Mr Beam was developed out of a passion for open source software. Philipp has long had an inclination for all things technology; he studied computer science for many years, before working as a programmer with search engine company Lycos, where he first experienced SUSE Linux. However, it was in his spare time – which Philipp spent tinkering with gadgets such as 3D printers and laser engravers – where the idea for Mr Beam came to life some seven years ago.
“I love digital manufacturing tools and 3D printers,” Philipp says. “There was a lack of platform-independent laser cutters, so I decided to build my own and make it accessible for users with a low budget. Existing laser cutters out there don’t fit their needs because they’re industrially-focused and way too expensive, too loud and too big. So, we have found our very own niche.”
Mr Beam’s laser cutters (which appeal to creative professionals and microbusinesses for their support for Mac and Linux and compact design; perfect for home use) have been built from the ground up using SUSE. Philipp has been using the operating system on his personal laptop for more than two-decades, and having built-up familiarity with the software’s toolsets, he put open source at the heart of his business plan.
“I took on the challenge to figure out how far I could go with open source software only. This covered a variety of aspects – electronics design, all the programming stuff, video editing, marketing graphics,” he says. “It was fascinating how far I could come – almost everything I did with open source software.”
SUSE now plays a big part in Mr Beam’s strategy. Not only does the operating system handle much of the startup’s day-to-day tasks, from product development to financial planning, but it has also helped it to create a burgeoning community, which proved crucial to Mr Beam during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Beam has rapidly become a leader in the desktop laser cutters market. The German startup, founded by open source enthusiast Teja Philipp, recognized that the industrial-focused market was lacking a platform agnostic laser cutter, and he filled this niche with an accessible machine that works with Apple and Linux software. This idea was borne from Philipp’s adoration of open source. He’s been a loyal SUSE user for more than 20 years, and the operating system now helps his company to empower its development teams and to scale its growing customer base at pace.
Mr Beam’s business challenges
Mr Beam’s journey hasn’t been easy. Having identified a niche in the laser cutting market, which was typically filled with industrial machines supported only by restrictive proprietary software, the startup has had to build its product from scratch with little reference material to work with.
Open source, Philipp says, was key in helping the company to create a completely new category of laser cutter; one that was web-based, platform agnostic and easy to use. With limited funds, the newly-formed company couldn’t justify expensive software licenses, nor did it have the time to sign up to trial versions that would ultimately end up costing the startup valuable resources.
By embracing open source and SUSE from the beginning of its journey, Mr Beam afforded itself unrivalled flexibility – and major cost savings. SUSE is used across the startup’s entire product development cycle, from development, engineering and testing to product support, big data processing and creating marketing materials.
“Machinery is a very conservative economic field, and usually the people working in the industry are focused on researching patents, rather than relying on open source,” Philipp says. “What they are forgetting is that if you are building stuff or writing software code, you need to maintain that — and you could outsource the maintenance by using open source components.”
Ultimately, open source has enabled Mr Beam to take risks - an important factor for any young business.
“It lowers the entry barrier because you don’t have to pay in advance for things. If you want to try stuff out, you think twice if you have to pay for that, and if it’s risky, you might not even try it. With a Linux system, you don’t even need to do the research. You can add anything you need in seconds without setting up a serial or signing up to a trial version.”
“Some scripts I’d written in 2012 are still working on SUSE. I’ve written scripts like automatically switching the DNS servers, because if I need to connect to Wi-Fi on a German train, for example, these things still work, even though the network stack has changed again. There is a consistency in the SUSE architecture, which is something I highly appreciate.”
Mr Beam’s journey to SUSE
Philipp is clear that SUSE has simplified business processes that would otherwise be time-consuming, expensive and often demoralizing to its employees.
By embracing SUSE Linux, the company has enjoyed much faster time to market than others in the laser cutter industry. Mr Beam was able to create its first prototype in just three months, whereas company’s battling with proprietary software and in-house technology would likely spend years attempting to reach the same milestone.
