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Make: The Magazine That Created A Movement Of People Who Think, Articulate & Brainstorm About The Many Disciplines Of Technology – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Dale Dougherty, Founder & CEO, Maker Media…

January 17, 2019

“I think one of the things that I believed at the time I started Make was that I could do a more visual magazine in print than I could do online. And online sites, every page looks almost the same. And I think the idea of focusing and then developing that attention of someone is something that magazines are particularly good at.” Dale Dougherty…

“I think a good publishing company is a franchise that can last multiple generations. And many have. That’s kind of been my goal; how do I keep it going? I think we’ve had a lot of initial growth in the magazine to get where we are, we’re at about 100,000 circulation. And it’s kind of stable there. But I think it would be really hard to do that as just a digital website, in terms of having a business model behind it. I think there are a lot of reasons why the web and the Internet are important and we use it, but it doesn’t really give you a business model today. And I hope we can, overtime, migrate some of this and make it work, but the feedback we get from people is actually that they like the tangible product.” Dale Dougherty…

 

Curiosity, ideas, and people. Three ingredients in Dale Dougherty’s business plan for a successful company, which includes a magazine, events and an entire movement of creators. Dale is a man who had the idea that bringing communities of people together to talk technologies and DIY projects would be a fantastic way to engage and connect. He wasn’t wrong. Maker Faire is one of the largest celebrations of invention, creativity, curiosity and hands-on learning that is inspiring the future and showcasing the best in global makers. And the print magazine is the cornerstone and foundation for all things “Maker.”

I spoke with Dale recently and we talked about his awesome ideas involving creativity and hands-on educational experience. And the word experience is key to Dale, because in all things “Maker,” it’s about the experience. From the children who get involved to the adults who bring their own brand of learning to the table, Make Magazine and Maker Faire is a brand that encourages and promotes the people’s ideas. It’s all about the engagement.

Enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Dale Dougherty, founder and CEO of Maker Media as he takes you on this magnificent journey of excitement into the world of technology and creativity.

But first the sound-bites:

On why in this digital age he focused his brand on making things with your hands:Probably the biggest reason is that people do it. It’s counter to a lot of what we’re told, but people use their hands. They actually like it and they find it rewarding, compelling and satisfying. And actually, a pathway into understanding technology is to play with it and to use it and to take it apart and put it back together, make it do things that it wasn’t intended to do. And I think people have always done this, whether it’s technology and computers or steam engines and mechanical things.

On how he began in 2005:I had developed a series of books called “Hacks” at O’Reilly Media and it was largely how people would, from a software perspective, hack software to make it do what they wanted it to do, getting information from different sites and creating something. And usually it was fun and kind of playful, and they were doing projects. And one of the books in that series was about an early digital recorder and they were taking it apart and they were replacing it, and they were updating it and putting in a new hard drive. And it just opened the door a little bit to the kinds of things we do on our computer, making modifications, customizations and personalization. And we’re going to expect to do it across our entire world.

On how he put the whole concept of Make and the Makers together:I think it evolved, meaning first of all, it was finding real people doing stuff. One time I said to Tim O’Reilly, who ran O’Reilly Media, that I thought it was Martha Stewart for geeks. (Laughs) Tim and I, in our work, had always heard of discovered community, like technical communities specifically. These are open-source developers or people that were building some of the infrastructure for the Internet. And just getting to know who they were, what they did, what motivated them, and how they became who they were, was very informative.

On the Maker Faire and whether it was a stroke of genius:I don’t think it was a stroke of genius by any means, there’s always a lucky part of things you do. You find the right people to help you do things and those things actually work out. But the simple conception was that I wanted to find a way to feature makers and their work and make it possible for people to talk to them. I didn’t know if it would work, but I thought it was still worth trying.

On the biggest challenge he’s had to face:I think one of the biggest challenges is paddling upstream, that nobody believes in magazines and nobody believes in events. And getting the capital to do what we’re doing and making money off of what we’re doing is always a struggle, but I think we’ve achieved this certain level of stability and consistency. I heard someone on a podcast recently talking about someone in the media having to get over the idea that it’s a technology company and it’s going to get that kind of return in the market. And I think that’s kind of right. A technology company might come into existence and be gone in six months, because it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do.

