Mountain View Voice

Opinion - October 5, 2012

Valley 'spirit' rises up to save Dojo

It had to be one of the sweetest phone calls ever received by Hacker Dojo development director Katy Levinson. On the line was an offer by Peter Relan, himself a startup developer, offering $57,000 to the Dojo to complete improvements to their Whisman Road buildings in order to meet city code and avoid being shut down.

For a city that is home to Google and hundreds of other high-tech firms and start-ups, it would have been tragic to see the Hacker Dojo go dark for the lack of a few thousand dollars. Perhaps someone else would have stepped up in the 11th hour, but Relan's generosity (donated partly from his own funds and partly from his company, YouWeb), was the icing on the cake that will end an odyssey of fund-raising conducted by Levinson and Dojo members, ranging from an "underwear run" that raised $3,500 a few months ago to significant donations from big name Valley stars and companies like Microsoft ($10,000), Palantir ($10,000), and the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz ($20,000).

Relan was simply not ready to see the Dojo go under. He told the Voice "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 for hackers could be displaced right here in Silicon Valley was simply not acceptable to me."

The final push to keep the Dojo's dooors open for software developers to hang out and work was appropriately on Kickstarter, a website that collects and then dispenses funding for start-ups. Donors can use a credit card to donate online at the Kickstarter website, but the Dojo was $57,000 shy of its goal when Relan ended the drama.

The Dojo's popular classroom and open office environment for start-ups was housed in an industrial space on Whisman Road, but ran into problems when the city inspectors threatened to shut the operation down for not meeting city codes in January. The upgrades needed — a fire alarm system, fire sprinklers, upgraded restrooms compliant with the American Disabilities Act, and building permits — were expensive, requiring Dojo directors to raise about $250,000 to get the job done.

But the while the going was slow and the city more compliant, the hacker spirit was not to be denied, and with Relan's final donation, Mountain View's Hacker Dojo is on its way to meeting city codes. It will continue to nurture many software developers like Ben Silberman, CEO of Pinterest, who said he spent long hours at the Hacker Dojo before launching his company.

Now software developers who need an inexpensive place to work and commiserate with fellow hackers will be welcome at this soon-to-be up-to-code facility where everyone is focused on building a better way to live and work.

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