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So You Want to Open a Small Press Bookstore/Artist-Run Space? A Cautionary Tale (poetryfoundation.org)
336 points by tarr11 on Oct 20, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 238 comments

I was a founder and operator of the Los Angeles free co-working space DropLabs. We lasted for 3 years before closing out of lack of interest. We never intended anything other than a free place for geeks to collect and work. We had events in the evenings, which were fairly popular. Having multiple partners with graduate business degrees, we chose not to incorporate, we just rented a space and called it "Droplabs" (why invite the taxman?)

However, our location was near downtown, and the 20-something geeks were both afraid of downtown and would rather pay $40-$60+ per day to have a chair in a WeWork space in Hollywood or Santa Monica. It did not make sense, so I tried spending a week at each of the more popular co-working spaces, and learned they were not occupied by geeks or "real" startup people, but wealthy 20-somethings playing a startup game, dating one another, and with zero serious intent other than wasting their parent's money.

I learned to be a success as a co-working space, one needed to create a "dating safe play pit" for white wealthy 20-somethings. I have zero interest in that.

Someone else has already said it, but location.

I live in Santa Monica and would love a space like yours. But going between the westside & downtown -- particularly during rush hour -- just isn't reasonable for a regular thing. It'll take easily 1hr+.

I had hope the Expo line would help, and while it does a bit, its current speed still makes it a long journey, timewise.

This is a really clever comment, regarding WeWork essentially being (to summarize a bit) a dating app.

I would love to hear more about your experience.

I knew that the vibe on the west-side had changed when I saw more people in coffee shops 'working' on their startups and not screen plays. Probably good for LA overall, though, more diversity in the economics.

Location is the most important thing in marketing a physical area.

We were located "next door" to The Brewery, the world largest freelance artist community (35K freelance artists living and working in a former brewery compound near downtown.) The artists used us far more than the geeks we were tying to attract.

That location is pretty famous for having the worlds largest concentration of artistic freeloaders. In fact, LA is a very difficult place to do these sorts of things - every 6 months a new wave of drop-outs hits the scene to become 'the next new up and coming thang' .. so its not really a surprise.

If you want to run a successful hackrrspace in LA, you've got to find a way to make the hackers contribute to the effort. One of the best ways to do this is to have regular open-house events, promoting the contributing artists forward, and thus demoting those who freeload. Form a real community around those who contribute, and dissuade freeloaders.

(Disclaimer: ran a hackrrspace in LA for 10 years, had a hell of a lot of fun, but also experienced immense frustration at just how some folks, who take so much space and creative energy, contribute nevertheless so little...)

We were located inside the "Big Art Labs" compound, across the street from the UPS headquarters (next door to The Brewery.) Our specific location was great for not being attractive to the freeloading artists, because there were similar artist intended spaces at Big Art Labs, and they got those freeloaders.

Droplabs started as a web developers space centered around developers using the Drupal CMS. But it soon diversified. I myself was working on my own startup, a animation VFX tech startup. There were periods where the place was packed, but over all not enough to justify the effort. We were not trying to earn a profit, we were trying to create a tech creative community. Simple enough, during the period of Droplabs, the economy overall was not there to grant people that much free time or free income to be active in such a community.

The economics of hobby businesses, like bookstores and coffee shops and art galleries, are almost always such that you can either feed it the equivalent of a full time salary, or work there every hour it's open yourself, because the kind of business is one that other people want to do for free as a hobby.

This means that, unless you want to be a slave to your own business, you'd better have $50k a year minimum passive income in a cheap town to "give" to the business, plus $100k-$500k to set up the space, plus enough money to live on for yourself, or it's not worth it.

And forget about ever making a profit, even if you do work there every hour it's open.

So how do coffee shops like Starbucks mange to support 20 working part time plus a corporate headquarters and make a profit, from the same small store you would operate as a hobby?

I have a friend who runs a brewery. They distribute a ridiculous amount of their product into stores around the world and have won many awards, yet they make very little margin from all that.

He told me they make an overwhelming amount of money off of the tasting room attached to their physical brewery because the beer itself is effectively water in terms of cost so they make profit by not having to pay any middle men in the tasting room.

My suspicion is that in the coffee world, if you source and roast your own beans and serve them direct in a venue you own you get a similar effect. I think it must be essential to run the roastery yourself to make it work. That work goes well beyond what is required to just open a cafe and serve someone else’s coffee.

Starbucks has simply insane process automation, training, branding, marketing, custom drink labs pushing out new flavors every two weeks, complete control of their global supply chains.

It would be more accurate to ask: “How the F can anyone make any money when Starbucks is on every other street corner and has the advantages of scale they have.”

> It would be more accurate to ask: “How the F can anyone make any money when Starbucks is on every other street corner and has the advantages of scale they have.”

Source and roast your own beans, don't overroast the beans, charge a premium over Starbucks for not producing crap coffee from overroasted beans. Starbucks does some impressive work with the candy flavors it adds to distract from their coffee, but...

Objections from sibling comments aside, roughly ‘everyone’ who has compared coffees for taste feels Starbucks is ‘overroasted’.

Curious then why Starbucks doesn’t adjust.

Is it something in the scale manufacturing, such as, more margin for error in the overroasted side, so taste will be the same signature burnt at every Starbucks in the world?

Is it that their market is former fast food coffee drinkers used to bland and burnt drips from McDonalds who will try a Starbucks, find it so ‘robust’ (ahem) as to be obvious, and that’s the end of the experimentation?

There has to be a data driven reason.

> Curious then why Starbucks doesn’t adjust.

Poor quality beans and robusta are ‘hidden’ with a dark roast as the flavour moves to bitter. This also lasts a long time and doesn’t go stale for ages. As a general rule in coffee, light roasts have a variety of tastes and dark ones are just bitter. This saves a lot of money. Low quality arabica beans are less than half the price of good ones, and that’s for me, purchasing a few kg at a time. Starbucks will be using a lot of low grade robusta and that stuff cheaper again. Combine this with a brand which makes coffee where the dominant flavour isn’t the coffee but the milk (if you can call miscellaneous juiced nuts etc that) which is often flavoured. I don’t think the coffee will be their primary cost in consumables, I’m guessing milk is. If you want to have a play, get a heat gun and a kilo of beans. Have a play about with different roast styles. It’s a slippery slope but it isn’t an expensive one.

Edit: Here is a link with a breakdown of Starbucks costs. Not sure how accurate it is, but it puts the coffee as 16c per cup, and the milk at the same. The cup itself is about 32c according to the article. http://coffeemakersusa.com/pricing-breakdown-cup-coffee/

I find these Starbucks complaints interesting. They always have the character of a warning about a hidden conspiracy. Kind of a "wake up, sheeple!" vibe.

Like, once a Starbucks drinker goes out and buys a heatgun to roast their own beans they will discover the truth that has been hidden from them all along.

I always just assume that someone who drinks Starbucks regularly would be the most aquainted with how it tastes and might not need someone to tell them.

It's like what happens when whisky fans discover single malts and start dissing Johnny Walker.

Making a consistent product year over year with inconsistent raw materials, in high volume with wide distribution, and maintaining prices most people can afford is very difficult.

Sure you can get better coffee if you spend time doing research and sourcing beans and roasting equipment, but that doesn't mean there is no place for Starbucks in the world.

I was staying in a city in Germany's north west lately. There's a large old market place with plenty of cafés. All very busy except one: Starbucks. When you've been used to the kind of coffee that was brought in by Italian guest workers, Starbucks is a pretty mediocre experience.

On the other hand, Starbucks keeps spreading to smaller cities. So they seem popular with someone at least.

I’d always assumed people were after good coffee when they wanted a coffee. Thinking about it, this is probably wrong and there are people that actually set off looking for a Starbucks.

By and large, Starbucks drinkers are looking to drink sugar and cream with caffeine. The bitterness of cheap, overroasted beans enables excessive sweetness without being cloying.

The people complaining here aren't the average Starbucks customer.

