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 rehired 15 of 22 laid off staffers with his own money. Next week, he’ll announce the relaunch of the company with the new name “Make Community“.
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 hopes to keep publishing books. And it will continue to license the Maker Faire name to event organizers who’ve thrown over 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 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.”
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 non-profit or co-op instead of as a venture-backed for-profit as before. “The one thing i don’t like about non-profit 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, pehaps 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.
Financial troubles have forced Maker Media, the company behind crafting publication MAKE: magazine as well as the science and art festival Maker Faire, to lay off its entire staff of 22 and pause all operations. TechCrunch was tipped off to Maker Media’s unfortunate situation which was then confirmed by the company’s founder and CEO Dale Dougherty.
For 15 years, MAKE: guided adults and children through step-by-step do-it-yourself crafting and science projects, and it was central to the maker movement. Since 2006, Maker Faire’s 200 owned and licensed events per year in over 40 countries let attendees wander amidst giant, inspiring art and engineering installations.
“Maker Media Inc ceased operations this week and let go of all of its employees — about 22 employees” Dougherty tells TechCrunch. “I started this 15 years ago and it’s always been a struggle as a business to make this work. Print publishing is not a great business for anybody, but it works…barely. Events are hard . . . there was a drop off in corporate sponsorship.” Microsoft and Autodesk failed to sponsor this year’s flagship Bay Area Maker Faire.
But Dougherty is still desperately trying to resuscitate the company in some capacity, if only to keep MAKE:’s online archive running and continue allowing third-party organizers to license the Maker Faire name to throw affiliated events. Rather than bankruptcy, Maker Media is working through an alternative Assignment for Benefit of Creditors process.
“We’re trying to keep the servers running” Dougherty tells me. “I hope to be able to get control of the assets of the company and restart it. We’re not necessarily going to do everything we did in the past but I’m committed to keeping the print magazine going and the Maker Faire licensing program.” The fate of those hopes will depend on negotiations with banks and financiers over the next few weeks. For now the sites remain online.
[Update 6/9/19: Dougherty tells me he’s been overwhelmed by the support shown by the Maker community. For now, licensed Maker Faire events around the world will proceed as planned. Dougherty also says he’s aware of Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey’s interest in funding the company, and a GoFundMe page started for it.]
This is nuts. @dalepd, some friends and I would love to help save Maker Media. I love Maker Faire, and have been a MAKE reader since literally the first issue!https://t.co/YCRdJ021rj
— Palmer Luckey (@PalmerLuckey) June 8, 2019
The CEO says staffers understood the challenges facing the company following layoffs in 2016, and then at least 8 more employees being let go in March according to the SF Chronicle. They’ve been paid their owed wages and PTO, but did not receive any severance or two-week notice.
“It started as a venture-backed company but we realized it wasn’t a venture-backed opportunity” Dougherty admits, as his company had raised $10 million from Obvious Ventures, Raine Ventures, and Floodgate. “The company wasn’t that interesting to its investors anymore. It was failing as a business but not as a mission. Should it be a non-profit or something like that? Some of our best successes for instance are in education.”
The situation is especially sad because the public was still enthusiastic about Maker Media’s products Dougherty said that despite rain, Maker Faire’s big Bay Area event last week met its ticket sales target. 1.45 million people attended its events in 2016. MAKE: magazine had 125,000 paid subscribers and the company had racked up over one million YouTube subscribers. But high production costs in expensive cities and a proliferation of free DIY project content online had strained Maker Media.
“It works for people but it doesn’t necessarily work as a business today, at least under my oversight” Dougherty concluded. For now the company is stuck in limbo.
Regardless of the outcome of revival efforts, Maker Media has helped inspire a generation of engineers and artists, brought families together around crafting, and given shape to a culture of tinkerers. The memory of its events and weekends spent building will live on as inspiration for tomorrow’s inventors.