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Engine of More: You Should Hate the Gym Model

Engine of More: You Should Hate the Gym Model

You should hate “the hackerspace gym model”.

What is the Hackerspace gym model? In hackerspaces it is the idea that lots of members sign up and pay, but don’t turn up to use the equipment.

Let’s talk about real gyms for a moment. In the gym world, signing up to a gym is aspirational. Simply making the effort to show up, setup the required regular payments, do the inductions and what-not can be a good placebo for actually doing exercise. It feels like bad medicine if you aren’t into gyms and so you feel better just from signing up. Gym membership is also aspirational. You might aspire to have the sort of fitness and tight body of someone who goes to the gym. People “going to the gym” in popular culture, is short hand for fit, healthy and good looking. Our favourite sports heroes, they go to the gym.

However, a quick Google for articles about gym business models will bring up strings of articles with headlines like “WHAT THE GYM DOESN’T WANT YOU TO KNOW!” that being that they don’t want you to train. You’ll also find business insider articles talking about how the recurring revenue models of gyms are ultimately putting people off, as those most likely to spend more money on a gym are those looking for a good experience from a gym. This “looking for a good experience” idea is the basis of my thinking.

I suspect its true for some gyms that they run in this lazy way hoping for a big spike in income in January to support their business. Yet it is almost certainly not true for others, at my gym I know they monitor usage very closely and seem to be targeted on the numbers of people using the place not on the number of signups. My gym belongs to the council and I feel their objectives are more around health of the citizenry and not income generation.

So why should you, a hackerspace architect, hate this model? It doesn’t serve your community well, it has the potential to misalign the income of your space with the effort of running it. With large numbers of absentee membership you may have a surplus of cash you don’t feel the need to invest back into the space or worse you may invest for the few (that you see as the core) and not for the many. It is because this model hopes to push a large percentage of the membership away that it is likely to result in decisions that aid that agenda. Subconsciously we are likely to create dark patterns that ensure our model continues to work. There is a cognitive dissonance of both wanting people to join a space and wanting them not to attend it whilst pretending to yourself that everyone is welcome.

So please, let’s stop planning to make our hackerspace anything but a good experience for all members. If you need more money than you can generate from the number of members you can realistically serve we need to find ways to increase the value of the space and its income without resorting to over-subscription.

10 Ideas for income generation without resorting to subscription:

  1. Run more public workshops, weekend courses & events

  2. Sell good merch, your space should have at tshirt, a hoodie and an apron/lab-coat/something

  3. Get some sponsorships in place, use your imagination, you don’t have to throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bath-water.

  4. Donations, patronage and other worthy contributions.

  5. Get your richer members to pay more, by making easy mechanisms for them to do so without making it an obligation for those who can’t. People with surplus cash who are also nice want to help, but not in a way that makes others feel bad and them feel like suckers.

  6. Maybe look to see what grants are available, make a Big Lottery Fund application.

  7. Regularly hold coffee events, car-boot-sale events and other cruft clearing/income generating.

  8. Fund-matching offers, pledge drives, totalisers, Go-fund-me’s etc.

  9. Sell good coffee and cake at a profit.

  10. Be something people want to be a part of even if they can’t be a member, find way to let people be patrons to the space and enjoy some of the status and kudos your excellent organisation exudes through its awesomeness (like Universities giving out doctorates, cities chucking out keys and other flattering honours).

Today’s thumbnail is a 3D printed Lego Minifig holding blue paper roll at Makespace Cambridge.

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