Creators: Lessons From the CEO of the Maker Movement

Stephanie Overby

You could call Mark Hatch the chief executive of the maker movement. Hatch runs TechShop, which he says is the first international chain of membership-based, do-it-yourself fabrication facilities in the U.S. The company provides individual innovators access to millions of dollars worth of manufacturing tools. Launched in 2006 by co-founder Jim Newton, Tech Shop has 7,000 members in eight locations, with plans to expand globally. It boasts such diverse alumni as the creators of payment processor Square and the premature infant blanket Embrace Warmer.

No Innovator Is an Island

Before he became recognized as a leader of the maker movement, Mark Hatch held executive positions at companies including Kinko’s, Avery Dennison, and Health Net.

Hatch, who had run Kinko’s computer services division, teamed up with Newton, a former robotics professor and science advisor on the TV series MythBusters, after hearing Newton describe his “Kinko’s for geeks” workshop at a party.

Newton had a notebook of 200 ideas, and he decided to aggregate the cost of the shop he’d need to bring his innovations to life by running it like a gym that sells memberships. A few months before meeting Hatch, he opened the first TechShop in Menlo Park, California, with two of everything, including 3D printers, computer numerical control milling machines, and automotive engine hoists. But Newton was, and is, an idea guy. Hatch brought management ability, corporate manufacturing experience (from a stint with Avery Dennison), and financial know-how.

Inspiration Has a Practical Side

Hatch knew Newton was on to something. At Kinko’s “we had hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of computers tied to millions of dollars worth of equipment that we let the public use, and that’s essentially what he wanted to do with TechShop,” explains Hatch. He met with three TechShop members who said they had lowered their product launch costs by 98%, spending between $3,000 and $15,000, by joining. “I couldn’t even conduct a focus group for less than $15,000,” Hatch says.

He also saw an opportunity to make TechShop operations safer and more productive. While the most common cause of shop-floor injuries—repetitive tasks and long hours—is less likely in the TechShop environment where work is varied and intermittent, members must take a class for each piece of equipment that they use and are limited to four hours of use at a time.

You Need a Manifesto

TechShop members are part of a movement. Hatch wrote The Maker Movement Manifesto in 2013 to provide a core text. The book outlines movement values: making, sharing, participating, supporting, changing, and, perhaps the most undervalued, playing. “We get ‘play’ beaten out of us, but it turns out to be a very important part of innovation,” Hatch explains. “One of the easiest ways to break down barriers is to be playful.”

Trust Your Vision

Already, the maker movement is becoming mainstream. When Ford Motor Co. bankrolled TechShop in Detroit, investors hoped employees who used the facilities would deliver a 10% increase in patentable ideas. Instead, the rate doubled. Computer scientist Gever Tulley’s Tinkering School in San Francisco has built a K–12 curriculum around learning by making.

Predicts Hatch: “The only question is how big is this really going to be.”

Stephanie Overby

About Stephanie Overby

A Boston-based journalist, Stephanie Overby has covered everything from Wall Street to weddings during her career. She is currently focused on the implications of digital transformation.