Velo3D Founder Benny Buller Builds the Impossible
From military innovation to manufacturing disruption, this leader is all about nailing complex puzzles.
Growing up in Israel as the son of a physicist, Velo3D founder Benny Buller always had a knack for the theoretical. In fact, Buller says, without his wife's intervention, he likely would've taken the path of the less glamorous, choosing a career path in theoretical physics rather than entrepreneurship.
Regardless of how it expressed itself—in academia, engineering, investing or entrepreneurship—for Buller, every obstacle is seen as a problem to solve, not unlike a complex math equation. That approach drove him an innovative printing company that works with some of the most groundbreaking names in aerospace, energy, defense, aviation and automotive. Velo3D has a humble mission of manufacturing machine parts that would be impossible to build otherwise.
Finding his calling through military innovation
Because of Israel's mandatory military service requirement, Buller was required to serve in his home country in his late teens. Given his aptitude for mathematics and applied physics, Buller was chosen for Israel's Academic Reserve, a program that postpones enlistment for the academically gifted.
Having the foresight to view his military service as an opportunity for future success, Buller used his impressive education credentials—a simultaneous undergraduate study in physics and a graduate study in applied physics—to join the prestigious Technology Unit of Israeli Intelligence; a unit that only hires one physicist a year.
The work Buller did with the Technology Unit would not only surround him with other brilliant scientists and foster a collaborative spirit of innovation but would serve as a foundation for his future entrepreneurship. This unique unit acted as something of an incubator, with many of its alumni working to drive the tech boom in Israel throughout the 1990s.
Within the Technology Unit Buller was taught to reframe problems to become solvable and take an "ask for forgiveness rather than permission" approach to innovation. His time in the unit garnered National Security awards and saw him advance to leadership positions, coordinating teams of other engineers and physicists.
Benny unit's motto, "knowledge, will and dedication will make the impossible possible", became a thru-line for his career as an entrepreneur.
Branching out to the United States
Once his military service was complete, Buller moved with his growing family to the United States, taking positions at companies working in the solar energy field. After years toiling away for others, Benny saw an opportunity to branch out.
Rather than jumping right into starting his own company, however, Buller was enlisted to join Khosla Ventures as an investor. This experience proved invaluable in his own entrepreneurial story. With Khosla's focus on emerging tech startups, Buller was able to survey the landscape of what to do and what not to do when launching a new company. He was also given insights into the current state of several industries, namely additive manufacturing, or 3D printing.
Benny immediately decided that he would never invest in such a field.
Founding a 3D printing company
Through his work at Khosla Ventures, Buller was able to look under the hood of a variety of startups and see where their issues were. It was in the investment process for a rocket company that he learned about the ways in which they leveraged metal additive manufacturing and where the process fell short. The technology was simply unable to execute certain complex geometries of parts and needed to be compromised in their design for print even though the demand to print was there.
In a meeting with SpaceX, this fact was reinforced. The company was able to print around 70% of parts with no issue, 20-25% of parts would require a few iterations in design before printing and nearly 5% of parts would simply be abandoned because engineers knew they couldn't be produced.
After a hard conversation with the wife, Benny was given six months to make it work. He enlisted the help of a partner and began redefining the additive manufacturing space.
Buller's new company, Velo3D, would be given enough funding for a year, and had an intimidating list of problems to solve before the company was viable. Each Monday would be met with depression and anxiety looking at a to-do list; but each Friday would be met with the encouragement of solving a problem and getting closer to viability.
Not only was Buller tasked with building a 3D printing system capable of manufacturing impossible parts, but he had to educate—and un-educate—customers on what this technology is capable of.
Today, Velo3D is a publicly traded company with high-profile clients across some of the most innovative industries on earth. These printed parts are the cornerstone fueling the inspiring work being done in the space industry.
Benny views problem solving as more than a task, but his driving force. Rather than an entrepreneur working to accumulate money or power.
Says Buller of his work as an art form: "Problem solving is my expression."
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