Coffee is probably like wine to most people: critics who say it's bad always seem to be exaggerating, it's hard for the layman to actually tell if it's objectively good or bad, and in the end you're drinking it for an effect or company anyways.

For example, burned coffee is more of a caricature of its normal taste unlike, say, burned popcorn which tastes like charcoal. You could probably tell most people including me that some burned coffee is some local artisanal roast and I'd chalk up any changes in its flavor to that and move on.

People clearly just aren't making coffee purchases based on taste, so you have to liken the whole thing to people going to bars. At which point Starbucks is simply the well-known bar in town with no surprises. You know their hours, you know where it is, you know you can get a table and dominate it shamelessly for hours, and so do all the other people in your group.

Sure, you'd like to try one of those lil cafes around the block sometime, but it's something you procrastinate just like anything else that will introduce the slightest change in your life.

One popular theory among people who don't like Starbucks coffee is that a dark roast tends to make variations in or quality of the coffee beans less important than in the case of a lighter roast.

That said, Starbucks is obviously popular with a lot of people. Personally, I think their coffee and some of their other drinks are fine. I don't always go there (not that I'm a coffeeshop regular) but that's for reasons other than their coffee quality. (I admittedly tend to use darker roasts when I make coffee at home as well.)

I never had any issue with the way Starbucks coffee tastes - it's just coffee. I definitely don't pick my coffee shops based on the coffee taste - it's only a matter of distance/price, nothing else.

Well, then you're not part of the segment that's targeted by specialist coffee shops.

Which circles back to this question

> It would be more accurate to ask: “How the F can anyone make any money when Starbucks is on every other street corner and has the advantages of scale they have.

Specialists stores have specialist profits - they wont be hitting the mass market, because the mass market taste profile is different.

If you try to grow, then you may as well give up to starbucks which has the money to taste test and advertise enough to ride the wave of human attention.

If it's strictly distance/price, then you make all of your coffee at home and work, right? You would never even think about going to Starbucks if that is all you cared about. Now you may pick coffee shops based on atmosphere, which I think many people do.

I do, I drink coffee at home before going to work, then at work we have a machine that's free to use. But obviously there are times when I am away and want a cup of coffee, and then I will occasionally have starbucks, because it happens to be the only thing available/nearest/cheapest - I honestly don't care for the taste.

I'd expect it's not the only thing, but you choose it because of brand recognition? That's usually how brand advertising pays off.

That's fine everything is personal taste.


Starbucks coffee tastes like crap to me and the reason is they chose crappy quality beans and then over roast them.

"charge a premium over Starbucks"

$15 lattes, anyone?

To be fair, a starbucks latte is more like 5 dollars..


Personal attacks will get you banned here, regardless of how annoying another comment may be. Please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and don't post like this to HN.

No dude, just like fine dining, wine tasting and other things there are definitely margins of wide preference but there's also very clear tastes that are objectionable to anyone who tastes them and is aware of them.

You can have a preference of reds or whites but anyone who's trained can taste when a wine has oxidsized or turned sour and those are pretty objective statements of fact.

Overroasted coffee is definitely a thing if you've done coffee tastings and actually know what coffee tastes like and how the roasting process affects flavor profiles.

> This is a thinly disguised rant of your tastes vs. Starbucks as opposed to any kind of actual answer

No, it's an actual answer of one way that a number of relatively small and some fairly large coffee shop chains can and do survive when Starbucks exists and is ubiquitous.

It includes, of course, an endorsement of the taste to which those shops appeal as part of that strategy.

It sounds like all the beer they distribute is just promotion for their tasting room ;-)

Especially the branding although process and scale probably help too. I used to think that, when Starbucks started selling coffee to every hotel that filled up urns for meeting rooms, it would be some serious brand dilution. But it wasn't.

Coffee snobs like those downthread notwithstanding, most people don't care. I don't care most of the time although I try to frequent local shops for the variety. So anything that gets a lot of people to default to Starbucks, especially for a morning caffeine fix habit, is a win.

Not a native speaker, I don't understand the meaning of "filled up urns for meeting rooms"?

The big coffee containers with taps (e.g. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Hamilton-Beach-42-Cup-Coffee-Urn-...) that get set out by hotels and other event spaces for people to pour themselves coffee.

They tend to sit out over a heat source and, if the coffee wasn't lousy to begin with, it is after it's been burning over a flame or other heat source for an hour or two.

heronymus, if it is still not clear, the "urn" is the large coffee pot.

(not a native English speaker myself, and I tried my best to interpret your difficulty).

The big coffee buckets used for big meetings and conferences. Usually the coffee is bad in them.

Don't forget the "tax advantages" of Starbucks

While I can't speak to Starbucks, a similar coffee chain in Australia is actually a property play. They don't just own their cafe, but also several of the adjacent stores as well, which they lease out to other retailers. Much of the value in the business actually comes from appreciation in property values.

That is actually what McDonalds is doing, burgers are just addition.

I heard Starbucks is closing down in New Zealand due to lack of profit. But we have ridiculously good independent coffee shops, often run as "labours of love" or wishful thinking as per the article.

I’d heard that too, but they are still here. I buy green beans from a big supplier here and it’s interesting to chat to them. New Zealand imports good beans and very little low grade coffee comes into the country. Presumably the likes of Starbucks aren’t included in this statement as they import their own.

Starbucks equivalent in Australia? The only company I can think of to fill that space would be Gloria Jeans, but they don’t have the same pull as Starbucks.

Starbucks is next to non-existent in Australia. Partly it's because there were already established local chains when they tried to move into the market, but mostly because you can walk into almost any cafe in the country and get a much better cup of coffee at a comparable price.

Next to non-existent? They have several stores in each of the major cities. Is it the same number of stores as in Seattle? No. But near non-existent is way off.

> you can walk into almost any cafe in the country and get a much better cup of coffee at a comparable price.

This is also true in the United States and yet here we are.

It wasn't when Starbucks started. There used to be a real dearth of quality prepared coffee in America, and Starbucks was often the first place in many towns (not talking NYC or LA or San Fran or Chicago) to get a decent cup of coffee.

I don't know what to take from that though with regard to what y'all are arguing about, I can't really explain the economics of it all. But I think it's a fact that at the point Starbucks was expanding to be national, it was not true that most places it was expanding to had plenty of places where you could get a much better cup of coffee at a comparable price. Starbucks actually brought "coffee culture" to most of the U.S. (if it wasn't them it would have been someone else, this was when "foodie" culture in general was becoming a thing, people with enough money to were becoming more interested in 'gourmet' everything).

Well, I agree with you, but it doesn't contradict my point.

The fact that now, in 2018, it's possible to easily get high-quality coffee in Australia is not a complete explanation of why Starbucks is not popular there, since the same is true of the United States.

Well, the argument would be that Starbucks got it's national market share when that was not true in the U.S., but does not have that opportunity now in Australia. shrug.

I'm reluctant to say which company, as I'm not sure how public that information is.

It's worth pointing out Starbucks has several competitors in the cafe-chain space in Australia. There are cities in Australia where Starbucks tried opening & then closed down because they were unable to beat the local incumbent cafe chains.

Shall we call this mysterious coffee chain Glorious Pants Coffee Company?

lol :) I am a huge fan of Gloria Jeans (especially their Mudslide Mocha), but it isn't them. Gloria Jeans run on a franchise model & earn their money from selling franchising rights, collecting franchise fees, advertising fees & requiring franchisees to purchase coffee beans etc from approved suppliers that in some cases are owned by the umbrella company. I understand they're considering a shift to a company-owned store model - but they only just started a franchising arrangement in Germany, so that's a long way from happening.

I suspect some Aussies haven't heard of this cafe chain, even though they have twice as many stores as Starbucks, and now have cafes internationally.

Gloria Jeans actually started in America (in a Chicago suburb in 1979) and were common in Illinois and Wisconsin in the early 1980s. They've pretty much died out here -- interesting to learn that they had a second life in Australia.

