Nov 19, 2017 Town Hall

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The Town Hall

20 November 2017 18:00 - This document has been shared for commenting and viewing with a large number of people.

On November 19, 2017 at 1 PM a town hall meeting was held in the Santa Clara Hacker Dojo to discuss the creation of an organization to replace TechShop. The meeting was announced on at least the Facebook group TechShop Orphans and the Slack site of SFBayAreaMakers. This document servers to capture the essence of the meeting. Comments to help make this record more complete and accurate are welcome. Please make your comments about correcting or adding to documenting what what said. Comments of “I agree” or “this is important” are not useful unless your point is that the group meeting felt it was important and I failed to adequately note that here.

Jim Schrempp


The meeting started at 1PM. Eric Hess led the meeting. We had about 40 people in the room to begin with. As the meeting progressed the crowd quickly grew to about 50. The vast majority of attendees were TechShop members, employees, or contractors. There were a few people from the Hacker Dojo.

This meeting was meant to solicit ideas and information from a large group of potential members. There is currently an organizing committee led by Eric Hess. We are interested in having other people join us who are serious about doing the work required to get a new organization going.

At this time there is no specific plan to present. After this meeting the organizing committee will come up with a description of a new shop that they can present to a group and get feedback on that plan.

I will add that the meeting was fabulous. Thanks to everyone who attended! We are all part of a great community.

  • Stay connected
  • Stay connected with this group!
  • Join social media, we’ll announce more meetings there:
  • Facebook group: TechShop Orphans [now Maker Orphans]
  • Slack: SFBayAreaMakers

Quick Poll Results

A number of times during the meeting a question was asked and a quick show of hands was given in response. Many of these polls were framed as “for you to be interested in joining…” We realize that the results of this poll only reflect the opinions of those 50 people in the room - who were mostly from TSMP and TSSJ which will result in some geographical bias. There were also probably a lot of motivated people with work to do at the meeting; hobbyists might be underrepresented. Lastly, some people were out scrambling to get their business back on line and didn’t have time for a meeting.We did not conduct a detailed count; this documents the approximate votes.

  1. Business Users
    1. I ran a business out of TechShop: 10
    2. Note that many small business users might be very interested in the next TechShop but can’t make meetings right now because they are too busy scrambling to keep their business going.
  2. Cost: TechShop membership cost
    1. Cost Too Much 8
    2. Cost Too Little 20
    3. Cost About Right 20
    4. Note that it was said the overall blended TS membership was $90/month
  3. Parking: The shop must
    1. Be near public transit 5
    2. Have parking 25
  4. Location 1: The shop should
    1. Have multiple sites in the SF bay area 15
    2. Have one site near me 30
    3. Grow to have sites across the US 10
  5. Location 2: If there was one shop in this location then I would NOT be interested
    1. Only SF 30 not interested
    2. Only SJ 5 not interested
    3. Only RWC 7 not interested
    4. Near Hacker Dojo 7 not interested
    5. Note: Lots of interest in a shop between RWC and SJ.
  6. Machine Shop:
    1. The shop must have equivalent to HAAS CNC mill 20
    2. Note: Or space to rent to put in a high end mill with operation restricted to pro users.
  7. Education: Does the shop need to address everything from beginner to professional, or could it just focus on one narrow objective in that range?
    1. Full range 30
    2. Specific focus - This seemed an important option to some people but we were not able to clarify the exact point.
  8. Dedicated Table: How much extra would you pay per month to have a 4x4 table space that was yours to use exclusively and leave your stuff there?
    1. $20/month 30 people
    2. $100/month 15 people
    3. Note that people said this is priced in competition to having to pay to bring your stuff to/from the shop each day. If close parking is $10/day, then this just has to be cheaper than that.
  9. 24x7:
    1. Would pay $50/month extra for 24 hour access 15
  10. Tools: What is required for you to be interested in the new shop?
    1. ShopBot 20
    2. Tormach and lathe 20
    3. Welding 10
    4. Woodshop 30
    5. WaterJet 1
    6. Plasma Cutter 10
    7. Laser only shop 5
    8. Note: lots of interest in lasers, but not in a laser only shop. There is of course a lot of synergy between these tool groupings and we did not test that complexity in the meeting.
  11. Board:
    1. Would you work to help run the organization? 10
  12. Raising money:
    1. Would you donate $500 now? 30
    2. Would you donate $1000 now? 15
    3. Would you donate more now? 10
    4. Would you pay your membership 1 year ahead? 35
    5. Interested in REIT to buy a building 15

Meeting Notes

These are notes about what was said in the meeting. The information below is not asserted to be true or complete. Some of these items were mentioned by one or two people only. Sometimes there was broad consensus on the item. I tried to capture as much as I could here as just raw information. It’s important to remember that we may need 500 members to make a shop really work and we only had 50 in our meeting. If only one person in the meeting brought up an item, that still might represent the feeling of many who were not here. To know if something is true and important to the entire community we would need to do more investigation.

