[hackerspaces] Bucketworks needs help

Gui Cavalcanti gui at artisansasylum.com
Sat Jun 1 06:56:11 CEST 2013

Al, funny you should mention that. I'm about 75-80% of the way through writing up a primer on how to create a hackerspace/makerspace business model, which features a very frank and upfront assessment of the real costs of running these spaces at various scales (very similar to the insurance primer I sent out recently). I'm writing it for the very reason you state - these kinds of businesses need to be sustainable on earned income, and that means above and beyond breaking even, so that if something traumatic ever happens, you're not taken by surprise. 

The Asylum has been in the black all the way through bootstrapping from 1k to 40k square feet (simply because we had no money at the start, and no ability to go into debt) over the past 3 years. It was a terrible, scarring experience of simultaneously never having money (because we had to constantly sink it into infrastructure to fix/expand/solidify everything) and always having more demand than we could handle in a sane fashion. We've only gotten to the point of having enough ability to take care of the space in a sustainable way by constantly re-evaluating our business plan, responding to what members want (and what they're willing to pay for), growing until we find a good balance, and keeping a constant eye on how much we're spending every single month. 

I know there are those here who inherently associate a business making money with greed. I think that's an extremely short sighted and harmful way of thinking, especially as it might pertain to the functioning of a not-for-profit business that has a tremendous set of legal restrictions on compensation to employees. A business needs to cover the real cost of operation in order to keep going. That real cost of a makerspace or hackerspace includes heavy duty, multi thousand dollar repairs to infrastructure that occur on a recurring basis. It includes accounting for the sanity of you and your volunteers, which slowly drains over time if you don't have the ability to take a break because you're overworked by contributing all of your 'non-working' hours to a cause which is nobody's full time job. It includes the cost of honest to God, heavy duty shop infrastructure for your tools so you don't injure or maim your members or cause damage to your property (and as a quick aside - you all know we're all hosed if someone dies in a makerspace or hackerspace due to untrained and improper tool use, right? The entire movement can be put at risk due to changes in zoning and building code laws which frequently occur after such incidents). It includes the cost of insurance, so that you build a reputation of operating as a legal business and provide for continuing on as a business if the worst occurs. So many people don't want to acknowledge (or, often, pay) the real costs in running these spaces, and as a result create sometimes unsafe, often unsustainable ventures. 

Our secret for getting the income we need to survive has been simple - we tell our members exactly how much it costs to run the space professionally. It's about $80,000 a month. One member might pay for .1 to .5% of our expenses in any given month. Everyone who uses the space has to pay their dues. 

- - -
Gui Cavalcanti, Founder & Director of Development
Artisan's Asylum, Inc.
Cell: (857) 389-7669

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