The Australian owner took it international, Gloria Jeans are apparently in 55 countries now. It was interesting to search for Gloria Jeans on Twitter and find most of the tweets were from places like Pakistan, Malaysia, Oman, Singapore & Fiji.

I'm particularly excited that Gloria Jeans is launching 40 stores in Germany soon [1], and also 13 stores in the UK next year [2].

(We don't have Starbucks in my city and I loved Gloria Jeans so much that I bought shares in the parent company, that's why I'm so interested in information about coffee shops & competitors. So far it's been the worst share investment I made though, the shares have crashed 90%!)

[1] https://www.insideretail.com.au/news/gloria-jeans-to-open-40...

[2] http://www.rfg.com.au/2018/05/22/gloria-jeans-coffees-open-f...

Now you’ve got me intrigued. My second guess would be the Coffee Club. Apparently, and surprisingly, they are the largest chain in Australia. Hudson’s, Gloria Jeans, Michels Patisserie all seem to follow the franchise model and stick to malls, whereas the Coffee Club is more likely to be found in a downtown location. And they are inexplicably successful given the experience is not that outstanding.

If it’s “Established” chain, I don’t understand your reasoning for not mentioning the business name. It’s public information by the virtue that it’s a cafe, not to mention, a chain.

Why the secrecy?

The cafe chain is a privately held company. I'm not sure it's public information that they earn some of their income from owning & leasing nearby properties to completely unrelated retailers. I just happened to talk to someone who told me about it.

But my general point was less about this specific chain, and the idea that your profits may come from a part of the business that you're not known for. You then use that money to subsidize the other parts of the business. A bit like how Sony Corporation's profits come from life insurance & medical insurance, while their electronics division makes a loss.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/28/business/global/sonys-bre...

Dude, just mentioning the name of the company isn't private. I am not sure why but I am incredibly bothered by this secrecy. There is nothing to do hide. The cafe exists in PUBLIC space for god sake!

I bought a toothpaste from a store but I feel like I shouldn't disclose the name of the store for their privacy. They're a private company!

By selling a LOT of coffee. Starbucks stores can have a 1000 orders per day [1]

A poet / artist space will be lucky to have a few dozen people come in every day.

[1]: https://www.quora.com/How-many-customers-does-an-average-Sta...

There is one I used to go to that was very busy and they would make 300-600 per staff member per day and there were 6 of them. This reddit thread gives similar numbers per barista. https://www.google.co.nz/amp/s/amp.reddit.com/r/barista/comm...

One of the local coffee shops solves this problem by also being a music school: http://hometownrhythms.com/

They also have regular musical acts. The Athens/metro Atlanta area has a lot of cover bands.

1000 day seems low to me. That’s only ~$10k/day. Can they justify at that rate?

Are you saying 10k a day is low? That's 3.65 million a year- that's absolutely enough to support rent, part time employees, and a nice profit margin (~10 - 15% on average).

Yes (I’m guesstimating $10 per customer). That’s fine for a mom and pop coffee shop maybe. But does that support a Starbucks? I’d guess no. I’d guess that Starbucks needs 2-3x that to justify keeping the location open.

Let me again repeat this, which you ignored:

> That's 3.65 million a year- that's absolutely enough to support rent, part time employees, and a nice profit margin (~10 - 15% on average).

Higher volume, faster turnover, economies of scale, predictable customer interaction schedules. All the things that make a local coffee shop or bookstore attractive, both to own and to patronize, directly conflict with those factors.

> economies of scale

Exactly this...which means Starbucks can then negotiate exclusive volume pricing from their provider/vendors anywhere in the product chain and force them to sell cheaper to Starbucks.

Small moms and pops coffee shops are not present on airports, in biggest city centers in best locations.

After you have best spots in city where a lot of people come add optimizations of supply chain or owning a supply chain.

One advantage I feel like is underappreciated is that Starbucks are functionally standardized - If I fly into a new city I've never been to before, I can still be pretty certain that I'll find a Starbucks in the airport, with the same menu, a familiar design, and similar prices, while a local place is always a bit more of a gamble (not to mention harder to find).

From what I understood is that not every Starbucks needs to be profitable. Some are insanely profitable, while others are just branding and marketing places that sell coffee. Of course there is a difference between not being profitable and bulking up insane losses each day, I think that is something Starbucks does well.

They keep them going as long as they are profitable. They track a metric called “store contribution” which is the profit sent to corporate after all the store expenses. The highest volume stores are grossing about 40+k/week with contributions in the realm of 500-700k/yr from one example I know of.

Moderate stores are doing around 25k/week. Stores below 10-15k/week tend to be at risk of shutting down or having the location changed. A 15k/week store can become a 30k/wk store just by getting a drive through.

There is also a distinction between “community” stores and higher volume profit stores (eg by highway entrance). Community stores get to be a little less profitable but build a “second home” for those in the community to hang out at, while non-community stores bring in profit by being in a high traffic area.

Two SV locations that I used regularly (Alma Village in Palo Alto, Hacienda center in Sunnyvale) have closed this year alone.

I've always wondered about this, there are 15 Starbucks within a 2 mile radius of where I live (just looked on google maps) and for some reason they don't seem to cannibalize each others sales enough for them to not keep building new stores, at least 3 of them have gone up within the last year or so.

Even 17+ years ago, there were downtown intersections in both Seattle and Vancouver that had two Starbucks each on opposite corners.

Huge effects of scale and then even Starbucks sometimes has to close a shop.

Scale, leading to the associated economies on the supply side, real estate and employee benefits, among other things. Plus, they have a well known, consistent product, which holds high value with customers.

The authors of Capitalism without Capital would argue that Starbucks are reaping the rewards of their investment in their process as illustrated by the staff manual that sibling comment mentions (just finished reading the book - really thought provoking).

There is a new coffee shop in the Digbeth area of Birmingham UK that appears to be family run and independent. I shall keep an eye on how they are going. Already there is a '10% student discount' sign on the window in felt-tipped pen (Birmingham City University have their Steamhouse project nearby).

Large capital reservoir to float downtimes, extraction of wealth from community in uptimes to fill that reservoir.

* like bookstores and coffee shops and art galleries*

Also, martial arts schools.

I taught martial arts for a couple years fully knowing I'd lose money in the process. How did I know that? Because my sensei had told us that he didn't make any money either. Neither does his sensei.

I think at this point is almost a rite of passage - if you want to teach you do it because you like it, not because you expect to profit from it.

Of course, the economics of your area also apply.

Probably doesn't apply to martial arts as I'm guessing it isn't very expensive.

A reason for getting into sports coaching is the same as for any other addiction, you reduce your own costs by becoming a pusher.

I dunno about that. I knew several tae kwon do folks back in the 90s charging around ~$300/mo subscription for twice a week class lessons. There would be 3-4 sessions m-f with 15-25 kids each session. I think the dojo was pretty financially healthy. Uniforms ran like $70-100, iirc. This was in central new jersey. These friends were financially, pretty comfortable.

Now I have my inlaws teaching taekwondo in rural Michigan and that’s definitely not a profitable endeavor. More a labor of love.

The author talks about this as a charitable (501c3) vs for-profit endeavor. I don't see any talk about using a cooperative structure. Cooperatives don't need IRS approval, since they operate commercially; any profits (and there won't be) are distributed proportionally to the users of the facility via 1099-DIV. Then, you run a membership drive to raise money. The membership then is used to select the board. Anyway, there's lots of experience doing cooperatives for stores like this. It is not easy, but starting a business of any kind is not easy. If you can't do a membership drive that builds enough grass-roots support and community buy-in, then don't do a cooperative. Here are some additional resources: https://www.nasco.coop/ https://www.ncba.coop/ http://www.uwcc.wisc.edu/

I was a member, and later board member, of the housing co-ops in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Inter-Cooperative Council (icc.coop). In many ways, it was an incredible institution (and maybe still is; I'm long out of touch): Highly democratic and very successful. It's continued to exist and grow since the 1930s, with almost complete turnover in membership every two years. They owned at the time around 20 properties, housed around 600 people affordably - their primary mission - and had assets and budget well into the millions.

