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Building a Self Sustaining Community Space

26th September 2014

DoES Liverpool is three years old! Over these three years we’ve gone from 6 people who thought it might be an interesting idea to set up a shared space for co-working and making stuff to a much bigger community including great tech startups, published authors, internationally recognised conference speakers, and awesome moustaches (and all that’s just Adrian).

It’s been mainly good times during these years but we’ve also had some difficult times. We’re getting to a tricky time at the moment so please read on to the end to hear more about that, but first…

A Little History

Actually DoES Liverpool did exist as more than 6 people before we opened “DoES Liverpool” the space. We had already been running “Maker Night” at the Art & Design Academy (now the John Lennon Art & Design building) at Liverpool John Moores University. These events were great and their popularity helped to confirm that there would be a market for a co-working and maker space in Liverpool.

Setting up a new company and opening a physical space was always going to be a big step though. It’s one thing to run some free events in a space graciously provided to us, but in DoES Liverpool we wanted to build something important, something that would change the landscape of Liverpool and Liverpool’s position in the world (as Adrian says – return Liverpool to it’s rightful place at the top!)

One of the earliest decisions we made was how to fund the space. As we were looking to nurture a community, and one of the ways we might be doing this would be running events, it was tempting to look for funding. Many times we were told “there’s easy funding out there, you just need to apply for it” but we’d also heard of experiences from other people running similar spaces that funding led to paperwork, and could easily cause you to change your mission to match what the funders would be looking for.

On the other hand four of us in the community were already paying around £120/month for a desk in a small office. We realised that it may actually be possible, and more scalable, to build a business charging people money in exchange for services.

We knew straight away that before we could go ahead with the plan, we had to make sure that we had enough people paying for services so that we could afford to pay our outgoings. In the end we did cheat a little. ScraperWiki (one of those aforementioned “great tech startups”) donated £300 and OpenLabs (John Moores University’s team of startup action men & women) donated £175/month for the first 3 months but these really were just going to help us get started and we knew straight away that we had to have a sustainable business or it wasn’t going to last very long.

We moved into our new home in the Gostins Building on Hanover Street in central Liverpool on the 8th July and opened our doors to the public just a week later. Not long after we’d sent out our first invoice for 10 days of hot desking (thanks Chris!) and a short while after that welcomed our first two new permanent desk members. From that moment on we haven’t looked back, we’ve made new friends and welcomed new people into our space. From that point we’ve been consistently profitable, well almost…

Making a Profit

Although we’ve asked for sponsorship when we’ve put on specific events, such as BarCamp Liverpool or Howduino, beyond those first donations we’ve never asked for outside funding to cover the general running costs of DoES Liverpool. All of our costs are covered by the services we provide. We have tried to keep our list of services short and simple: permanent desks, hot desks and workshop access, but have recently extended this to include a registered postal address service.

Originally, when looking at our finances and balancing the books, we tended to only consider the permanent desks. At £150/month and reasonably stable they were a lot easier to consider than the hot desks which could be so variable. However when we did eventually look at the hot desk figures – by adding up all the revenue and dividing over the number of months we’d been running – it turned out that we were making £150/month, so equivalent to an entire permanent desk, not to be sniffed at.

Francis Irving decided 2 years ago that he wanted to pay us £9/month as a “Friend of DoES”. He saw that, while he was an active member of the community, attending events and participating on the mailing list, we didn’t actually offer him a service that he could pay for. Others followed suit, many set up a standing order and pay each month but some people donate a few months at once. While £9/month may not seem like a huge amount it does add up. Since Francis suggested the idea we’ve had 169 “Friend of DoES” payments, amounting to over £1500 in donations. That’s pretty awesome, thank you Francis for starting this and thank you to all of the friends that have donated.

Down to Brass Tacks

This blog post was inspired by a recent conversation on the mailing list in which Karl Ablitt – who’s looking to set up a hackerspace in Norwich – asked for some information about DoES Liverpool. My response went into some of the information above and also gave a run-down on the current state of DoES’s finances. Adrian’s response suggested that it would be useful for there to be more visibility on these numbers and that led to this blog post.

So here’s our income:

Hot desks (avg) £193.95
Permanent desks £1,200.00
Workshop £60.00
Friends £114.75
Events £50.00
Petty Cash £125.00
£1,743.70

And our outgoings:

Main rooms rent £850.00
Workshop £324.00
New Dinky rent £350.00
Electricity (approx) £150.00
Phone & Internet £175.03
Sundries £200.00
Recycling £16.20
TiR £150.00
Cleaning £40.00
Hosted Services £38.80
Admin Role £292.93
Laser Payments £150.00
£2736.96

You will probably notice that one of these is actually bigger than the other. If you’re even sharper-eyed, you’ll spot that it’s not the good way round. For most businesses that would be a sign that things aren’t going right, but as with many things relating to DoES Liverpool it isn’t quite that simple.

Our mission isn’t to fill a certain square footage with paying desks, nor provide a laser-cutting bureau. We have a bigger aim – providing what Liverpool’s tech, maker and startup community needs to prosper.

What does success look like then?

It could be a business using the laser-cutter to prove the market for their jewellry, and growing it to the point where they can justify buying their own machine. Or a startup forming from a few hot-deskers getting to know each other, and then heading off to focus on their idea at an accelerator programme. Or a startup using DoES as a base until they get their own office. Or local businesses finding talented freelancers who join them on-site for a few months to help both business and freelancer thrive.

There are other definitions of success for the DoES community, but we highlight those for a reason – all result in people giving up workshop membership, full-time desks or hot-desking, even if only for a while.

Normally it isn’t a problem, but over the summer we’ve had a few of those coincide with some growing pains which had already pushed our costs up to just over our income.

The admin support that Sean is providing is proving really helpful, and we’d hit the limits of our Internet connection so the new bonded line and router are still essential upgrades.

Obviously we need to address the shortfall, but rather than shrink our capacity, we’d rather ask the community to help us push through this to the next level.

How you can help

The best way you can help is to move in, then we get the benefit of your cash and your presence adding to the activity, conversations and connections being made – be that at a full-time desk, workshop membership or just as a frequent hot-desker.

If that doesn’t work for you, then consider becoming a Friend of DoES or setting up a regular donation. We always appreciate any donations, no matter how small… or large 😉

Everyone can help get word out about what’s available at DoES – tell your friends who are looking for a desk, or who might be interested in laser-cutting or 3D printing. The more people who know about us, the better.

6 comments on Building a Self Sustaining Community Space

  1. Ben Bland says:

    You know, my mum said she never noticed pregnant women around much until she was pregnant herself, then they were everywhere. And lo, just as we begin to increase our focus on funding our makerspace, we see we’re not alone.

    Good luck! Let us know how you get on.

  2. Ben Bland says:

    You know, my mum said she never noticed pregnant women around much until she was pregnant herself, then they were everywhere. And lo, just as we begin to increase our focus on funding our makerspace, we see we’re not alone.

    Good luck! Let us know how you get on.

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  4. This could form a cartier love bracelet for sale triangle shape. Now go on a “C” colored mens cartier bracelet replica band and do the exact same element on the cartier love bracelet for sale pins above the triangle you just designed. I also LOVE baking, and just food in most cases.. Christine has photos of Cartier ride on cartier love bracelet diamonds a pony, family trips to Rainbow’s Co

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