  • Hacker Dojo
    • Is a non-profit collective space. Mostly for software development but recently added small makerspace.
    • Costs $125/month
    • has a large bed 120 watt laser cutter
    • Open to expanding in directions that members want. Willing to talk to a group of potential members who would say, “if you do this then we’ll join.”
    • Initially ran their laser first come, first served; no rules. Then at members request set up an online calendar with the rule: “only sign up for 2 hours at a time”. Still run very loosely.
    • Will there be a culture clash between the Dojo collective mentality and the TS more rigid rules based mentality?
  • There is a google doc out listing alternative sources of tools for makers. It is linked through the social media. Please contribute to this document as you find new sources. The following were mentioned as being in the document:
    • Plasma cutter
    • Panel Cutter
    • CNC Mill
    • Someone is looking for a large format printer for fabric
    • If you need a daily work space in south SJ
    • To get references to other makerspaces around the country
  • Three core constituencies, can we put them all in one shop?
    • Membership of all kinds
    • Professionals - power users
    • Educational mission - STEAM, community improvement
  • People would like to have some kind of unified cross makerspace certification. If they are certified to use a professional CNC mill at one makerspace, they’d like that certification to be honored at other makerspaces. Maybe with only a cursory “prove it” check out. There may be a national organization working on this.
  • We need multiple spaces for different classes of users.
    • Professional CNC machinists are frustrated when they find a mill has been tweaked by a beginner user who broke something. Also true of laser cutter users finding a laser filthy or damaged. A popular solution is to have a separate set of tools that are only accessible by the “professional” level member. They pay more for this and probably get to reserve longer time blocks as well. They know the machines are going to be clean and working well.

It was suggested that the shop should have some cheaper equipment for beginners. Perhaps a metal lathe from Harbor Freight that is cheap and less costly to repair. These would not stand up to long professional work, but that would be done on the more expensive “pro only” equipment. Many people complained that classes would monopolize the shop. For instance, when a woodshop SBU is in progress the woodshop is unavailable to members. If the shop teaches two woodshop SBUs back to back that essentially shuts down the woodshop for an entire day. Also, no way to find out online that the woodshop is unavailable due to a class; this is part of a larger operational communication issue. Several instructors found it difficult to teach a class with background noise. For instance, teaching a woodshop SBU while a plasma cutter is running on the other side of the wall.