I still don't understand quite how they did it. They did have a small permanent staff of an executive director, financial director, and a couple maintenance people. Everything else was done by mainly college-age membership that, as I said, turned over almost completely every two years; they were the board of directors, maintenance, collected membership dues (the equivalent of rent), made major investment decisions (buy a new house?), etc. etc. One contributing factor may have been that it was a bunch of intelligent people, self-selected for their commitment, who had little long-term vested interest (they'd be gone in a couple of years). I might expect the latter to be a disaster, but it also eliminated a lot of politics - nobody had a career, a future, a promotion, a reputation, or much ego depending on the outcomes.

Based on your links, I'm pretty sure you know about the ICC. Any thoughts on how it, and similar organizations work, where others that require community commitment, like the bookstore in the article, fail?

Cooperatives still require everyone to pitch in and some way of dividing the labor and building accountability for performing the tedious tasks that are essential to maintain a legal entity. Unless you have the funds to pay everyone a living wage and in return some form of sustainable sizable income it is difficult to get the same level of contribution from people. In my experience with cooperatives they aren't the magical solution they are imagined to be. Many people are comfortable not bring in charge or arguing about how the people in charge are doing it wrong but they don't have the skills or background ideology to manage decision making cooperatively.

As a legal structure there isn't a ton of support, you are basically creating a member managed LLC or corporation and then transplanting a cooperative agreement on top of it. Getting the same level of commitment from a large number of people is the difficult thing. But if there is a small sense of joint ownership and a shared vision then perhaps it could work but as the article mentioned rotation of leadership and task assignment is a good idea lest one person be stuck holding the bag.

It's definitely just a tool, and not a magic bullet. I too think it's a pretty good tool for the kind of enterprise talked about in the OP though.

I also agree with the OP (and you) that forced rotation of leadership is a great idea, for a variety of reasons.

But to be sure, starting a small retail business and succeeding is hard no matter what. And starting a _collective_ enterprise is hard no matter what too (for different 'political' reasons, even if it has no budget).

Germany has a nice legal entity for stuff like this: the eingetragener Verein, or "Registered Association." This is used for pretty much every village football team, so you can raise money, have a bank account, sign contracts, etc. It's also used for larger things: my first encounter with the form was in the 80's as an exchange student. The whole exchange program was an e.V. It's also used for a lot of things that would be Foundations or Nonprofits in other countries.

The catch, if it's a catch, is that you have to have at least 7 people and there's no way to be "in charge" if four of them think you shouldn't be.


Wouldn’t the members each be legally liable for anything that goes wrong?

It's a corporation. "limited liability" is part of the basic idea of a corporation, right?

The _board_ will be individually liable for gross negligence or criminal malfeasance, same as any corporate board. The members are no more liable than shareholders in any other corporation, ie virtually none. (Beyond losing their equity completely, of course).

I thought you were specifying a partnership, not an LLC.

It's still a legal entity, just like any other private business. Liability should still be held by the company.

True to a greater or lesser extent of all businesses that are about bringing someone’s passion into the world rather than making money.

The arty passionate person five years later has an entirely new perspective on every single aspect of their venture.

When someone asks me about starting a business, I say, “exactly why?”, “what is is you really want from this, do you know?”. You’d be surprised st how few people are really clear on what they actually want the outcomes to be in a tangible way.

My advice is to create any business that makes money and do your passion as a hobby.

There’s another thing.... people starting their first business generally don’t understand the importance of cash flow. They don’t want to know, they’ve got no reference point in their head to understand it. Nothing you can say will bring them to understand the importance of cash flow. In a years time there will be those who grasped it (might still be in business) anc those who didn’t (out of business).

Tim Harford covers this in one of his books - I think it was The Undercover Economist. Almost all the money you pay for an expensive coffee at a coffee shop goes to the landlord, and he explains the reasons why.

Almost all of what you’re paying for by going to a coffee shop is the diversion away from home / nice place to spend some time, so that makes sense.

I was the owner of a retail store from '90 to '00. The ecomm version overlapped from '97 to 2007. Given that experience, I read this thinking: This person(s) was massively underprepared, as well as underfunded. They also seemed to believe that all their options (in growing the biz) were too difficult. Marketing was rarely mentioned.

I don't want to be negative but there are two life rules (not just biz) that apply here:

- If it were easy, everyone would be doing it

- Making it look easy is very very hard.

Pardon me for stating the obvious ;)

I'd say their only problem was : underfunded. All others problems becomes much more easy when you're funded (they say it in the article I think).

(and that's why, imho, if you have nobody to give (yep, "give") you the amount of money you need, you'll never ever make it; that's a very unequal world...)

Yes. Ultimely, no funds === "failure." None the less, what I read was someone expecting the process to be easier than a traditional job. If you have less money then time + energy is your next best asset. Sucks. But that's the nature of the beast.

I feel for this person(s). But they didn't do their homework. That is on them.

Speaking of small businesses (I'm married to the founder of one), the number one downfall of small businesses is spending too much money early, when they don't know yet what actually pays back. Getting more funding early, tends to make this problem worse.

So much truth in this article. We closed down our hobby business, a dance studio, after 10 years of trying to make it work, and finally come to the realisation that we can do much more without the anchor weighing us down. The truth is a passion startup often defies rational analysis, almost like why people have children, it simply fills the part of them that fears regret.

Can you explain that last bit please about having children? Is it that some people are motivated to have kids to block out the opportunity to fail in their own projects?

It's not about personal projects. It's just the fear that you will regret not having children when you reach the age when it's no longer possible. It's a shitty kind of motivation btw.

So did I get it the wrong way round, people have kids so they don’t risk failing in a business?

No, praptak was saying that some people start a business because they fear that if they don't, they'll look back on their life and regret that they didn't start a business, and that this is similar to the way some people decide to have children just because they fear that they'd regret not having them.

Minor correction: I'm not the author of the original analogy. I just explained it.

Ah ok thanks!, interesting parallel.

At halfway through the article it becomes clear that the writer has kids to take care of and his own job. That’s what should have been in the title to clarify the scope, and I would have saved the time reading this article. It’s obviously a much different challenge with those factors present. Without kinds and him/her taking care of the cafe instead it would have worked out likely. I mean think of it, people who have a full time job and children usually have little to no time for anything else.

Full time job and two kids here, and ain’t that the truth.

Could it have been that the author's business/community structure could have affected its outcome? I found having a more horizontal do-ocracy, membership-driven community model. I'm convinced that was essential to helping persist a few orgs that I've participated in cofounding. This CCC document [1] really drove that philosophy home for a few of us up here in Vancouver, BC. Highly recommend the read!

That being said there is a lot of toxicity I've seen coming from other spaces. Noisebridge on Mission St. is the first to come to mind. That being said it's still around and kicking!

[1] https://events.ccc.de/congress/2007/Fahrplan/attachments/100...

That CCC document deserves its own post!

All the successful small artist spaces that I know are different in two ways:

- they are run by volunteers (no paid staff)

- they have some sort of arrangement where they don't have to pay rent at market rate

If you rent a space and hire someone to keep it open, you need a lot of money coming in...

Sounds like before you open an artist- (or hacker-) space, you should start a real estate business, preferably with other people who want to make small artist spaces.

They go to some lengths to dance around the issue. If you can't pay for the space based on a sustainable amount of donations, or other recurring income, you aren't running a space you are running a business and a lot of businesses fail. There is at least half a century of complaints over gentrification to that point.

Right. The rent is the problem. You can find coffee shops/bookstores/wine bars/libraries that will provide or rent out space for these events and it's far less risky.

I double-dog-dare you to find a library that will rent out space for that guy who is welding a 27 foot tall phallus.

My librarians, a tremendous open-minded free-thinking group, might have a problem with the fire hazard but not the other part!

For Burning Man, I presume?

