so few, how is growing money on trees — even as a metaphor — supposed to work?

Like this: There are great ideas at work in manufacturing right now. MTConnect is a perfect example and is relatively well-known. Beyond it, however, there are also disruptors bubbling just below the surface of our industry’s consciousness. These disruptors are driven by entrepreneurs who are thinking new thoughts and leveraging powerful new technologies, and the best among them are tackling age-old manufacturing problems. They’re coming up with the ideas. We just have to use the tools they’re building to solve our problems.

ideas to solve manufacturing problems

What are the difficulties that keep your manufacturing operation hamstrung? Is it finding reliable CNC machining for bridge production? Is it supply chain risk? Do you have nagging quality issues? Is your time-to-market too slow? Are your margins too thin to invest in building a qualified workforce?

By starting with your problems, you can better identify the startups, individuals and companies able to offer solutions. Taking any other technological path will be a waste of your time and resources. Start with what you wish worked better — even if the wish is just, “I wish RFQs didn’t take so long.” Any other approach will produce little bang for your buck and will wind up creating more problems than you currently have.

The "Omigod, I coulda Thought of That" Test

Once you have a list of manufacturing business-related problems you’d like to solve, the next step is to find a unique solution. I’ll give a few examples:

+ Your global supply chain is too long to allow quick reactions to market changes, but you don’t know of a domestic supply base that’s cost-competitive.
+ CNC machining procurement falls on your engineers, and they hate doing it.
+ You need your new product development process to move faster, but how?
+ You need more innovative products, like, yesterday.
+ You have to reduce operational expenses, but you don’t want to lay anyone off.
+ You don’t have access to reliable backup CNC machining supply.

These are just a smattering of the problems a manufacturing executive or procurement manager might face on any given day. Finding technological tools that can address these problems is tantamount to finding manufacturing’s Holy Grail. There are hundreds of new tools and services out there that claim they can meet your needs. How are you to know which ones can actually do the job?

Here at MakeTime, we have a tech test we call, “Omigod, I coulda thought of that.” It’s remarkably easy to administer. If the business model and selling points of the next tool, app, platform or service you hear about aren’t so simple you immediately think, “Omigod, I coulda thought of that,” move on. The best ideas in tech — the ones that grow money on trees — are stupid-simple. That’s their genius.

The Example We Know Best

At MakeTime, we like to think our founder’s stupid-simple idea about matching excess machining capacity to manufacturers in need of CNC machined parts is genius. After all, it passes each of our employees’, “Omigod I coulda thought of that” test, and so far, everyone we’ve shared our business model with is likewise astounded they didn’t think of it first.

MakeTime CEO Drura Parrish

In addition to passing the simplicity test, MakeTime also leverages and builds powerful technology to address manufacturers’ problems, and we’re tackling more of those problems all the time. From compressing the manufacturing timeline to demystifying the RFQ, here are some of the ways we are working to make your life easier.

Prequalified Suppliers

We provide access to the country’s largest, connected supplier network. As of right now, we have over 1000 vetted machine shops. Those 1000+ shops represent a wide range of capabilities that include everything from CNC milling machines to Wire EDM and laser cutters. Some specialize in high-precision prototyping. Some specialize in mass quantities of full production runs. Some are adept at small batch and low- to medium-volume runs. In terms of capacity, we have over 200,000 available machine hours accounted for, collected and ready to be put to work. So, if you’re having supply chain trouble, are looking to reshore your machining or need access to backup supply, we can help. All you have to do to gain access is create an account.


We also work hard to save manufacturers time, and one of the main ways we manage that is by foregoing the whole quoting process. Instead, we use big data and analytics to offer fast and cost-competitive pricing. Because there’s no RFQ (or supplier vetting — we’ve already taken care of all that, too), when you order parts with us, you can move immediately into production, shaving weeks, even months of the traditional production timeline. So if getting to market faster or speeding up your new product development processes is something you’d like to do, we’d make a good partner.

Big Data Application

Because we’re a tech company collecting and analyzing troves of data across the entire part life cycle, we can also dramatically improve timelines and processes in prototyping, production and aftermarket or MRO. Instead of treating each phase of the part life cycle as a discrete event, data allows us to immediately place your successful prototype with the suppliers best suited to run full production. Where in the past, manufacturers relied on the muscle memory of a factory’s machinists to ensure parts came out right, we rely on data. With us, the “downtime” that used to accompany the too-often-repeated process of sourcing quotes and vetting suppliers after prototyping, bridge production and production disappears. The savings in operational costs alone will breathe new life into your innovation efforts.

Online Parts

This list of offerings is just the tip of the iceberg. We also provide unlimited and secure online part storage for all our customers and make sure your part designs are DFM-ready so you can save time and money, while getting the quality you expect. In everything we do, our aims are to make it possible for manufacturers to grow money on trees. It’s the promise of technology, and we’re making sure that promise is kept.

And we know we aren’t the only ones. The world is opening up, getting faster, smarter and more efficient. It’s a very, very exciting time to be alive and work in manufacturing. It’s a very exciting time to plant trees.

To find out how MakeTime can boost your revenue and streamline your CNC machining procurement, click here.