Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Starting a Fab Lab: 10 Things We Learned

When we started planning for Fab Lab Tulsa in 2008 we had no idea what it would take to get our lab launched and operational.  We had a great team and generous community support.

Now that we've had a chance to look back on the experience, we wanted to start with a quick list of lessons learned about starting a Fab Lab.  There'll be more to come so stay tuned.

No. 10...No Egos Allowed
There's simply too much to for one person to do.  Sincere team members will build a Fab Lab in your community, not just a collection of individuals.

No. 9...Improvise and Be Prepared to Think in Your Feet
Especially early on, don't get too fixated on your concept of a Fab Lab.  Keep your options open.  Fab Lab Tulsa is in its present location because of a purely random connection between Tulsa's network of community gardens.  Had we not kept our options open and listened to our community, we might still be searching for suitable location.

No. 8...Read Malcom Gladwell's "The Tipping Point"
Your team needs three types of people...Mavens (the machine geeks), Salesmen (making pitches), and Connectors (they seem to know everyone!).  Fab Lab Tulsa was so lucky to have individuals with all of these characteristics.

No. 7...Listen to Your Community
Be proactive.  Build relationships.  Host community information meetings.  Discover their needs.  At Fab Lab Tulsa's first community meeting we met the donor who eventually donate the money to pay for all of our equipment.

No. 6...Plan Your Exit
As a founder or core team member of your lab, you cannot be involved forever.  Build a team, identify talent and start recruiting your replacement now.  The first set of founders from Fab Lab Tulsa just "retired" from our Board of Directors, while the remaining group of founders will be "retired" in two years.

No. 5...Be Prepared to Make Fab Lab Your Life
You probably already know this.  Starting a Fab Lab will become a second job.  Annually, get ready to spend 1000-2500 hours per year...that's 4-8 hours per night.

No. 4...Raise FRIENDS before FUNDS (but don't be afraid to ask for money)
Investors and donors aren't only giving support to Fab Lab, they're contributing because they believe in your team.  If they don't have a chance to see an operating Fab Lab then they're giving you money as an act of faith.  Don't let them down.  Fab Lab Tulsa spent over a year forming community partnerships before we ever raised a penny.

No. 3...You Can't Make Anyone Want it More Than You Want it
No one is going to do the work for you.  If you want a Fab Lab then you'll have to do it.  Be fearless.  Go anywhere, at anytime to talk to anyone about Fab Lab.

No. 2...Be Prepared for NO.
Fab Lab Tulsa almost died three times.  First, when our original preference for a location was rejected by the site owners.  Second, when our initial corporate sponsor backed out.  Third, when we left our first non-profit sponsoring organization and formed an independent non-profit.

No. 1...Be Prepared for YES.
Build your plan.  What are your start-up costs for equipment?  Facility?  Staff?  What are your three year projections for revenue?  Expenses?  Usage?  What are your customers?  What community problem does your Fab Lab help solve?

These were lessons hard learned.  Feel free to contact Fab Lab Tulsa at our website if you'd like more information.

Good Luck!

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