On what happened with the magazine called Craft that he tried to produce:We did about two and a half years of Craft and I think a couple of things happened. One is at the time I started Make there was an emerging Indie craft movement, which I found really fascinating. And we feature that at Maker Faires. It was certainly more of a female audience and what was fascinating to me was these were largely women who did not learn crafting from their mom or parents, but they learned from each other and they learned it in an urban setting, taking classes or in other places. I thought we could start with Craft and then end up in a similar place to Make, in terms of how technology was transforming crafting and how crafting itself was a technology.But in 2008, I was faced with a choice and I just didn’t have any capital to fund growing both magazines, so I just needed to consolidate. It was during the recession and I just had to make a choice.

On anything he’d like to add:Going back to that experience, I think one of the things is there is a particular experience of a magazine. If you watch a movie, you’re not trying to text and do a bunch of other things, and I think with most of our online media, we’re in an environment of distraction, not focus. And yet, unlike a book, which is sort of a single narrative, a magazine is richer and takes you in a different direction, it’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that. As you mentioned earlier, the experience itself of a magazine is still something that is going to stay with us.

On the biggest misconception he thinks people have about him:That’s interesting. I’m very passionate about what I do and sometimes I think that can get played against you. This passionate business person – people will say, well, you should just be looking at the numbers or you should just look at the business, and I guess my goal has been to find a way to make this business work and find a way to serve this audience, because there’s something really valuable here. And sometimes, I think that gets played back as well, you should just focus on the business.

On what he would have tattooed upon his brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about him:The message of our Maker Faire is that we’re not just consumers, we’re also producers. We can create things and that’s actually such a human thing, we don’t want to lose it.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home:I do live in wine country on the weekends, I have a small winery, but you might find me doing that. But I’m getting a little too old to drink that much wine. Reading is probably my biggest interest. I do enjoy sports and other things too, all of the teams, but I think the origins of what I do in Make is in curiosity. How do I learn about things? How do I learn about what people do? I find reading is the greatest way to do that.

On what keeps him up at night:To some degree, it’s just running as a business, balancing the social value. Some people think we’re non-profit, and we’re not. So, figuring out how to make this a sustainable business. In the long run, I’ve kept it going 15 years. I want to make sure somehow I can set it up so it continues after my life and because of the value to society and the need for this.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Dale Dougherty,  founder and CEO of Maker Media.

Samir Husni: You’ve been in the “Making” business since 2005, 13-plus years, producing Make Magazine. Tell me in this digital age, why are you doing something that requires handwork, or combines their brains and their hands at the same time, to focus your brand on?

Dale Dougherty: Probably the biggest reason is that people do it. It’s counter to a lot of what we’re told, but people use their hands. They actually like it and they find it rewarding, compelling and satisfying. And actually, a pathway into understanding technology is to play with it and to use it and to take it apart and put it back together, make it do things that it wasn’t intended to do. And I think people have always done this, whether it’s technology and computers or steam engines and mechanical things.

Samir Husni: If you could go back to 2005 and tell me what got you into this?

Dale Dougherty: I had developed a series of books called “Hacks” at O’Reilly Media and it was largely how people would, from a software perspective, hack software to make it do what they wanted it to do, getting information from different sites and creating something. And usually it was fun and kind of playful, and they were doing projects. And one of the books in that series was about an early digital recorder and they were taking it apart and they were replacing it, and they were updating it and putting in a new hard drive. And it just opened the door a little bit to the kinds of things we do on our computer, making modifications, customizations and personalization. And we’re going to expect to do it across our entire world.

