[Hacker Dojo] Renovations Kickstarter


The [Hacker Dojo], as you might have suspected, is a California based hacker space that would like your money to help with renovations. Sure, there is nothing wrong with a little dust on the ground, but half of this space was apparently deemed unfit to use for it’s member hackers. For this purpose, they are running a Kickstarter campaign to raise $250,000 for renovations. If this seems a little steep to you, keep in mind that this looks like a pretty massive space by most standards, and land prices aren’t exactly cheap in that area.

If you’re not that generous, (Who can resist the sad faces around 0:35 in the video on their Kickstarter?) they are also offering some sweet prizes. Unfortunately, the original Super Pong Machine signed by creator Al Alcorn is already sold, but for only $2 you can have their eternal gratitude! For something a bit more tangible, they have stickers for $8, shirts for $32, and other prizes up to $10,000 for the most expensive of them, “creative input” on a mural.

46 thoughts on “[Hacker Dojo] Renovations Kickstarter

  1. Work in the yard. 250,000? You should be ashamed of yourselves. Why not use your supreme hacking skills to refurb the “unusable space”??? It seems like it would be a great way for folks to build something at a hackerspace and to enlarge the area at the same time. Folks there can swing a hammer right?

    /sigh. West. Coast. Mentality.

    1. Actually, no. These renovations are the result of the city inspectors from San Jose deeming the space unfit — they had conditional use permits that expired, but they couldn’t get them renewed due to bureaucracy (and it sounds like an underestimation on their part of how many code violations they were been exempted from in the first place; they’ve owned up to having had some naivety when it comes to city codes). The unfortunate reality is that they *can’t* just bring members in to “swing hammers” — the codes that they need to meet will require licensed contractors to come out and perform the work. The culture over there is very can-do (been to a few of their events; basically visit them any time I’m in the Bay, since it’s a fantastic space), but they CANNOT do the work themselves; they’re simply not allowed.

      It’s really unfortunate that they ran into these problems, and I’m rooting for them to get their $250k. If I lived in the Bay, I’d happily commit to a 5-year membership because they’re honestly one of the coolest, most positive shared workspaces I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. Don’t accuse them of having a “West Coast Mentality” when the situation they’re in was, at worst, the fault of them underestimating the ridiculous hoops that the bureaucracy requires.

      1. Industrial Zones are your friend. City county and state agencies are just happy to get revenue from those places and if you are lucky and score one with a pre-installed back up generator, then it is even better. Maybe an option with more sense. The cost involved with this project is absurd and could be better used for other things imho. Best of luck to them and hope someone finds a cheaper solution :)

        Sorry I came off like a jerk. I guess things look simpler from a distance.

      2. We are light industrial actually, the problem is we are not zoned for assembly (read: the capacity to hold classes or lectures.) Previously the city didn’t realize how large our classes were, but once they did realize they came down pretty hard.

    2. East Coaster here. In my county at least a certified contractor has to do the repairs/fixes if you’re out of compliance with safety/health codes etc.

      To me it seems like they just got the short end of the stick by getting a landmine of a building. :P

    1. We’re not allowed to :/ Most code violations in California require the use of a licensed city-approved contractor. We’re doing all that we can by ourselves though, and if you’re in the area we’d love to have you email iWantToHelp@hackerdojo.com and we’ll assign you to the work teams for the projects you can help on.

    1. That is a great point! I know in Texas if an owner let this happen, they would be out for full repair of it. However, that is assuming that the members did not have a hand in this violations.

  2. Does this seem to anyone else like an extreme abuse of Kickstarter?!? I mean, I thought it was to help kick start projects, not be a charity organization. Sure, this project will help a very limited number of hackers/makers, but come on, is it really the best way $250,000 can be spent?

    Hmm, I guess I’m not sorry if I come off like a jerk, because that’s how I feel right now. Mostly jealous that such things don’t exist where I live, and I have not got the time/experience/motivation to start one of my own.

    1. Tons of stuff on Kickstarter is this way. It would only be abusing it if somehow people were forced to contribute. While I like to support hackerspaces, I won’t be contributing to this one myself. I think that hackerspaces should survive from their local members.

      1. We do survive entirely due to our local members, and we had planned to make many of these renovations ourselves. However, the city is demanding a lot of things be changed in extremely short order, and so while our finances are strong we could only afford these changes using member money if the demands were over a longer time span.

