My interview with TechShop CEO Dan Woods for Soonish Episode 1.05, Future Factories—With Workers Built In, was so fun and wide-ranging that I wanted to share the full version here on the site.
Woods has an academic background in aeronautics and business administration. At O'Reilly Media, Dan was the co-founder of the how-to magazine MAKE, overseeing sales, circulation, marketing, media relations, and community outreach.
Together with MAKE co-founder Dale Dougherty, he dreamed up the first Maker Faire in San Mateo, CA, in 2006. That's where he met Jim Newton, who would shortly go on to found TechShop. Years later, Woods would leave O'Reilly to go to work for Newton at TechShop, and in 2016, he became CEO.
Woods was seemingly destined by his upbringing to wind up at the center of the maker movement, which is in turn at the center of the trend toward faster, smaller-scale, more customized product design and manufacturing practices in the U.S.
"I grew up in Silicon Valley before it was Silicon Valley," he told me during our interview. "I’m a Hewlett-Packard brat. So around my dining room table were a lot of really great discussions [with] scientists and engineers and inventors, who frankly didn't give a darn about about flipping companies and exit strategies—it was all about science and engineering and what you were making now. You know, outdoor speakers, or a new amplifier or something like that.
"And so I found Dale's notion of celebrating real people doing projects—not because they had to, or because it was part of their job, but because it was part of life and they couldn't help themselves—I found that really intriguing and strangely familiar to me."
Woods helped O'Reilly build MAKE and Maker Faire into a huge national brand. Now, as the leader of TechShop, he is tasked with increasing the company's footprint around the world. He says he spend a lot of his time traveling to cities where local makers, educators, and government leaders would like the company to set up shop. (Opening a new location can be a multi-million-dollar proposition, and most TechShops so far have emerged from public-private partnerships, Woods says.)
"Probably every community needs something like this" in the interest of both community-building and economic development, he says. "Whether it's a TechShop or not, they need an open access maker space."
In these spaces, Woods says, "You'll find poets, you'll find engineers, scientists, homeless people, veterans. All walks of life. People that are richly diverse in backgrounds, aspirations, skills, knowledge, things they are able to share, things they need to learn. The magic is that rich mash-up of people with diverse backgrounds. That's what makes it that third place, [where] we get a serendipitous connection of wildly creative ideas."