And the applications of the future won’t be just on a screen, they’ll be really all around us, because chips and other things will be in stuff and data and sensors and things will be available to us, so how do we think more broadly about that. How do we do that for our home or our car, or just fun things in our lives that we want to do. The idea in some ways, was as I started to do a book series, I thought this is actually hard to fit into book-length chunks, but it actually might make a magazine. So, the original idea was Hacks as a magazine title, but then my kids kind of pushed back on that, they didn’t get the hacking thing very much.

And stepping back, I have to say an important point in doing the research was that I actually saw people doing this and that’s where it came from. The “Hack” series was finding out what people were doing and having them tell how they did it. So, I’ve always been interested in how-to information and the sharing of that. And what fascinated me as I looked back at magazines like Popular Science and Popular Mechanics, really back to 1918, 1930s, 1940s, up to Popular Electronics in the ‘70s, it had very much that kind of spirit of how-I-do-stuff. And I really liked that, so in this consumer society that we live in people don’t believe they can do stuff as much. And products are created that sort of keep them out rather than let them in.

And it’s just a hunch in a way that there were people out there who knew how to do this stuff and if I could find them and share what they were doing with others, we might create more people who could do stuff.

Samir Husni: It seems to me that the whole concept of Make and the Makers is based on a three-legged stool of creativity, community and innovation. How did you put that concept together?

Dale Dougherty: I think it evolved, meaning first of all, it was finding real people doing stuff. One time I said to Tim O’Reilly, who ran O’Reilly Media, that I thought it was Martha Stewart for geeks. (Laughs) Tim and I, in our work, had always heard of discovered community, like technical communities specifically. These are open-source developers or people that were building some of the infrastructure for the Internet. And just getting to know who they were, what they did, what motivated them, and how they became who they were, was very informative.

I’m not an engineer, I was an English major in college and I was self-taught in computing and all that. But I knew how they thought and I knew in some ways how they worked. And as I came up with the idea, I would just find more people doing it. And so I was really trying to capture that. And what we’re probably known for now more than the magazine is Maker Faire, which we started a year afterward. And that was just sort of on the recognition that I was moving a lot of people to the magazine and I thought that these were really interesting people and talking to them, their eyes light up and their enthusiastic, and they care tons about what they’re doing. And we don’t get to meet them in any other way; they’re not on TV, they’re not in the newspaper. So, I wanted to really connect with them.

And I wondered if I could combine an art fair, science fair, craft fair and even a county fair, and bring those people together and just ask them to share their projects with other people. And let people talk to them. And I figured we’d see if it worked.

We had a pretty good turnout our first year, about 15,000 people, which is larger in scale than most craft fairs and art fairs and science fairs. And it really just gave me a sense that people are really hungry for this and it was fresh and creative.

And going back to the innovation thing, the question is how do you create innovators; where do they come from? What is it they do before they’re innovators and are recognized as innovators? And I think our traditional answer is they went to school and learned to become innovators. And that’s actually not true. I think they practiced innovation in ways that they didn’t call it that. And it was very much in the spirit of play, like how do I fix something or take something apart? Or how do I combine two things that aren’t supposed to work together?

So, when I started the magazine, I was pretty serious that I wanted it to be about play, not about productivity or how do you make things to make a living. That was a possibility that I was open to, but it seemed that all of this occurred just because people enjoyed doing it. Just the way that some people like to cook and some people like woodworking. And that sort of gave me the identity for the magazine. This is a magazine full of projects, using technology in ways that might be unusual or cool. It wasn’t about fixing your toilet, but it was about what YOU could do, not about what someone else was doing.

If you look at the development over the years of a Popular Science and a Popular Mechanics, in their origins they weren’t trying to be very practical magazines about things that people did, like building a birdhouse or your own two-car garage. It all sort of began with the phrase: this might seem like an unusual project, but it’s something that you can do. I thought it was like an invitation to do stuff, so I wanted the magazine to be primarily about these projects that whether you did them or not, you learned how to do things that you might want to do.

Samir Husni: Most magazines today, it takes them maybe five years, ten years, some magazines 100 years, to be in the event business. But you did it sort of right out of the gate, a year later, after you did the magazine, four issues in you created the Maker Faire. Was it a walk in a rose garden for you or a stroke of genius?

