Thanks to an 11th-hour donation, Hacker Dojo in Mountain View will likely live to fight another day.
The self-styled community center for up and coming startups was in a battle against the clock to raise $250,000 for a series of city-mandated upgrades to the warehouse space it occupies at 140 S. Whisman Road. Hacker Dojo has until Dec. 27 to complete the work, which includes installing a fire sprinkler system and ADA-compliant restrooms, or face possible closure.
"It was certainly a nail-biter finish" said Katy Levinson, Hacker Dojo's director of development and fundraising campaign organizer. "We weren't sure what we were going to do if we didn't make it. We have hundreds of thousands of dollars of renovations which could not even be started until we could convince the contractors we could cut a check."
Hacker Dojo was still more than $50,000 short of its fundraising goal as a self-imposed September deadline loomed. That's when Peter Relan, serial entrepreneur and founder of "cradle to exit" incubator YouWeb, stepped in and saved the day.
"I started my career as a hacker, and I spend almost all my time today at YouWeb working with other developers and hackers. The idea that the world's largest community center of hackers could be displaced right here in Silicon Valley was simply not acceptable to me," Relan said.
"I spoke to Katy on the last Friday night of their campaign goal, and after not sleeping well over it I called the
Hacker Dojo found itself in hot water with the city shortly after signing a new lease that expanded its footprint last October. According to city officials, the organization neither obtained a conditional use permit nor addressed issues with the building before moving in roughly three years ago.
The timing of the crackdown put Hacker Dojo in a tight spot. With six of its members on the hook for the new lease, the organization couldn't simply pull up stakes and find a less expensive location. A conditional use permit issued in June gave it until Dec. 27 to perform the necessary work.
"To make the renovations we had to raise in six months as much as our entire revenue from the year before," Levinson said. "It was daunting."
Relan said he could see both sides of the story.
"I understand the city of Mountain View's position: they had to take measures per city codes. I also understand Hacker Dojo's position: they had to make their space work," he said. "The only solution was to jump in and make it all work out."
Hacker Dojo plans to build conference and design centers once the renovations are completed.
In addition to Relan's donation, Hacker Dojo received early support from Andreeseen Horowitz, Microsoft, Google, AT&T, Planatir and funders on Kickstarter, according to Levinson.
"We've been utterly humbled by the outpouring of support from the community. People who aren't even Dojo members have held fundraising dinners in their homes of their own accord," Levinson said. "During times like these you learn to appreciate the friends you never knew you had."
Hacker Dojo and YouWeb plan to continue collaborating through a new project called Founder Quorum. Much like "Ask Me Anything" events coordinated by Reddit, Relan is answering questions from entrepreneurs and the dialogue is open to other Hacker Dojo members.
"We're really excited to be working together," Levinson said. "Both groups share a love of understanding technology and an unfettered yet directioned creative process. This is going to be awesome; what you're seeing is only the beginning."