reserved-bit started in December 2016 with the intention of being a place to access tools that that wouldn’t usually fit your budget, design and build collaboratively, network with like-minded people and learn new skills. You can read all about our beginnings here. After three years of wild fun, the time has come for us to move on and do other things. We thank all of the friends we made along the way for their support in keeping reserved-bit alive all these years.
It’s been an interesting 3 years. reserved-bit was an experiment to see if we can build a community of hackers and makers in Pune. It was an experiment that ran longer than we thought it would, and what an exciting experiment it was.
We started a number of meetups and through those meetups made scores of friends across technologies. We crossed over 2000 members in our meetup.com group and hosted workshops and technical sessions on topics ranging from IoT to art and craft. We even had a very enthusiastic group of 9-15 year olds learning electronics and programming at reserved-bit.
Our membership model allowed young inventors and hackers to use the space to build their own startups and at the very least experiment and fail. We had some success there too, with some very keen young people starting their ventures at reserved-bit and learning from each other to build their own spaces.
All of this was not without challenges though and eventually, the challenges got the better of us. Here are some things that held us back, things that will hopefully help some other first generation businessperson trying to start their own makerspace.
reserved-bit was never really meant to be a for-profit enterprise but at the same time, we never really pinned down how we wanted to manage the setup financially. Our outlook for the initial years was that we won’t run out of money so we can keep doing this and this holds true even today. However it’s not just about not running out of money, it is also about whether we feel like our investments are taking us anywhere and at this point it is pretty clear that they are not.
PyCon was an interesting pivot for reserved-bit because the first PyCon Pune coincided with our launch as an entity and the second one had repercussions that echoed till near the end. PyCon Pune had a significant financial impact, in the form of losses from import issues that held up GST refunds. We had to stick to GST for 2 years for the refunds and incur the 18% padding to our costs. We eventually set off some of our costs by moving to a smaller place but by then we had lost much of our will to earn back what we had lost.
Pricing memberships and workshops was a tricky exercise too and it seems like we failed to hit the right price point. Similar business would have struggled to reach the monthly rate of ₹5000 and at the same time break even on costs, but on the flip side, would someone interested in using a makerspace service pay ₹5000 a month? We were unable to answer that question satisfactorily and it is an open question. Maybe someone will find an answer to this one some day in the context of makerspaces.
Community and Marketing
We had tremendous success in getting together people from various technologies in our meetups and some of our workshops. We were seen by many as significant points of contact for the Pune tech community and we helped them out whenever we could. However we were unable to convert this visibility into revenue of any form. We succeeded in demonstrating value of a makerspace to our visitors but not nearly enough to have them sign up. We were eager hosts for free meetups but for paid workshops from even the most talented of trainers from their fields went half empty.
We did have quite a bit of success in the 9-12 year old demographic with our introductory trainings in Arduino, Scratch, Python, etc. There was significant demand for electronics classes but we could not sustain that with the level of quality we wanted to deliver with our mentoring program. There were operational issues too, especially after moving to the smaller space where mentoring children while allowing space for others to work on their own was a challenge.
Makerspace vs Co-Working
Perhaps the most important challenge for us was positioning and it was also where we did not do as well as we should have.
We were a makerspace. That’s what we wanted to do from the get go. We had people coming in from across the country (and some even across countries!) to talk to us about reserved-bit and wanting to collaborate. It clearly was an idea that got people across the world interested. However based on accounts from across the world, it is also not an idea that sustains itself due to its capital intensity. So we had to, like other makerspaces, find a way to subsidize the space. Our Patrons were a great help but it was not enough; we needed more revenue and that’s where we tried to also be a co-working space.
Co-working for an electronics design shop like AXD is not too different from working in a makerspace but for a marketing company or for CAs, it is an entirely different thing. We struggled to balance the two and in the end became a co-working space that wasn’t quite one. We toyed with the idea of setting aside dedicated co-working areas but that would have been quite an expensive affair and we never actually did it.
We had some very strong ideas of what reserved-bit should and should not be and did not want that vision compromised. As a result we kept tight control over the operation of the space. Maybe a makerspace requires more flexibility and participation to thrive. Maybe it should not have been a proprietary firm and instead it should have been a Trust or a Society. It would have been a bit more expensive to manage but maybe it would have attracted more people who felt the need to be a bigger part of such an endeavor.
A learning experience is one of those things that says, ‘You know that thing you just did? Don’t do that.Douglas Adams, Stephen Fry (2012). “The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time”, p.203, Pan Macmillan
After three years of running reserved-bit, it feels like time has come for our personal lives to take over for us once again. We are proud that we tried to create an inclusive environment and provide a platform to individuals who might not have access to opportunities and facilities. The most difficult part of this process has been to admit to ourselves that we need to walk away from this for now and we have finally done that.
We are grateful to everyone who has been part of this journey that has been reserved-bit. reserved-bit is closing down, but we will be around, so do reach out. And keep tinkering, because that’s the only way.
– Nisha and Siddhesh