Dale Dougherty: (Laughs) I don’t think it was a stroke of genius by any means, there’s always a lucky part of things you do. You find the right people to help you do things and those things actually work out. But the simple conception was that I wanted to find a way to feature makers and their work and make it possible for people to talk to them. I didn’t know if it would work, but I thought it was still worth trying.

A lot of what actually fascinated me about Make and Maker Faire was that it was kind of running in an almost diagonal direction compared to where the tech industry was going with Facebook and apps. I was thinking that one of the reasons for producing the magazine is it’s tangible and I really thought that people would collect it because I had come across people’s collections of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics. In fact, for maybe the first 10 years I produced Make Magazine in a format that was identical, the digest format, that was identical to those early magazines. And it was really intended to be that, because there was something collectible about that format. And I thought nobody knows what website you read and what you find on it, but let me put these things on your desk or in your home or out on the table and people will find them and start talking about  them.

I actually think the key thing, especially in events, is that you learn from what you do. I think too much sometimes goes into planning and trying to make it perfect and to know everything. And one of the things that we’ve learned over the years is that we’ve determined in this that we wanted a family event. I think the magazine was targeted for males, probably 35 and up, maybe not targeted, but that’s kind of where the audience is. But we wanted a family event and we wanted kids there and to make it fun and enjoyable, so that whether you were into this or not, you could still get exposed to it and that worked.

Over the years, it’s been remarkable how many kids are there. It has almost become an educational event, because parents are coming and bringing their kids, saying I want them exposed to this. This is something they don’t see in their world, they don’t see at school. And these are creative, clever people who have original ideas that they make real.

Samir Husni: What has been the biggest challenge in your journey, in this last 13 years, if you could pinpoint to one major challenge that you’ve faced and how you overcame it?

Dale Dougherty: I think one of the biggest challenges is paddling upstream, that nobody believes in magazines and nobody believes in events. And getting the capital to do what we’re doing and making money off of what we’re doing is always a struggle, but I think we’ve achieved this certain level of stability and consistency. I heard someone on a podcast recently talking about someone in the media having to get over the idea that it’s a technology company and it’s going to get that kind of return in the market. And I think that’s kind of right. A technology company might come into existence and be gone in six months, because it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do.

But I think a good publishing company is a franchise that can last multiple generations. And many have. That’s kind of been my goal; how do I keep it going? I think we’ve had a lot of initial growth in the magazine to get where we are, we’re at about 100,000 circulation. And it’s kind of stable there. But I think it would be really hard to do that as just a digital website, in terms of having a business model behind it. I think there are a lot of reasons why the web and the Internet are important and we use it, but it doesn’t really give you a business model today. And I hope we can, overtime, migrate some of this and make it work, but the feedback we get from people is actually that they like the tangible product.

I had this one note from a reader and he said that he waited for the magazine to come and he started clearing out his garage and arranging for it, and the day it came he sat in his chair and he spent two or three hours on the magazine. He said he was filled with dozens of ideas of things that he wanted to do over that next month or two. (Laughs) And I thought, that’s exactly what I wanted. The magazine becomes an experience, like a movie, but more than being an end of itself, it’s a launching unit encouraging you to do things yourself. And that’s where the real is. You don’t need cooking magazines unless you cook. The idea is you become a better cook, you try out new things. And culturally I was trying to create that environment around technology and just the idea of making.

 Samir Husni: I teach that as journalists we have to be more than content providers, we have to be experience makers. And Make is a great example of that.

Dale Dougherty: I think experience is still the primary currency here and as much so as the experience that goes on in the person’s head, and in a sense, what they do with their body and do things in the world as a result. And I think that’s why Maker Faire made sense to me.