This person created a startup business but kept their regular job and didn’t go to work there all day. That really almost never works, it doesn’t matter if it’s s booksstore or a car wash or a law firm. Bootstrapped new ventures are incredibly fragile, and generally need at least one passionate founder working on them full time.

Interesting writeup, but the Ghost Ship is an extreme example of what goes wrong - you couldn't make a place more of a fire hazard if you tried.

The Wikipedia page is informative:


As you say you could hardly make a more hazardous environment if you tried. Wooden pallets for stairs?!

I'm sure you can find interior photos pre-fire. If I were on a high-speed link I'd find some to link here myself.

It was a grossly negligent situation. The whole place was brimming with wooden crap mixed with electrical junk for lights and sound. Words can't do justice to how much of a tinder box it was, the photos left me speechless when I investigated back on the day of the fire.

That place was a matchbox waiting to get struck. And the electrical situation was a total mess... I mean that's why it burned down.

How shitty of a landlord can you be that you wouldn't prioritize people's safety.

Probably not shitty, just oblivious.

A Hackerspace in Germany was proud of its smartphone-activated door lock.

I was less impressed on their open house event when I saw firsthand how they struggled to open it for several minutes (with no mechanical override on the inside!), while dozens of guests were there.

When I voiced my safety concerns they simply didn't seem to understand. I mean it's just a fun hack, right?

Landlords of such spaces are not oblivious; they want all the money for the rent and none of the responsibility of being a real landlord. This is often what artists themselves are looking for since they are under capitalized and want to do questionably legal build outs and events and are willing to take on extra responsibility to be able to so (e.g. fixing pipes, patching holes, doing pest control). But that doesn't absolve the landlord.

It looks like a common setup [1], and of the ones with pictures several don't have a manual override.

[1] https://wiki.hackerspaces.org/Doorlock

A door without a crash bar in a public space?

I have learnt a new American word :-)

In British, I never knew what they were called ("those 'Push Bar To Open' things on fire doors"), apparently "panic bar". As Wikipedia[1] says, "In Europe, the use of panic bars is generally confined to code required applications. On the other hand, in US and Canadian commercial building design panic bars are frequently used even when not required by code."

The only place I see them is designated emergency exits, the type which are normally unopenable from outside and often alarmed. The main doors leading out of a large auditorium don't use them – these don't need to lock, so they use free-swinging doors. The emergency doors at the front/side would use them.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crash_bar

No, actually just shitty. There were criminal charges. The two people mainly responsible got prison time.


Also that's crazy about that smart door... Pretty sure that's against fire code if it's one of the only exits. Ignorance isn't an excuse when other people's lives are concerned, either.

But the landlord didn't get charged, the people who leased the building from him did.

If someone leases a building to me, and I turn around and let you live there under certain conditions, who is your landlord-- my landlord, or me?

Landlord generally implies (owner && lessor), not just lessor, AFAIK.

I think you guys are just talking past eachother due to a disparity of definitions, and otherwise are actually in agreement.

I phrased my comment as a question because I was interested in OP's response. I'm not totally sure on the nomenclature here myself.

Actually I think the interior looked really awesome. Nonetheless some more thinking should have been put to a scenario in case a fire starts. But still I think the problem is that modern media coverage causes every hazard to be a reason to implement even more rules and regulations for how a building or room has to be designed to be fit for a public event. That's another reason why those non- or semi-professional happenings become rarer - it's just too complex and expensive. Too many laws that you need to keep in mind to do anything nowadays pretty much.

It's the usual question on how to balance the trade off between safety and freedom. I myself am more inclined towards the latter.

The Ghost Ship didn't have smoke detectors, a fire alarm, or emergency lighting. It did have blocked staircases and cluttered pathways, and the available staircase was fairly flammable. It had people warning about some of these problems; they were ignored.

It looks cool/arty, and OK to wander through in an afternoon, but it also looks like the last place I'd expect to find a party.

The closest place I can think of for a similar labyrinth of clutter is Camden Stables Market in London [0][1]. But it's a daytime clothing, art and antiques market, not an event space. You can see the green emergency exit signs in some of the photos; doors have notices things like "This door to be open during trading hours".

For your tradeoff, how low do you propose we go?

[0] Camden Town has several markets. If you've been, this is the one you're least likely to have visited, and it's furthest from the station.

[1] https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo/camden-lock-stables-market...

Freedom requires responsibility. And probably checking the electric facilities and placing some smoke detectors should be considered self-evident. Laws try to make sure everybody acts responsible by placing lots of obstacles to trip over long before anything bad can happen. Now in this case it would have been a good thing - then again though, the laws existed - now the consequence is that dozens of people are still dead just that the guy gets punished harder.

In Hamburg we have really nice planetarium. Recently a guy in a wheelchair wasn't allowed to just attend the show sitting next to a seating row because in case of a fire he might block the corridor and who would be able to quickly evacuate him? Of course the reasoning makes sense but where do we end up when everything needs to be extremely safe or is otherwise forbidden?

This development is a systemic effect which cannot be stopped as far as I can tell. The desire for freedom will be satisfied simply by people refusing to be super strict in practice. Also too many regulations usually will be harder to enforce.


Apparently not, according to the history of such things.

I’ve always thought that a remote tech job/lifestyle business is perfect for opening an art gallery / niche bookstore. You don’t need to worry about paying the bills, you have a private office / desk, and realistically you won’t get more than a few visitors per hour, so you can focus on work.

Tried to combine running a craft beer retailer with some remote programming work for a while. Struggled with it as customers always appear at the wrong moment and switching between brain modes was weird and didn't help me concentrate when there was peace later

Let's say 'a few' is 3. How can you get any work done when you have to stop every 20 mins (one someone else's schedule) and spend 3 mins making coffee & small talk? This sounds like people saying 'I won't have to pay for child care because I can work from home'. Uh, what? Either you're doing 'child care' or you're 'working from home', but you can't do both (for children < 5), and anyone who says they can, obviously has never done it.

Most smaller art galleries get 5 visitors a day, tops. That industry revolves around openings, events, and networking, not people walking in off the street.

Then why bother at all opening during the day? Surely not for the $5 in profit?

Some galleries are only open at weekends or Fri-Sat or by appointment. They need to have opening hours to show the world they’re a gallery and their artists also want to feel they are having an actual exhibition.

As another commenter said, "to have an art gallery," but also because you don't know which of the (imaginary five) might be your best collector in five years.

A big part of running an art gallery is being available for people who want to look at art. Some of those buy, some of them spread the word.

In the end a small number of people are going to keep your gallery alive, if it stays alive. But you have no way of predicting who they will be or whence they will wander into your space. That VP of Sales in town for a conference who only has Wednesday afternoon free and is starting a collection of $YOUR_SPECIALTY.

Because the idea is to have your own art gallery and not simply to make money...?

That sounds intuitively right (I go to a lot of galleries) -- but do you have a source for the number or are you just guessing?

(I'd love to see the source if you have one, it would probably contain other useful info.)

Have a remote job and opened a gallery with a friend. Was ultimately a frustrating experience.

Would you mind to call out the worst parts?


"The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”"


I love this kind of spaces. This is how I would advise to do it. Art/literature - create high quality, high ROI product offering first. Hand bound collectables for example. Low cost digital counterparts. Find niche online first. Crowdfund, test. Have the publishing first. That's raising capital. Profit/Non-Profit no real difference if you have income. Just don't rely on grants and voluntary resources (economic volatility will hit these first). Physical space: make it enchanting (design/brand/service/experience). So that people would want to pop in regardless of products. High ROI food: coffee, tea, pastry, nibbles, smoothies and such. Food=energy. Sell local energy (economic volatility will hit this last). Innovate. Constantly change the furniture, accessories - sell them. Both online and at the physical space. Think of it as a curated space. Assess risks particular to the location/niche. Have contingency. Have another contingency for risks that are unknown.

Anyone planning to open something like that - happy to give some more specific free advise (tangible products/interior- service design/branding/marketing/economics).

