Fat Cat Fab Lab
From $0 to $10,000. Opening a makerspace in a historic, high-rent district.
2014 - Current
Fat Cat Fab Lab is thriving community of hundreds of artists, engineers, teachers, and students, working out of the same space in the West Village, sharing the same tools, and often collaborating on projects. Memberships offering 24/7 access are available for $110/mo. Paid classes and free public events are hosted several days a week – come in and learn about anything from Arduinos to Machine Learning and 3D printing.
At the beginning we registered a company, opened a bank account, and started teaching classes ourselves. The core team was Peter Hartmann, Daren Güler and myself, with the occasional mentorship from our investor. We found teachers, promoted classes, outfitted the space with tools and equipment, implemented a membership program taking the income from $0/mo to over $10,000/mo. I now operate as a board member and director of marketing and work out of the space regularly.
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A Fuller Story
The West Village of Manhattan is a beautiful place, entrenched in the history of technology, art, and music. When I moved from Florida to NYC in 2014, I was coming off of a project that was near and dear to me, Tampa Hackerspace, where we bootstrapped and kickstarted a maker space in Tampa Florida. Now living in NYC, I no longer had access to these kinds of resources. Naturally, I began exploring.
I visited several maker spaces in the area - Hack Manhattan near Union Square, NYC Resistor out in Brooklyn, Tech Shop down south, and Alpha 1 labs near my neighborhood. Then I ran across a small group of people in the West Village gathering every Tuesday around a laser cutter, some soldering irons, and a DIY 3D Printer. These people had a different air about them. They weren't just engineers and techies, but artists as well. An engineer / jazz musician living inside a church. An installation artist living on an electric sailboat. The resources were limited compared to other spaces, but I clicked with the people. I soon began to show up regularly to contribute to the space.
After a few months of understanding the environment, we realized that our group had no way to sustain paying rent in the small office space. We had no regular stream of income outside of the occasional member donation. We had access to a much larger space next door, but nothing to fill it with. We didn't have a membership program, didn't offer any additional classes, and leadership was unclear and fragmented.
We got an injection of seed funding from an angel investor of sorts, which provided us the resources to move in to the larger space next door, which was previously a gym. However, the rent was high. Nearly $10,000 a month. How were we going to afford that when our current income was lucky to be $100 a month? We had our work cut out for us.
Over the course of the next year, we registered a company, opened a bank account, and started teaching regular classes ourselves. The core team at this point was Peter Hartmann, Daren Güler and myself, with the occasional managerial mentorship from our investor. We grew the community and created a more robust teaching program. As we began creating partnerships, reinvesting, and receiving donations from members, our equipment list blew up. Real 3D printers, saws, drill press, boxes of hand tools, a CNC router, vinyl plotter, vacuum former, ceramics kiln, photography equipment, electronic diagnostic tools, printers, industrial sewing machines, and the list goes on. With the variety of equipment skyrocketing, so did the number of topics we could teach, and the number of people we could reach. During this time period, we developed a gym-inspired membership program where hobbyists could access all of these tools 24 hours a day for only $110/month with their personal membership key card.
Today our income hovers around $10,000 with membership and class fees combined. We have about 80 paying members and hundreds visit our free events each month.
Tearing things apart, understanding how they work and putting them back together in new, creative ways has always felt deeply empowering. Helping create space for others to do this is a considerable point of personal accomplishment. I operate as a board member and director of marketing and work out of the space regularly.