Just a little over a year ago, a group of men crammed themselves into the upstairs room of a local coffee shop and created something amazing. One year ago CCCKC had no bank account, no dedicated space and no paying members. What we had then, and still enjoy, was an amazing group of visionaries dedicated to building a space to showcase the talented minds of Kansas City.
The idea to build a hacker space in Kansas City started in the Brickskeller in Washington DC where I listened to Nick Farr going on and on about the community they had built in DC which was vibrant and growing by the week. Sure it could be done in a big city like San Francisco, New York or Philadelphia, but Kansas City? You’re damn right.
The idea festered in my mind…I thought that Kansas City could sustain a group, but I needed something to kick-start my passion. As the weather began to warm, I was invited by my old law school roomate’s (now former) girlfriend to go to StartFest. When I was there I saw a different side of Kansas City that was seen by many both locally and nationally. On a lark (it was held at Boulevard) I started mentioning my idea to some of the folks in the room and received a good deal of support. I was told that I needed to talk to Seth, one of the StartFest organizers. We decided to meet later the next week to discuss it more in depth.
Seth and Joe (one of the other organizers) were building a technology incubator just north of the river and they were very interested in bringing a non-profit into their facility as well as the other start-ups. Within an hour I’d agreed in principle to occupy some square footage. As I walked to my car I realized that while I had a facility and an idea, I had no members and no way to pay for the square footage.
As the days passed I happened to catch a post on a local blog about Hack Day being put on by a newcomer to town, no doubt hoping to shake out some like minded folks. I was excited as this could be just the catalyst the group (currently comprised of one, mind you) needed to get thing moving forward. The day was pretty sparsely attended. There were three of us, with the third arriving as I was getting ready to take off. I did, however, buy they domain name and set up a wiki. The Cowtown Computer Congress was starting to take shape.
As anyone who has wrestled with naming a company, organization or has even chosen a handle can tell you picking a name is tough. I settled on the name for a couple different reasons. First, it’s a tongue in cheek poke at Kansas City’s reputation. The developers of the newly opening Power and Light district had put up a giant piece of something to decorate the new bar district…featuring two cowgirls and I was a little annoyed that it certainly didn’t help that image. Second, it plays homage to the Chaos Computer Club in Germany which helped build a community and spawned the largest and most successful hacker spaces in the world.
I spent a good bit of time reading up on how they were designed, governed and funded. Following the design patterns, I worked out some generalities of how we would be run. I then decided to set a time and date for our meetings. The Kansas City tech scene was pretty fragmented with groups holding meetings all over the metro area. Finally I decided that the Flying Saucer would be a good location as it was Downtown (anyone who wouldn’t want to drive downtown certainly wouldn’t go north of the river once we built the space) and close to my office. Thursday happened to be my only free night that week.
The first meetings were attended by about 5-6 guys, all folks that had seen my postings to the Perl Mongers board or the foundering 2600 discussion board. While small in numbers, a couple guys were consistent in their attendance. Clay, Cinus and Ulysses quickly became the first unofficial officers of the group, if for no other reason than they were committed to the idea and were in constant attendance. Over the next few weeks, we bounced our meetings around to find a good balance between location, crowd and beverages. Tom Fooleries ended up being a complete bust, as did the Roasterie. Last summer was pretty lean with the four of us meeting by ourselves and trying to plan a fundraiser, recruit new members and build our presence on the web. Once again, we needed a spark that would build interest.
One thing that kept coming up was that i-hacked was run out of Kansas City. I knew this because I’d flown back from DEFCON a couple times with their founder who would usually be kind of an ass while giving me somebody else’s business card with i-hacked.com and some kind of coupon code written on it and a t-shirt. Not convinced that he was the guy we were looking for, I had cinus send him an email. The week of DEFCON, I got an email from hevnsnt who wanted to meet up for lunch. He, surbo and I met for thai and sized each other up. They both loved the idea and were willing to help. I left out the part about there only being four people at our meetings for the past six weeks.
Reality was starting to sink in. If we couldn’t get this thing off the ground soon we were going to need to scrap the plans to move into the incubator, especially if we were going to be there by the scheduled opening in October. I scowled at my Blackhat bio, thinking that putting CCCKC on there wasn’t such a great idea.
DEFCON really changed everything. Obviously lots of folks out there loved the idea and were very supportive, but it didn’t seem as though I was meeting enough local folks. At the Podcaster meetup I really ended up sticking my neck out as I made an announcement (including about our incubator and otherworldly bandwidth capability) to the world, including lots of prominent members of the community.
I came back as energized as ever and really ready to tell the guys we were going to give it four weeks and make an up or down decision. When I arrived at our newest adopted home, the JavaNaught (ironically the home of the last failed attempt to revive DC816) I was blown away at how many guys showed up. It was off to the races at that point. We began making specific plans for a fundraiser and party to help get the word out. Week after week as summer slowly turned to fall we had more folks there. I was traveling a great deal for business at the time and couldn’t believe the reports I was getting from the other guys. Every week there were new, excited people who were willing to help.
The decision to incorporate came quickly after I saw a critical mass beginning to form. I spent a day drafting bylaws while Clay worked on researching bank account options and the filing process. We posted the bylaws for discussion and held the meeting where we incorporated officially. The rest, as they say is history. In the ensuing year we:
- Outlasted our original landlords
- Built a membership base in excess of 40 members
- Held a couple successful fundraisers, and one which was a terrible failure
- Helped build a robot for a community haunted house
- Painted laser graffiti on the side of a building across an interstate
- Held numerous soldering workshops
- Made Engadget and Make
- Signed a long term lease on an underground laboratory
- Hosted a week long grand opening showcasing our members
- Established reciprocity with PS:One and NoiseBridge
- Brought in some out of town guests
- Taught some scouts to solder
- Built countless projects and put on countless talks on everything from information security to alternative energy.
It’s been an incredible journey, and truly an experience for a lifetime. None of the could be possible, of course, without the support of so many people. First and foremost, I want to thank all of our members who contribute to the community and inspire me every day with their creativity and talent. Cinus, Clay and Ulysses kept me motivated during the days when things looked grim, and the rest of the board who joined in the fall kept me moving forward even when everything seemed completely overwhelming. Hevnsnt stepped in to keep me in check when I would get worried about trivial nonsense and tell me when I was being way to cautious (it IS a hackerspace, right?). Their hard work (hours and hours of it) made the organization what it is today. Mr. E in Chicago unintentionally helped make sure that our space would kick 110% more ass than his…which of course it does (suck it, PS:One). Asmodian X has always been the first to volunteer and the last to leave while Mike Overstreet quietly served as a counselor when I was in a mental bind. All of the people who donated from around the world in the hackerspace community helped get us off the ground financially, as well as inspiring us to keep going. Last, but certainly not least, I have to thank my beautiful bride who not only let me spend these countless hours on a project she couldn’t really understand, but let me do so while we were buying a house and planning a wedding.
So, it’s with great pride and excitement that the founders turn the reigns of the organization to an entirely new group of leaders. The new executive board has the kind of excitement that the founders had last year as we saw our crazy idea begin to come to fruition. I’m not sure if they are as excited as we are to see what the next year will bring.
Res Ipsa Loquitur