I agree with everything you just said, but with respect, you are exactly the problem that the author was talking about. Lots of (probably great) ideas mean absolutely nothing until you’ve signed your name on a lease and put your own neck on the line. Until then, you’re just “the idea guy”.

Forget about the Ghost Ship tragedy. I'm offering more than ideas - what I've done successfully since '92 - developing products / services etc. for my clients. Point being here to avoid the pitfalls of cashflow issues beforehand and working yourself to death and not enjoying what you've started. And yes, once you have these problems it may be hard to convince anyone else to put their name behind it. Operationally there's something to be said stakeholders having "skin in the game". I like that Acequias idea.

These two bits of advice really spoke to me:

> Consider being a for-profit.


> If you’re going to have a public space, try to find a cheap place you can buy and own.

I have, for a few years now, really wanted to start an art gallery, or at least something similar to an art gallery.

I've looked into the local equivalent of a nonprofit, and I've considered renting a super cheap space and keeping irregular hours and bla bla bla.

But I keep coming back to the idea that I want to really be in charge, even though I think it'll never make any money; and renting a loss-leader lifestyle storefront is a great way to achieve untenable fragility and poof it disappears at your next personal downturn, taking a chunk of your net worth with it.

I have no idea if I'll ever pull it off, but I'm increasingly attracted to the idea of forming an LTD and buying the cheapest space I can find... someday. Maybe in ten years.

In the meantime I am considering trying to do a pop-up version, which might be a stupid idea but would certainly be a learning experience and not have any recurring costs. The pop-up idea is, I think, useful for any kind of creative thing that doesn't require much equipment.

What about offering to curate a local coffee shop or coworking space or something? There's got to be some place that would not mind free art in exchange for little labels or prices. I know this was very common in my home town. Plus, the relationship could be kept loose, since you aren't exchanging any money either way.

If I knew then what I know now, would I ever have started a Makerspace?

I've been running a small space for the last 4 years, and it's lost a lot of its magic for me. I used to have high hopes of inspiring others to create. It's very rarely like that. Many times it's cleaning up others messes, or fighting to grow with no resources.

Once in a while though, someone's eyes light up when they see the possibilities in the waterjet or laser or 3D printer...

Sometimes it's worth it. Most times it's not.

> And because you aren’t independently wealthy and/or don’t have a spouse who makes six figures, you’re probably going to be non-profit.

I don't understand the logic behind this. Wouldn't not being independently wealthy rather imply attempting to be for-profit?

Artists spaces aren't well known for making a profit, and you cannot attract donations as a for-profit.

What if all the people in this thread just Kickstarterd something together?

Heavens, I thought the fire was an allegory or a worst case scenario. Looking at the artsy enterior I feel an existential dread thinking about being trapped in that place with flames around.

(I love Poetry Magazine)

A recent experience from a hackerspace showed me how incredibly thankless people can be. After working really insanely hard to build an inclusive space with loads of features, every little hobby revolutionary in the community just shits all over the work and proclaims the people actually getting stuff done should just stop and leave it to them.

Even if I had the time, money and expertise I would never do something like that. These days you can't even ban assholes without everyone making like you're the one with a problem. And even a single person with a grudge can make you more problems than anyone can reasonably deal with while having a life.

>These days you can't even ban assholes without everyone making like you're the one with a problem.

That's been true since always. Speaking as someone that was in that position within a few online communities back in ~98 or so.

Strange game. The only winning move is not to play.

Yup - first line of advice I give to family now is "shut your social profiles, and get off of the internet. Failing which here are the things you need to look out for" and the proceed to list a fraction of the issues that I know about, and see them get uncomfortable.

I'd be interested in seeing your list.

Yes, please share it.

Gosh I've tried to write this list 3 times now and I've never felt anything was comprehensive enough to put on HN.

So, hopefully the attempt will be sufficient -

<speech boilerplate "want to protect my family, need to keep you informed, if you arent going to get off of the net, then you need to be prepared">

1) Humor is being used to weaponize and radicalize people. A significant group of people who identify as alt right were first introdcued to the ideas via humor. Please be careful of off colour humor. You and me may think it is a joke with no bearing on reality. But there are people who think that its not a joke, and that the ideas behind it

2) Be ware whatsapp - I'm in India and there is a spate of lynchings in rural areas because of whatsapp forwards. People have been killed because they are suspected of being child abductors.

I've personally seen the videos and they are horrific, they include videos of a live child being gutted - but its a gang video from mexico. Another video depicting an abduction, is from a child safety video in Pakistan - theyre spread between maids, drivers, auto-wallahs and office workers.

An Indian state has tried to grapple with this problem by direct communication with the villages, by using drummers, warning people to not trust forwards. Tragically one of the people paid to inform people was himself killed, on suspicion of being a child abductor.

3) Increasing polarizaiton - What started out as mild jokes are expanding into massive cracks in the fabric of my world. A North/South Indian divide has grown from an occasional joke, to an often oozing wound. Online media carries no tone or body language; when people interact in this impoverished environment, our brains end up responding to the strongest emotional versions of a comment. Small fights end up creating lasting grudges.

So don't EVER forward anything mildly polarizing and divisive.

4) Dont trust emotions - almost ANY item which generates an emotional response in you, should be treated as suspect. The best way people have to get you to stop thinking rationally, is by making you think emotionally.

Other things that come to mind are fake news, and the nature of the media formats to keep people on it, and the entire behavioral science behind it. (Skinnerian conditioning, reward schedules, the network effect, responsive design, social approval and so on).

A good point to bring up is depression, and the fact that material on social media is biased, few people talk about an average day or a terrible day or embarrassing things. Humans were not designed to be seduced into believing that the world is great for everyone else and average for me.


For the normal person listening in good faith, any one of those points is sufficient to create a sense of discomfort.

But ultimately, the main driver is the fact that most people are already uncomfortable with social media and are sitting on a pile of bad experiences.

"Yup - first line of advice I give to family now is "shut your social profiles, and get off of the internet"

I don't have facebook, but I find I'm very pressured to use it and instagram for work related promotion...

I think the biggest problem is the addictive nature of it, followed by the self-esteem erosion. Does staying in contact outweigh the drawbacks?

> Does staying in contact outweigh the drawbacks?

That's the big question so many of us are struggling with these days!

I would say, if you're not already on FB/IG, DO NOT join. A long time ago many of us thought the commercial / exploitative side wouldn't be so bad, and it wasn't so addictive in the early days because it was harder to use.

And now here we sit, feeling like this is probably a bad idea, but unwilling to give up our "friends" for whatever reason. In my own case, it's because there are a bunch of people I really care about IRL and probably wouldn't keep in minimum touch with otherwise. Or maybe I would... I used to write letters, and the postal services still exist.

I find I use Instagram a lot and Facebook not so much, but every once in a while even FB provides a lot of utility. I find IG a very positive experience, at least for me, at least when I don't think about what Zuckerberg is doing with my data.

I think if the right 20% of my FB contacts left for another, less compromised service; and that service had an IG-like function, which it probably would; then I'd close my accounts. Or ghost on them, since I don't think you can make them actually delete your data, even under GDPR.

Consider yourself lucky, and stay away for personal stuff by all means. If you have to create accounts, do it only for your business.

Metafilter and Something Awful have successfully banned assholes multiple times.

The secret: paywalls. Only truly dedicated crazy people are willing and able to spend a hundred bucks on annoying people.

Metafilter is great at stopping spammers and obvious belligerents. It is very poor at keeping out thankless community-ruiners (the “hobby revolutionaries” from the article.) They burnt out mathowie and are currently sniping at cortex for refusing to turn the community over to them (presumably without wanting to take on liability.) The story of a communal online space and physical space can be similar.

I can't find anything on metatalk that looks like sniping at cortex - but then, I'm way out of the MeFi loop at this point. Link?

