Mountain View Voice

News - September 28, 2012

11th-hour donation saves Hacker Dojo

by Daniel DeBolt

After a months of fundraising, a last-minute, $57,000 donation has spared Hacker Dojo a city clampdown over code violations.

"It was certainly a nail-biter finish," said Katy Levinson, the Dojo's director of development who has been running the fundraising campaign since late January to pay for $250,000 in fire safety and other improvements required by the city. "We weren't sure what we were going to do if we didn't make it."

The Dojo's savior is the founder of Mountain View's YouWeb, Peter Relan, who donated $57,000 to the cause. City officials had given the Dojo until Dec. 27 to install fire sprinklers, fire exits, code-compliant staircases and three bathrooms that meet the American Disabilities act.

The Dojo had met its goal on the fund-raising website Kickstarter, but was still shy over $50,000. "It was really beginning to look like we were going to get too far behind schedule to pay for the renovations," Levinson said. "To make the renovations, we had to raise in six months as much as our entire revenue from the year before. It was daunting."

"About two hours to go before the Kickstarter closed, I got a phone call from a man I'd never met before in my life, by the name of Peter Relan," Levinson said. "Peter says, 'What are you going to do if you don't get the money?' I said, 'I don't know, but we'll find a way to get by.' He laughed. He slept on it and decided to pay the $50,000 to get us the rest of the way to our goal."

Relan donated half of the $57,000 from his own pocket and half from YouWeb, a Mountain View based company which assists engineers in creating startups.

Outpouring of support

"I started my career as a hacker, and I spend almost all my time today at YouWeb working with other developers and hackers," Relan said. "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. I spoke to Katy on the last Friday night of their campaign goal, and after not sleeping well over it I called the next day to make my pledge."

"Hacking is the heart and soul of Silicon Valley," Relan said. "To me, we need more Hacker Dojos, with the community-building spirit of teaching and mentoring others."

Levinson said there were many others to thank as well.

"We've been utterly humbled by the outpouring of support from the community," Levinson said. "People who aren't even Dojo members have held fundraising dinners in their homes of their own accord. During times like these, you learn to appreciate the friends you never knew you had."

The Dojo also received donations from Google, Microsoft, venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, Palantir and AT&T.

Temporary reprieve

Earlier this year the Dojo was granted a temporary reprieve from the city when a fire alarm system was installed in the building. But the Dojo was not able to have events with more than 49 people, which has stifled the use of the Dojo's large space, half of which was going unused. "We couldn't really throw a big bash" to celebrate the fundraising effort, Levinson said. Instead, a smaller group of Dojo members drank drank some champagne and thanked Relan on Twitter.

"I understand the city of Mountain View's position: they had to take measures per city codes," Relan said. "I also understand Hacker Dojo's position: they had to make their space work. The only solution was to jump in and make it all work out."

While Dojo members are relieved, Levinson said there's still more work to do. The buildings will be "safe" soon, but "not really habitable."

"We're still raising money," Levinson said. "Once we're done with the spaces we're going to have two big warehouses that are legal but there's nothing in them," she said, referring to half of the Dojo that's remained vacant by order of the city.

"We are definitely breathing easier," Levinson said.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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