One of the interesting challenges that I had early on is when we did our first Faire in New York, we ran a couple in Austin and then we started in New York, but I was getting a lot of requests from people asking why I didn’t do one in Seattle or one in Boston, and then eventually Tokyo and other places. We just didn’t have the ability to do it and so we ended up writing a playbook, meaning guidelines on what Maker Faire is and how to produce it. It wasn’t so much on just the event, but more this is a community event, so you need the community to engage; you need to discover the community of makers and have them be a part of this event, otherwise it doesn’t make sense.

And so we began licensing the Faire in a pretty lightweight manner, to community groups, science centers and some businesses. And in the last couple of years we’ve had about 200 Maker Faires per year in 44 countries. We have a producer network of people that we work with and talk to, but they’re kind of run independently as well.

Samir Husni: You tried to duplicate the same thing that you have done with Make with a magazine called Craft, what happened there?

Dale Dougherty: Yes, we did about two and a half years of Craft and I think a couple of things happened. One is at the time I started Make there was an emerging Indie craft movement, which I found really fascinating. And we feature that at Maker Faires. It was certainly more of a female audience and what was fascinating to me was these were largely women who did not learn crafting from their mom or parents, but they learned from each other and they learned it in an urban setting, taking classes or in other places.

I thought we could start with Craft and then end up in a similar place to Make, in terms of how technology was transforming crafting and how crafting itself was a technology. Thinking about things like wearable computing today, involving textiles and electronics. But in 2008, I was faced with a choice and I just didn’t have any capital to fund growing both magazines, so I just needed to consolidate. It was during the recession and I just had to make a choice.

And I think it also possibly points to something I had to realize, in our heart we weren’t magazine publishers, we were really community organizers and other things. And I kind of think of it as an association model; you exist because this group of people values what you do, and how do you serve them? It isn’t just through magazines, it’s also through events and maybe through other kinds of things like workshops or other ways to learn to do things. And that’s generally from where we evolved. I can’t imagine doing a magazine on another subject today, partly because it’s hard.

Samir Husni: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Dale Dougherty: Going back to that experience, I think one of the things is there is a particular experience of a magazine. If you watch a movie, you’re not trying to text and do a bunch of other things, and I think with most of our online media, we’re in an environment of distraction, not focus. And yet, unlike a book, which is sort of a single narrative, a magazine is richer and takes you in a different direction, it’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that. As you mentioned earlier, the experience itself of a magazine is still something that is going to stay with us.

I think one of the things that I believed at the time I started Make was that I could do a more visual magazine in print than I could do online. And online sites, every page looks almost the same. And I think the idea of focusing and then developing that attention of someone is something that magazines are particularly good at.

Samir Husni: What’s the biggest misconception you think people have about you?

Dale Dougherty: That’s interesting. I’m very passionate about what I do and sometimes I think that can get played against you. This passionate business person – people will say, well, you should just be looking at the numbers or you should just look at the business, and I guess my goal has been to find a way to make this business work and find a way to serve this audience, because there’s something really valuable here. And sometimes, I think that gets played back as well, you should just focus on the business.

I think a lot of what we’ve done really well with a small team over the years is we have actually stimulated out of a magazine. We’ve created a movement of people that work independently of us, but we’ve created something – this sort of association where people in their hearts belong to something meaningful to them. And they want their kids to belong to it and it helps to shape and define their lives.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Dale Dougherty: The message of our Maker Faire is that we’re not just consumers, we’re also producers. We can create things and that’s actually such a human thing, we don’t want to lose it.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else? How do you unwind?

Dale Dougherty: (Laughs) I do live in wine country on the weekends, I have a small winery, but you might find me doing that. But I’m getting a little too old to drink that much wine. Reading is probably my biggest interest. I do enjoy sports and other things too, all of the teams, but I think the origins of what I do in Make is in curiosity. How do I learn about things? How do I learn about what people do? I find reading is the greatest way to do that.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Dale Dougherty: To some degree, it’s just running as a business, balancing the social value. Some people think we’re non-profit, and we’re not. So, figuring out how to make this a sustainable business. In the long run, I’ve kept it going 15 years. I want to make sure somehow I can set it up so it continues after my life and because of the value to society and the need for this.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

 

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