Sorry, it’s such a chore to go through those long Mets threads. I think in the thread about the sale being finalized last year, a couple of the fundraising threads, and possibly the t-shirt thread? Probably not worth reading through all that, but there are some disgruntled people who use the excuse of being involved and well/behaved to make passive-aggressive demands. A lot of it happens in private slacks and Twitter now, too.

It’s still an interesting site, and stronger financially than a community space, just vulnerable similarly.

>Even if I had the time, money and expertise I would never do something like that.

Invite only spaces. New members have mentors who are responsible for them. Anyone can be expelled for any reason at any time.

It's amazing how much the tone changes when someone is on the line for breaking a 10k machine and having to pay for everyone else using an equivalent machine commercially while they get it fixed.

> New members have mentors who are responsible for them.

Does that imply that if you vouch for a new member that you are also expelled if they are or share the cost of their fuckups?

some private torrent trackers do that and it works well

lobste.rs does something similar:

Invite only. But any member can hand out invites.

If there's a trend however that you invite the wrong persons I think you can get banned or punished somehow yourself. Edit, exact rules: """There's no limit on how many invitations a user can send (though that might be prompted by scaling problems in the future). When accounts are banned for spam, sockpuppeting, or other abuse, moderators will look up the invitation tree to consider disabling their inviter's ability to send invitations or, rarely, also banning. """

Also there is a public list tree on the site of who invited who: https://lobste.rs/u

>Invite only spaces. New members have mentors who are responsible for them. Anyone can be expelled for any reason at any time.

Will still end up being a problem if the intention is to preserve the original vision.

Mentors change over time, and 2nd and 3rd generation members (mentors of mentors etc) will form gangs and have their own ideas of how things should be.

I wonder what a culture centered around non-violent communication might lead to, since it was developed to address issues with gangs.

I don't think it will have much effect.

Non-violent communication practicing communities find their own ways to split into fractions -- for it's the clash of egos, ideas, aims, and private interests that create conflict, and those won't disappear by decision or fiat to avoid them.

That sounds like something they could happen in any recruitment system, even open invite.

Thank you for sharing your experience.

I've been chewing on an idea. Please bear with me.

A friend's MBA thesis (WIP) is on the business model of evangelical churches. How the players build their flock, manage the brand, shape the culture, revenue, run their meetings, etc.

Kinda eye opening.

I'm even going to church again, a new one every few weeks. To gleen the strategies and techniques that have been hiding in plain sight.

One of the volunteer orgs I work on (with?) is game. We've started making some changes, just to see how it plays out.

If I could share one takeaway:

The Field of Dreams "Built it and they will come" strategy doesn't work.

Non-profits, communities, etc. need as much intent and effort as any other startup to succeed.

Gimlet did a Startup podcast series about this, they called it "Church Planting"


This is terrific.

Of course there's a church planting industry, conference circuit. https://exponential.org

My friend's thesis is descriptive, not prescriptive. I've been struggling to harvest actionable advice. These resources will help. Just having the right phrase ("church planting") helps.

Thank you.

I'm starting a home school center of sorts with my wife and looking into establishing it as a 501.d apostolic community because it's the only non-profit classification we found that doesn't require some kind of structure.

We prefer to play with decentralized voluntary forms of organization. Would love to get in touch with your friend, especially since we're trying to do things using a "give what you can that we need" business model.

>>> The Field of Dreams "Buit it and they will come" strategy doesn't work.

could you elaborate on "why" ?

I don't know. Sorry. My best guesses is somewhere between "culture is hard" and The Tyranny of Structurelessness http://www.bopsecrets.org/CF/structurelessness.htm thesis.

Your friend's thesis sounds very interesting. Does your friend run any sort of blog or post publicly? I'd be interested in seeing their work.

These sorts of organizations wouldn't exist unless they were doing things right. Lots to learn for personal community projects.

I’d also be interested in your friend’s work.

I don’t think there’s such a thing as “inclusive” long term prospering community. If you can’t ban a-holes you will lose all positive forces acting on your side.

It's a balance between accepting and integrating everybody vs removing people who degrade the former.

Having seen what happens when you don't ban any assholes, no, it's not a balance. You shoot first, shoot later and shoot again a couple of more times to make sure.

All it takes is a few days for a community to turn toxic. The communities that ban people preemptively work, the ones that give them the benefit of the doubt don't.

As a big fan of hackerspaces, I’d love to hear more about your experiences.

No one cares how hard you work when you open a business and keep it running. They aren't your friends, they are your customers, and the only reward you should expect is the cash they give you for the service or goods you provide.

A point of the article should be that if you have to work insanely hard on your business and have to rely on volunteers or people like that, you need to not be in the business in the first place. Don't sink money to it, and just do something informal with people you trust; let them come over to use the tools in your own private workspace.

They were setting up a non-profit arts space. I don't feel like the customer/business relationship is a good fit there.

Please write about your experience! Also, sorry you had to go through that.

Writing about it would drive you insane, here it is in image, gif and email form:



A high point for me was getting my site ddos'd and ssh brute force attacked when I decided to run a course in another hacker space after being stuck for committee approval for 3 months. The saddest part is that I knew it would happen and scraped the site into a static html site served from nginx from a box that would could only be administered through a two hop tunnel. Then the guy who I know did it went around stalking me on social media telling everyone I ... I'll actually take my advice and just leave it there.

OT: Regarding Tumblr, what cookies do you need to allow nowadays to be able to read it? I haven’t been able to see Tumblr links for months, at least. All it does is redirect to the front page and prompt me to sign in.

You can click "allow" to let you track them in obscure and unknowable ways. I gave up and let my adblock get them, but I should just have closed the tab.

Early in my career, I nearly quit tech because of a negative experience I had with some douchebros at a noisebridge javascript event. In retrospect those guys were just a couple insecure idiots and really not representative of the average tech man, but as a woman trying to break into the industry I thought that’s what I was going to have to deal with every day in every job. Nonetheless I persisted.

Yes, there's also the classic using the hackers pace as a dating pool because you have no social skills. The introductory electronics project for women I wanted to make was the consentinator, a taster that would play 'no means no' while it's zapping something. The women I bounced the idea off all thought it was great, the guy on the committee who was using the space to try and get dates called me sexist for even suggesting a project based on gender instead of treating everyone like a hacker.

If you have the time look up the girl who ran the first tumbler. She's hilarious and had a few talks about this stuff. As well as some really great advice on how not to build robots.

It really really bothers me this is happening in the 21st century. I hate hearing people like you having to go through this crap

Wow, that sux. When you wrote about assholes up there, I imagined something waaay milder. Makes me appreciate people who organize these things a bit more.

That's seriously messed up. thank you for sharing though. My heart's with you.

gallery house in palo alto has an interesting model - membership comes with a volunteering requirement - it can't obviously reach the level of NY MOMA but it works well for Palo Alto and is a nice little gallery that has launched quite a few careers.

> volunteering requirement

Isn’t that an oxymoron?

Another way to think about it is sweat equity. Habitat for Humanity is a great model here.

In the HUD model, you hand out housing to poor people. Sometimes they take care of it and prosper, but usually not. Places get trashed, fixtures and copper ripped from the walls, and that's the end. You get "the projects."

In the HFH model, recipients must have jobs, references, and commitment. They get ongoing support from HFH and the community, who come to help build their house. The recipients actually buy the houses with low-rate mortgages, plus they need to put in some sweat equity with HFH either working on their house or someone else's, or on a committee like fund raising. The result is a homeowner who takes pride in their house, who has the connections and support of their neighbors, and who is more likely to elevate the community, including neighbors who didn't qualify for HFH.

There are some lessons here for a community space.

Wow, so Jimmy Carter really is one of the richest people in the world, if you count Habitat for Humanity sweat equity.

Read as: "free work requirement"

Not "free work" either. As payment for your membership, a work trade in return for the benefits of membership.

Consumer cooperatives (which are actually legally _owned_ by their members, via member shares in the coop corporation) have been doing this forever. Like the famous (both loved and hated) Park Slope Food Coop [grocery store]. The Park Slope Coop simply calls it a "work requirement", and it is "2 hours and 45 minutes once every four weeks."

