Darren Overby is the kind of guy who thinks airplane seats should face each other. He likes restaurant tables that force strangers to interact. The first time he stayed at a hostel, he was so struck by the community and openness among its guests that he decided to backpack across Europe for two years. Then he went on to found hostels.com and the Pacific Tradewinds hostel in San Francisco to spread that environment as much as he could.
Overby thinks makers are in need of a collaborative, social space too. He hopes to attract 20 to 30 members to RockIT CoLabs, a new 2,500 square foot coworking and makerspace in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
“People say, ‘Oh, your passion is hostels.’ Really my passion is creating environments and technology where collaboration can flourish,” he said Monday during a tour of the new space. “I just want stuff to happen here.”
Spread over three floors, members have access to a roughly equal mix of coworking and maker resources. There are big tables for laptops and interacting with new people, as well as a basement electronics workshop stocked with parts and manufacturing machinery like a 3D printer and a CNC mill. Overby is encouraging free meetups and classes in the basement, where he hopes to eventually see collaborative learning taking place every night.
Members pay $100/month to access the space after 5 p.m. or $200/month for 24/7 access. Overby said he is not sure if RockIT CoLabs will become more popular among the maker or coworking crowd, but he hopes there will be a good mix of people. That gives rise to the serendipitous connections he cares so much about.
“We’re kind of morphing coworking with maker space. We’re trying to be something a little bit different than the average coworking space,” Overby said.
RockIT CoLabs is more of an experiment than a business. Overby would like to see people collaborate on projects that matter — the next Wikipedia or ridesharing app. By the end of the year, he would love to have collected a core group of people interested in forming a larger hackerspace. Perhaps they could take over the still-empty rooms in the building and stick growing startups in them.
Overby also hopes RockIT CoLabs can help disrupt current culture by educating people on how to use tools like 3D printers.
“I feel like we’ve lost a whole generation of people that fix their own things, make things, modify their environment,” Overby said.”In the last 30 years, we’ve become increasingly a consumer population where it’s like, ‘Oh, the VCR broke? Let’s go buy a new one.’Iit’s kind of a shame. There’s nothing like taking something apart to learn how it actually works.”