    2. And, for what it’s worth, Hacker Dojo has been open-sourcing a lot of the cool code that helps us run the Dojo. I think we’ve helped inspire quite a number of other hacker spaces, and helped get them going. So, Steve, when you are ready (or if you can get a core of folks together), look to the Dojo for clues and code to help get your own local hacker space up and running. :-)

  3. Quoting the site, it’s technically a ‘members only’ place with $100/month member dues. Any visitors are recommended to donate $10/day. They’re a non-profit and have a ‘hardship’ board that reviews case-by-case if $100 is beyond your means. They claim to have lots of members in this leased warehouse.

    So, WTF? You’re leasing the building, seem to take in lots of money, and want to raise $250k for addressing code violations in a *leased* building? I’d personally be going to the owner and letting them know their property is in need of repair and the lease agreement needs to be discussed in detail.

    This doesn’t exactly smell like efficient management. Does the HackerDojo’s founder have a brother that leases this warehouse to him?

    I know I sound jerkish, but maybe scaling back on a few of the many ‘member dinners’ and ‘happy hours’ would be a better use of funds.

      1. That’s an informative article. Thanks!

        I’m a CA resident (though too far from the Dojo to be able to go check it out), and I can assure anyone reading and wondering “WTF is up with these costs?” that this is a cost of doing business in CA. The rules/regs out here are extreme. In many cases, those rules are some of the best laid out, best planned rules I’ve ever read, and in other cases they’re preemptive knee-jerk regs that could only have been birthed by a lawyer who needed more billable hours. So it’s frustrating to do much of anything of any size out here.

        In most of the country, certain risks are implied and everyone works with that knowledge. In CA, any imaginable risk is factored in, and you have to deal with it ahead of time. This comes off as onerous, but in the long view, it usually ends up being slightly more cost effective (and generally more socially responsible too).

        The ultimate issue is that those of us in the US have grown accustomed to the “we deserve anything we want, and it should be at the lowest possible price, consequences be damned”. The reality is that we don’t deserve anything just because we want it, and we don’t do ourselves or anyone else any favors by cutting corners just to get it now. California actually seems to understand this idea (in most cases), and where industry and the citizenry have abrogated responsibility, the state has stepped in and mandated it. That’s actually the way gov’t has to work.

        Not to say CA doesn’t take it too far on many occasions (for being a proactive gov’t, we as a state have massive innefficiencies that have nearly bankrupted us), but when we as individuals learn to accept that doing it right means that we won’t have to doing it again later, we ultimately end up being more productive, innovative, and creative as people and groups.

      2. So the fundraising from corporate sponsors was launched in January. The kickstarter was launched when we got a firm commit from the city on precisely what they wanted (late June).

        Re: expected costs of doing business. Originally we were told we did not need zoning for Assembly Purposes, but after seeing the way we operate (and how many classes we run for free for the public). this was changed. This was kinda a shock, and where the giant list of things that “Must be done NOW or else” came from.

    1. Actually, we request a donation of $10 a day but it is not demanded. The only reason it is a private members only club is because if we legally define it as a “public space” the safety and zoning requirements are different. This is why it is a “private members only club that welcomes guests”

      Happy hours are funded out of member’s pockets, and people bring their own supplies.

      The reason we can not break the lease with the landlord and walk away is because (as they do with many nonprofits) they require personal guarantors on the lease. If we do manage to break our lease (and that would be very hard) 6 of our dedicated volunteers are left with a half million dollars they need to pay.

  4. Like most people this seemed dubious or abusive. I went through their work to get a better feel and gain some objectivity.

    Nope. Their workspace is amazing already. I am generally pedantic at worst but not on this issue. They come off as spoiled brats just looking for a cool place to hang out and paint furniture.

    In the eastern part of the country that much money can buy you an entire building of similar size or two to three normal hacker space buildings. This is just horribly selfish.

    1. Well… If the Dojo were to set up the space in, say North Carolina, how does that benefit the hackers in California? (If the hackers are here, the space needs to be here. It’s not just virtual services over the net, this is a Community Center type space, where the social fabric is a core factor.)

      The current space is awesome, and we used to have some really packed meetups in the larger spaces. But, they can also be noisy for the adjacent areas. That was the goal with signing a lease on the second half. We’d have a larger assembly hall, and still have quiet spaces for hacking. We would add a maker-space, to help get saw dust and metal bits out of the electronics lab. The change was one that the member community wanted. And then the City revoked the conditional use permit, and restricted use of the current space, and gave us a large list of requirements and a tough deadline. We’re doing all that we can to help meet the deadline, and keep the space open, and try to also open the new spaces.