“It’s a stupid approach to build your own stuff alone if it doesn’t give you a true competitive advantage,” Philipp says. “For all the standard things, which everyone needs to have, open source is the best and most efficient thing you can use. This is why I think this OS is a goldmine.”
The open source ethos brought to the company through Philipp’s years of experience has not only helped the company to exploit a new opportunity and to get its product to market in rapid time, but it’s helped to empower the company’s development teams. Each Mr Beam employee is given the choice to select their own personal tools, with many following their founder’s lead and opting for a Linux-powered machine. This not only speeds up the setup process – which takes just a matter of minutes by copying the list of installed packages and shifting to a new machine – but it also helps to motivate Mr Beam’s developers.
“We are selling empowerment to our customers, and this is empowerment for our own developers as well,” Philipp says. “The culture of having your own setup of personal tools also helps us technology wise, because we are running the open source approach and we are focused on public formats, so that makes us pretty compatible and helps us easily outsource some tasks — there are people that can help us all over the world."
The benefits of working with SUSE
As a young business with limited funds, availability was a key driver in Mr Beam’s decision to work with SUSE Linux. The startup relies on around-the-clock availability to serve its growing customer base, which was particularly important during the pandemic which saw the company take much of its marketing efforts online in the form of online demos, exposing its web interface, and holding webinars.
By choosing to continue on his 20-year-long open source journey, Philipp could be confident that he wouldn’t have to contend with taking systems offline to apply patches, nor did he have to worry about any security issues that could impact his startup’s day-to-day. This high availability, coupled with the versatility of the operating system, has not only helped to empower Philipp, but also his growing workforce.
“The whole software stack is running on the SUSE laptop as well, it’s a very versatile ‘Swiss knife’ for me,” he says. “My SUSE laptop has developed into my personal tool that I rely on. It’s empowering my skills, and I believe that having your very own tool is an important factor for your motivation and work.”
Stability and ease of use
Stability, too, was another key factor for Mr Beam in choosing to go all-in on open source. Not only has the company faced no money-draining downtime or time-consuming update processes – deployment time has been reduced from hours to just 20 minutes – but SUSE has also given the startup a level of consistency that’s enabled it to scale at pace.
“Some scripts I’d written in 2012 are still working on SUSE,” Philipp says. “I’ve written scripts like automatically switching the DNS servers, because if I need to connect to Wi-Fi on a German train, for example, these things still work, even though the network stack has changed again. There is a consistency in the SUSE architecture, which is something I highly appreciate.”
As a young founder creating an entirely new product category, support has been crucial for Philipp and his team. As a longtime member of the open source community, he knew this support and feedback would be key in helping him to develop - and troubleshoot - entirely new solutions.
“I’m developing solutions which are only built by myself. I’m taking libraries and taking advantage of a user base where I can get a solid answer if I’m having trouble,” Philipp says.
What’s more, this open source ethos has become part of Mr Beam’s own community efforts. Having learnt from the burgeoning open source community, the startup is now looking to build up its own community through Facebook groups and demo days. Not only does this help the company to roll out better-tested tools and to reduce its own support loads, but it builds up a social connection between customers.
“Last year, with the Covid lockdowns, our community — including shop owners who had to shut shops – bought a Mr Beam because then they can generate value at home from online shopping,” Philipp said. “The community was really helpful here — they discussed tools for proper bookkeeping software, for example.”
What’s next for Mr Beam?
Mr Beam has grown rapidly; from a one-man team just seven years ago, the startup now has 20 employees, and recently rolled out the third iteration of its desktop laser cutter. The company isn’t planning to slow down anytime soon; Mr Beam plans to continue innovating in the laser cutter market and hopes to grow its expanding community.
As for Philipp? He’s keen to reignite his love for technology: “My heart is tech-based. I’ve learned a lot of business stuff, but at some point in the future I’d like to focus more on technology again,” he says with a wry smile.