  • There was a lot of frustration about STEAM classes monopolizing parts of the shop for weeks at a time. It was said that they were poorly supervised at times and often left a mess in the shop. Some people wanted to eliminate STEAM classes, others thought it was an important part of the mission of the shop. It was noted that STEAM summer camps generated a lot of profit for TechShop.
    • Could be addressed with better management
    • Could be handled with separate space, or even location, for STEAM type classes
  • We have seen woodshop groups start up and eventually fail. The successful ones did not rely only on membership dues; they also sold classes and materials.
  • Could revenue come from contract manufacturing? For instance, someone drops off a DXF file for laser cutting. Those sit in a queue that a qualified member could pick up and execute using shop supplied materials. The customer pays the shop and the shop pays the member who did the work; the shop keeps some amount for itself.
  • Non-profit. We discussed this a bit. Some people wanted the shop to be non-profit, others were ambivalent - they just wanted something that worked. Nonprofits cannot distribute profits to members or employees. One side said a non-profit could not pay high enough salary and benefits to attract quality employees, that a non-profit prevents hiring talented employees; another side said that wasn’t true at all. In the end the organizing committee will have to sort this out.
  • There is a member segment of extremely casual users. Drop-ins. They felt a monthly TS charge was too high. One suggestion was to sell a punch card of 10 one day visits. That was well received.
  • Some would like more mentoring of new members. They felt that after the SBU they were left to sink or swim. They wanted to have people help them more. It could be done in more classes or 1/1 help. Maybe building more community of similar people so they could help each other.
  • Many people said they did not like that there was only one price for everyone at TS. The hobbyist who came once a month paid the same as the professional who was there every day. It felt inherently unfair. Either the light user should pay much less or the pro should pay much more.
  • Many professional users said they did not like that the hobbyists got in their way of using the machines. The pros could not reserve as much time on the equipment as they needed to get their work done. The hobbyists might damage the machine and not report it. The pro machinists said that it isn’t just scheduling; they really need separate machines that only they get to use. The need for separate pro level lasers was not as clear; for lasers it might be ok to share with hobbyists as long as the lasers are cleaned and maintained and pros could schedule more time. It was mentioned several times that there was not enough laser capacity. TSSF had something like this with the Trotec lasers that cost $10/hour to operate.
  • How do you know who’s a pro skilled person and who isn’t? 4 hours is not enough training to use a CNC mill safely and correctly. Some people will claim to be a pro skill level and yet will be seen to use a machine incorrectly, maybe even dangerously. Some true pros will often take a shortcut on a machine because they feel it is safe if they do it. If we have some pro skill level membership, how do we enforce that? Do we have some skills based test? If someone buys pro skill level access, under what circumstances do we take that away? “We saw you in the pro level shop without safety glasses, you now lose your pro skill access”? “You did not close the welding curtain behind you when you started, you now lose your pro skill access”? “You ran the laser cutter head into something you thought would clear, you now lose your pro skill access”? Losing pro skill access could be a big deal for a member, how do they get redress?
    • Perhaps lost pro status could be restored by taking a very thorough shop safety course. Especially concerning that machine, but including general safety precautions and reminders to be aware. This would need to focus on building the right habits, so that they don’t keep making those mistakes.
  • Allen Tucker is interested in starting a pro level CNC machine shop. He might like it to be a dedicated small part of a larger shop. Contact him if this is your interest.
  • There is a lot of value in having access to all kinds of equipment. Many people might heavily use just one part of the shop, but they loved the fact that the other tool areas were available to them when needed. A heavy woodshop user might still need a laser cutter or metal shear from time to time. And a heavy laser user might need a panel cutter to slice up material to size.
  • The open shop fostered an atmosphere of cross idea fertilization that was very valuable. Valuable as part of the membership but also valuable to society as a whole. Some people found the ability to meet other makers and get feedback on their own projects to be valuable.
  • SBUs were often low information density and didn’t give enough time to really learn the machine. Some would prefer to pay for a quick 1/1 checkout session. Or instead of a 6 student 3 hour class, they’d pay for a single student 1.5 hour class.
  • Big work table space was very valuable. Some people brought their own tools, soldering irons, etc but used the shop for the easy workspace it provided. The new shop should have this same kind of space.
  • There was often not enough table space in TS. Members would come in to find that all the tables were already taken. Particularly bad to find a number of tables being used to store projects with no one actively using the table.
  • Some shops had only standing tables and bar stools. This was unworkable for a person who wants to set up their own sewing machine or computer. They should have had some regular desk height tables and chairs. (some locations did).
  • Could the shop be set up so a person in a wheelchair is able to use it? One person remembered a person in a wheelchair touring TSSJ and saying, “I can’t use any of the tools here.”
  • Private airplane clubs often own a plane and then rent it back to members on an hourly basis. Could that model work at our shop? Perhaps a member would buy a laser cutter or CNC mill and put it in the shop, getting paid for every hour it is used.
  • Within the community we might want to establish a sub tribe of members with kids. Help them to coordinate their needs and use.
  • Some information on TS finances was mentioned around the room; we have no way of knowing if this is accurate
    • 30% of revenue came from classes
    • TSMP had 604 members and a goal to be profitable on memberships alone with 750 members.
    • Summer camp STEAM classes at one location generated $30k in profit.
    • Other classes generated very little profit. (Due to the unlimited class membership deal?)
    • Average blended membership rate was $90/month
    • TSMP rent was $32k/month
    • Took $90k/month in revenue to keep a TS profitable
    • Santa Clara electric utility rates are 20% below other cities.
  • Shop sizes:
    • TSMP 21,000 sqft
    • TSSJ old location 10,000 sqft
    • TSSJ new location 17,000 sqft
  • Cost of moving from one space to another is huge and a problem. The new shop should try to get a space that will last. Of course another option is to limit growth to what the space can handle; being for-profit TS felt it had to keep growing, a non-profit would not necessarily feel that pressure.
  • One idea: put the shop into trailers or shipping containers. This would make it easier to relocate. Could also be a short term bridge to a longer term shop location.
  • Consider a space that would let us sublease sections of about 300 sqft to other companies. The space would have to have plenty of power and exhaust.
  • There was a significant interest in the room for investing in a REIT that would buy a property to lease to the new shop. That interest persisted even when we said, “that would mean a lot of money.”
  • Maybe have the main shop in an industrial location with parking and a satellite location downtown where there is lots of foot traffic. The downtown location would only have the light tools and maybe host the STEAM classes. Location like this would also be good for edutainment classes like “laser etching date night.”
  • Equipment TS did not have that members would like to have:
    • CNC lathe
    • A mill between a Bridgeport and a CNC
    • Kiln - mid sized - for glass, ceramics, etc
    • Metal sintering
    • Metal cutting laser
  • One suggestion was to set a bar for the next meeting. We let anyone donate $500 to the startup fund. If you put money in the bank you get to vote. If not, you can talk and participate in the meeting (we might even count those hands that go up) but all the steering committee energy would go towards what the donors want; or if we don’t have enough donors, to changing the proposal until we do.