      Wish us luck! Send us a buck? :-)

  5. A quarter of a million dollars eh ?

    Geez, rent a damn party tent in someone’s backyard or empty out a garage at a “member’s” house and unpack a U-Haul trailer with the ‘hacker’ acoutrements each week.

    They ain’t getting one plug penny from me ! Figures it would be California, spend, spend, spend…at least it’s not tax dollars. The mentality is very obvious though.

    1. If you can serve 330 members, build the next Pinterest, teach kids to hack, host conferences for free or run essentially a small college in your garage, you have a damn impressive garage sir! My hat is off to you!

      1. I’m actually quite proud of my garage, and it cost quite a bit less than $250,000. It even comes with an attached house!!! While not cool enough to be called a “Dojo”, I’ve accomplished some great things, _without_ begging the nation to _give_ me $!

    2. The party tent? You’ve missed out on 50 SuperHappyDevHouse parties over the years (search Flikr for “shdhNN”, where NN is an integer between 1 and 50). Number 51 is this next weekend, at the Microsoft Silicon Valley Campus. Although it is huge these days, SHDH had humble beginnings. The idea of Hacker Dojo actually came up during the wrap up at SHDH25… was there enough of a community to support a lease for a hacker space between parties. It turns out that there was, and happily there still is. :-)

  6. What is being overlooked about this situation is that we are talking about SILICON VALLEY, which has a very, very, very tight real estate market. Chances are there is no better lease option in the area and that they have a very good lease, even with the repairs factored in.

    I visited Hacker Dojo and is was impressive, so I too am rooting for them.

    – Robot

    1. From the above linked article:
      “”I would like to stay, I like the space,” Levinson said. “Having the Dojo has changed the landscape of the area.” The landlord “gets a lot of referrals for office space because (certain tenants) want to have space next to the Dojo.”

      There are two more years left on the Dojo’s lease, and Levinson said six Dojo members are liable for those payments themselves if the Dojo can’t make them.”

  7. Yea 250K Ia lot, but clearly some here are commenting here with out reading the available information. They do state volunteers will will do as much work as they can The conspiracy theorist in me wonders if there are commercial interest eying the property who have connections in city hall. Evidently Dojo is a non-profit, as such may not pay property taxes, city, county governments have an interest in seeing commercial occupants. On the power strip issue it’s hard to judge without seeing what the inspectors saw. Moet likely it was a fire safety issue, not a clean power issue. Often the power strips sold at the box & hardware stores have a label stating for residential use only. In home use items are plugged in once, and that’s it, in commercial use the receptacles may see repeated use day in day out.

  8. With 330 members paying $100/month you have a monthly income of $33,000 – not counting stated sponsorships and visitor donations.

    Ever pause and consider that you’ve outgrown the ‘small and struggling’ status? Above you’ve stated that finances are strong. Here’s a tip: there are entities out there that will gladly loan you money.

    Sorry, but I’m still struggling with the concept that such an organized place needs a quarter mil of free cash for survival.

    1. The community started small, with 6 founding members committing to a big lease, hoping “if you build it, they will come”. They did come, but growth was slow. Eventually, we were big enough for the second space, but the lease burden was taken on again. We finally built up membership to the point where we could expand again. That was when both of the extra spaces in this building opened up. It was a huge gamble to take on both spaces, with the hopes of adding pass-through doors, but the lease was signed. Then the City changed the playing field.

      As mentioned in someone else’s comment above, even if Hacker Dojo could get out of the lease, that would leave the 6 founders paying the remainder of the term, close to $5 million. That’s part of doing business in California. But “not walking away from your passion” is part of the hacker culture here, too. And that’s when we look for creative ways to reach your goals, versus wasting time and resources planning our alternatives to fail. :-)

    2. The finances are strong, and we did have over 100K cash in the bank for emergencies, but we had not budgeted for the city to make such absurdly expensive demands on such short timelines. We put away a few thousand dollars every month for a rainy day, but if you do the math out $33,000 * 12 < $400,000 a year. This means that the city has demanded more than half of our entire annual operating budget. I don't think any nonprofits budget for that kind of emergency.

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