Introduction: Your Own Booth at the Maker Faire

About: "Almost Toast"

A couple of weeks ago held their 10th ever Maker Faire (and 5th for Bay Area), a gigantic weekend event where commercial builders, crafters and DIY enthusiasts come from around the world to showcase their amazing work. Now, I've been a Maker Exhibitor for three years now, huge fan, and I just wanted to share a simple first hand guide at how simple it is to participate.  So for anyone who's ever been interested in participating in the Maker Faire, here's my own general guide. 

Step 1: Join the Mailing List/ Have an Idea

If you really are serious about attending the Maker Faire, it is absolutely crucial you join their online update Mailing List.  It usually goes up January, so do it now. [1]

It all stars with this, what do you want to present? Whether you are a commercial builder distributing a line of plush reversible hats, or you’re a public representative of a robot builders group, you need to know what the underlying theme is of your potential booth. Don’t be concerned about what others might enjoy, just what hobbies/ interests do you have specifically have that you want to show off?

As described on the official MF application form "Participants can be individuals as well as from groups such as hobbyist clubs, schools and organizations."  In my case, for instance, I instantly knew what I wanted to showcase as early as my first Maker Faire audition- PIXAR builds. Even though I don’t work for the company, I’ve been a huge fan of all of their films and have consequently built a ton of DIY related projects based on them in my free time. Thus was born DIY PIXAR.

Step 2: The Call for Makers (Audition)

Now that you’ve decided on what you want to present, it’s time to now contact the Maker Faire directors as soon as possible. I’m not sure if Sherry Huss (manager of MF) is still doing this, but back in February 2009 the Maker Faire had a sort of Audition for new incoming new exhibitors at the San Jose Tech Museum. It wasn’t that difficult, just come with a few of your items you plan on showing off and be prepared to give a small 2 minute or so presentation.

Nowadays what most people do, especially for out of California exhibitors, is simply fill out the Call For Makers online application form. It usually goes up in the month of February as well, but if you get on their mailing list as soon as January you can get email updates about when it will go online.

Author’s Note: Whether you’re a new exhibitor or you’re a returning one, you must fill this out in order to be considered.

Call For Maker's 2011 Website

Step 3: Maker Faire Participation Agreement Letter

This next step comes in around March, when the MF directors have made their final decisions and start accepting individuals/groups into the event. The Maker Faire Agreement Letter is pretty much just a standard document that describes when all of the important events including and leading up to the fair will occur and where. It will also describe how large a space you will get (6’ by 8’ I believe), number of tables (2).

It will also ask you about any specific requests like number of members you have planned to help you and where you would like to be located. You should fill this out as soon as you receive it.

Step 4: Get Prepared, Essential Tools

Now, between the months of March- May is usually when I start to prepare everything I want to present in time for MF. Since I’ve usually been away from home at college, I sort of take it as a kind of challenge, ie, how much stuff can I build in time for the Faire this year? This includes, but is not limited to, finishing up my robot builds, printing out business cards, making giant papercrafts, and restocking my desktop crane machine.

A few things you definitely want to consider bringing with you to the Faire are:
  • Tools (ie sewing kits, screw drivers, whatever your builds/ constructs might need in case of an emergency)
  • Table Cloth (decorative and protective to your booth)
  • Money (at least $50, for food or purchases)
  • Large Water Bottle (definitely a must, if you're going to be at your booth the entire time)
  • Poster Board (always a great way to display)
  • Glue and Tape (very useful in any situation)
Author's Tips: Make it Simple: If you’re showing off a DIY booth, like mine, make sure that you only start builds that you know you can finish. Even if its extremely simple, a lot of simple finished projects are infinitely more effective than a complex and uncompleted work in progress.

Cooperative Testing: If you're part of a group, you don't have to worry about this but working solo at the Maker Faire is extremely difficult and tiring.  It will always be much better if you can get someone to help you manage your stand and enjoy the faire with you.

Step 5: Maker Faire Outreach Programs

Starting at around February, the months leading up to the Maker Faire and the ones following it, are always completely busy.  The Maker Faire directors like to reach out to as well as respond back to many different museums, malls and organizations as well as sponsors in order to generate promotional buzz for the giant May event.  Thus, multiple pre-Maker Faire Outreach Programs are held each year, where different Makers can participate and show off some of their work. 

 These are optional events, but you can get updates about them each year from the MF mailing list.  They're very fun, small, and much more relaxing than the actual Faire for the most part.   In my personal experience, the sponsors are very nice and are ultimately glad to have anyone participate.  Last last year I attended the 2010 Open Make Exhibition at the San Francisco Exploratorium and this year I had a great time participating at the Hillsdale Mall Mini Maker Faire.

Step 6: Maker Faire Set Up

The setup date when Makers can start preparing their booths is held as early as the Thursdaybefore the Maker Faire, but it's the Friday (the day right before the weekend) that the actual Pre-Faire Festivities are held.  The Maker Faire Set Up Event is pretty much a simple Meet and Greet for the different Makers, giving them a chance to interact with each other before the crowd explosion occurs the next day.  Free food is also provided at 6:00 pm.

I apologize I don't have that many pictures of this, I'm usually preoccupied with my own area.

Step 7: The Faire!

Finally, after months and months of planning, it's finally here- the date of the Maker Faire! These are a few of my own key reminders and tips for managing a booth and enjoying the faire as well:
  • Come As Early As Possible (at least by 8:00, seriously)
  • Get your booth ready by Opening (10:00)
  • Have food prepared (so you don't have to make routine trips to 30 minute long lines)
  • Keep your projects behind your desk (or at least away from anyone who might grab or steal anything)
  • If Indoors, especially in the Fiesta Hall, take at least a 1 hour break every two hours (the Tesla Coils....great fun but extremely mind inducing)
Additionally, give yourself sometime to enjoy the Faire itself!  I particularly enjoy the outside area Steampunk Village, as well as the secluded but intriguing 3D stage (right outside Fiesta Hall), and the Center Stage Auditorium is worth a visit with the Maker Faire's own Ted Talks.

Oh, and theR2 D2 Builders are always a must.

Step 8: Clean Up/ Closing

Step 9: Additional: Sample Maker Faire Manual

Definitely a must review, the Maker Faire Manual is a penultimate guide to participating in the Maker Faire.  It not only reminds you about important dates, it also goes in length about parking passes, emergency situations, and complementary free tickets.