The Park Slop coop is famous for crazy internal politics, so a work requirement is definitely no magic bullet against such. The Park Slope Coop is also loved by many though.

more like skin in the game maybe?

>every little hobby revolutionary in the community just shits all over the work and proclaims the people actually getting stuff done should just stop and leave it to them.

Well, isn't that the default mode of "hobby revolutionaries" on everything?

Yeah ... people . But the good news is that once you get past the naive phase of things not working as you expect , there is a light at the end of the tunnel and ways to organise things so that they do work with human (or at least cultural) nature.

> A recent experience from a hackerspace showed me how incredibly thankless people can be. After working really insanely hard to build an inclusive space with loads of features, every little hobby revolutionary in the community just shits all over the work and proclaims the people actually getting stuff done should just stop and leave it to them.

They are clueless. It's like when developers on HN share all their ideas about being a manager and what's required.

So doubling or tripling everyone's salaries, making workweeks 4 days of 6 hours each, and firing all business and management majors and replacing them with engineers is not the path to a successful company?

it worked for Google....

And if you ever have the opportunity to start a company at the dawn of a fundamentally new era of global economic activity, it might work for you too. Most people are likely more interested in what will work now however.

I forgot to point out that this is tongue in cheek, lingua in maxillam as it were...

I'd be more interested on the "why being a manager". Considering how shitty the atmosphere seems, I wonder why people want to be managers at all...

For me, I really enjoy helping people grow into their best selves. A lot of that means protecting them from politics and giving them the space to do their jobs effectively, make mistakes, learn and grow. It really isn't for everyone, because there's a lot less tangible rewards and the payoff can be pretty long tail, but when you can see potential in someone and then see them grow into that potential, it's a really fulfilling experience. Basically I saw that things could be better and I chose to be that better, I had a lot of amazing people that took a chance on me as well, so I owe it to them to pay it forward.

I'm a manager too (my question was refering to a manager as a boss of a business, which is vastly different).

What you say is very true, except when your team is a bunch of people who positively don't want to grow, they just want the paycheck and the minimum trouble possible. You're basically managing to make sure the comfort zone doesn't grow. And that's as tough as it is boring.

I have nothing against the comfort zone, that's perfectly human. But not every team member want to grow.

(me realizes that maybe I has a cultural issue with the company :-))

I'm someone who wants to find my niche as well and run a business, but I think that the reasoning is the same. When you see a problem and you build a solution, then you get to organize a group of people around that solution. Sure at first you're wearing a lot of hats, but if you can get talented people onboard for a mission that's worth getting up for every day, that's something special and I think that's what a lot of people really are working towards when managing a business. I can say this about a cultural issue. I work in a company where the culture can cause a lot of problems with motivation because I had two really poorly suited people above me that impacted large swaths of the company. Then we were purchased and for a while it was really worse. Since then I've been really lucky to have some of the most amazing management I could ask for. During the bad times I mostly protected the people I was responsible for as best I could.

What I can offer for those who aren't motivated are a few things.

1. It starts at the top. If you make yourself the top then it starts with you and you get to set the tone. A crappy boss can make a great job terrible. A great boss can make a crappy job manageable with some moments of happiness.

2. Find what drives them. Few people are okay with the status quo. This requires building trust with your people and regular communication. If you can find out what makes someone want to do more and grow you're golden.

3. If your job has growth and people just don't want it, find better people. Jobs like this typically have high attrition unless it's something like government, military, or some other rigidly structured role. If that's the case and you want more, look elsewhere. There's almost always someone willing to pay more for someone who multiplies their team's output.

Whatever your journey, I really do wish you a fulfilling and enjoyable life. A lot of times things, especially now, can seem fatalistic or just downright bad. A single candle in the dark can light the way for many others. :)

Thanks for your very detailed answer. I work for a gov't agency on a project in maintenance mode. So I guess the agency have hired the good people for the job, except me :-)

Yeah I'm not a manager, but this is exactly why the role appeals to me as a long term career option.

From experience - because you can only get your salary to a certain level as a programmer before hitting a brick wall. To go higher you need to take on at least some managerial responsibilities - it's not at every company, but it's common enough.

...incredibly thankless people can be...

I hear you. But to be fair can we generalize less and say __some__ people?

I'd also venture to say that the internet has educated more people in the art of self-expression. Like any art, doing it, and being good at it are two different things. Simultaneously, we're over stimulated, and have become less tolerant of "feedback."

I certainly not going to dispute The A-hole Factor. One of the reason I had shift from B&M retail + ecomm to strictly ecomm was I lost tolerance for being what amounted to an underpaid therapist. That was close to 20 yrs ago. I can only image the current state of things.

>I hear you. But to be fair can we generalize less and say __some__ people?

We could, but seemingly, if you've been in these situations, it's close to "all people".

Yeah. I have been in such a situation, and it was not all people. It was a minority. They were what they always were. What changed was my tolerance to their antics. Mind you, this was pre-internet so perhaps giving all a voice online has led to too much input IRL.

I'm not an English native speaker, but I though "foo can be bar" was equivalent to "some foo are bar".

Every idealistic "business" based on assumptions and wishful thinking instead of demand will inevitably fail. Demand and demand only is what makes any business possible.

One has to be an exceptional, way above average artist before making himself a brand. Actually, a branding follows being exceptional.

Why didn't you hire a grant writer?

>Then, a few months later, you wake up to the headline that 36 people died at Ghost Ship, an artist collective in Oakland, CA. When it’s all said and done, it won’t be the landlord, but the leaseholders, Derick Almena and Max Harris, who’ll be charged with manslaughter and face up to 39 years in prison.

That's a big problem right there (all the bureaucracy that has creeped up for having a space or shop etc, a lot of it which didn't exist 30 and 50 years ago). If the place is inspected regularly, and is as it should be (e.g. have fire extinguishers, etc), NOBODY should be charged with anything unless they did something (like throw gasoline at the crowd).

Shit happens. If adults burn in a building, it's a risk they should be willing to take when stepping it, the owner is not some nanny to prevent all natural and unnatural causes from ever becoming dangerous....

Rather than launching into an uninformed rant about bureaucracy, you should read the background to the Ghost Ship fire.

The place hadn't been inspected for decades, and didn't have basics like a fire alarm, multiple staircases, or a suitable electricity supply. People who had warned the owner of problems had been ignored.

> Shit happens. If adults burn in a building, it's a risk they should be willing to take

Ridiculous — those adults aren't in a position to evaluate the risk. Are they supposed each to check the fire alarm works before entering, or just ask to see a certificate showing the building has been inspected recently? Can they do a flammability test on the staircase?

And what about the 17 year old who died?

>Rather than launching into an uninformed rant about bureaucracy, you should read the background to the Ghost Ship fire.

Did you just want to restrict this to the Ghost Ship fire? I only used the quote as a starting point, I don''t intend to talk about the Ghost Ship fire and its particular circumstances.

I'm talking about the creeping codes and bureaucracy in general, and I've already said that inspection is OK. Just not the piling of risks and litigation to the people running the place for every little thing (that goes beyond fire hazard etc, to stupid stuff like someone slipping on the wet floor and suing).

>Ridiculous — those adults aren't in a position to evaluate the risk

They wouldn't have to evaluate any of those things if the place had been properly inspected (as I say in my comment).

If it's "not inspected in years", it's the state that should be put to blame, not the owners.

... Was not certified for residential/commercial use...

That is exactly how it works now. You don't get convicted of manslaughter because someone died in your shop, you get convicted because you were grossly negligent in preventing someone dying in your shop. If the place was inspected regularly, and was as it should be (fire extinguishers etc), then they won't be convicted. And typically, prosecutors won't charge them unless they are confident of a conviction.

I would quote some of the scary parts from the wiki page, but there's just too much.


As a rule, you don't kill 36 out of 50 people without putting some effort in.

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