Friday, September 28, 2007

The Machine Shop As Membership Club

Guy Kawasaki blogs about something that I would have found very useful a couple of years ago--and a co-worker and I actually discussed setting up a business like this:
One of the challenges that geeks, inventors, hobbyists, hackers, burners, and artists who are trying to change the world face is finding a place to do their work. Ideally, it would have lots of equipment, supplies, and other geeks. Until the last year, they would have to set up their own workshop or beg for space at a machine shop. Now they can go and hang out at TechShop in Menlo Park, California.
Jim Newton founded TechShop in the summer of 2006 because he needed a world-class workshop so he could work on his projects and inventions. After having access to full machine shops at both the College of San Mateo when he taught a BattleBots class and at the studio set of the Discovery Channel’s MythBusters show when he was the science advisor, he found himself without a place to work on his projects after these positions. He was surprised to find that there were not any places like TechShop already, so he decided that he would open one himself.
TechShop provides its members with a huge variety of tools, machines, and equipment in a 15,000 square-foot workshop environment. The equipment at TechShop is not likely to appear in the hobbyist’s home workshop. The range of tools and equipment covers machining, sheet metal, welding, casting, laser cutters, rapid prototyping, CAD, CNC equipment, electronics, sewing, automotive, plastics, composites, and lots more.
Membership is modeled after a fitness center, and several levels of membership are available. There are currently approximately 350 monthly, yearly, corporate, and lifetime members. The facility can handle around fifty members at a time, so TechShop have set the membership cap at 500 members so the shop and workspace does not get over-crowded. There are only about 150 membership slots available until membership is full. The hours of operation for TechShop are currently 9 AM to midnight, 7 days a week. Jim tells me that they plan to open 24x7 when they reach the membership cap of 500 in the next month or two.
One of the guiding principles of TechShop is to make it affordable and accessible to everyone. Memberships are priced at $30 for a day pass, $100 for a month pass, or $1100 for an annual pass. Family and corporate memberships are also available. Lifetime memberships are not for sale, but are given only to TechShop’s angel lenders.
I'm not sure if there is a big enough market here in the Boise area to make something like this practical, but I am sure that in any urban area with a million people, this would make a lot of sense. If you have ever gone to a machine shop and and tried to get something made, you know that:

1. They charge you an arm and leg.

2. Machine shops are so busy that you may have a hard time getting them to even give you a quote.

I think this is a cool idea, and if there was a critical mass of others here in the Boise area who agreed with me, it might be an interesting business opportunity. I suspect that to make this work, you would need to offer classes as well as equipment availability. I am convinced that the level of instruction required to keep club members safe and prevent them from stupidly breaking the equipment would not be terribly much.

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