Maker Faire and Maker Media are getting a second chance after suddenly going bankrupt, but they’ll return in a weakened capacity. Sadly, their flagship crafting festivals remain in jeopardy, and it’s unclear how long the reformed company can survive.
Maker Media suddenly laid off all 22 employees and shut down last month, as first reported by TechCrunch. Now its founder and CEO Dale Dougherty tells me he’s bought back the brands, domains and content from creditors and with his own money rehired 15 of 22 laid off staffers. Next week, he’ll announce the relaunch of the company with the new name “Make Community.”
Read our story about how Maker Faire fell apart
The company is already working on a new issue of Make Magazine that it will hope to publish quarterly (down from six times per year) and the online archives of its do-it-yourself project guides will remain available. I hope it keeps publishing books. And it will continue to license the Maker Faire name to event organizers who’ve thrown more than 200 of the festivals full of science-art and workshops in 40 countries. But Dougherty doesn’t have the funding to commit to producing the company-owned flagship Bay Area and New York Maker Faires any more.
“We’ve succeeded in just getting the transition to happen and getting Community set up,” Dougherty tells me. But sounding shaky, he asks, “Can I devise a better model to do what we’ve been doing the past 15 years? I don’t know if I have the answer yet.” Print publishing proved tougher and tougher recently. Combined with declining corporate sponsorships of the main events, Maker Media was losing too much money to stay afloat last time.
“On June 3rd, we basically stopped doing business. And, you know, the bank froze our accounts,” Dougherty said at a meetup he held in Oakland to take feedback on his plan, according to a recording made by attendee Brian Benchoff. Grasping for a way to make the numbers work, he told the small crowd gathered “I’d be happy if someone wanted to take this off my hands.”
For now, Dougherty is financing the revival himself, “with the goal that we can get back up to speed as a business, and start generating revenue and a magazine again. This is where the community support needs to come in because I can’t fund it for very long.”
Maker Faire founder and Make Community CEO Dale Dougherty
The immediate plan is to announce a new membership model next week at Make.co, where hobbyists and craft-lovers can pay a monthly or annual fee to become patrons of Make Community. Dougherty was cagey about what they’ll get in return beyond a sense of keeping alive the organization that’s held the maker community together since 2005. He does hope to get the next Make Magazine issue out by the end of summer or early fall, and existing subscribers should get it in the mail.
The company is still determining whether to move forward as a nonprofit or co-op instead of as a venture-backed for-profit, as before. “The one thing I don’t like about nonprofit is that you end up working for the source you got the money from. You dance to their tune to get their funding,” he told the meetup.
Last time, he burned through $10 million in venture funding from Obvious Ventures, Raine Ventures and Floodgate. That could make VCs weary of putting more cash into a questionable business model. But if enough of the 80,000 remaining Make Magazine subscribers, 1 million YouTube followers and millions who’ve attended Maker Faire events step up, perhaps the company can find surer footing.
“I hope this is actually an opportunity not just to revive what we do but maybe take it to a new level,” Dougherty tells me. After all, plenty of today’s budding inventors and engineers grew up reading Make Magazine and being awestruck by the massive animatronic creations featured at its festivals.
Audibly perturbed, the founder exclaimed at his community meetup, “It frustrates the heck out of me thinking that I’m the one backing up Maker Faire when there’s all these billionaires in the valley.”