Schuyler Towne and Open Locksport
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Like many of you, I didn’t know that competitive lockpicking even existed until I came across Schuyler Towne’s Open Locksport project. Ever since, I’ve had a hard time thinking about anything else — and it seems I’m not the only one (as of this moment, Open Locksport has reached 239 backers!). For a small niche community, that’s both exciting and incredible.
A huge part of what makes Schuyler’s project so captivating is, well, Schuyler. His passion for lockpicking is irrepressible and it shows. After passing another huge project milestone last week, he jumped out of his chair with so much excitement that it exploded in pieces when he landed. Now those bits and pieces of chair will be sent to the backer who helped inspire the moment.
Schuyler’s story is a fascinating one, and he was kind enough to share it with us below. Support his project here.
How did you get into competitive lockpicking?
Growing up I was big into computers and used to stay up late at night reading text files about hacker conferences like DEF CON and HOPE (Hackers On Planet Earth). I idolized a lot of the people in that community, in particular from two of the more venerable hacker collectives, the L0pht and cDc. Unfortunately, my Mother wasn’t of a similar mind and ended up cutting off the internet for long enough to divert my interest. While all of my friends became engineers of one stripe or another, I ended up at a theater conservatory. I never forgot those glimpses of a vibrant, fun community of smart, creative, talented hackers. So, when I ended up in Boston with a real job and some vacation time I suggested to some friends that we go to one of the conferences we used to read about as kids. We ended up at HOPE #6 in NYC and it was incredible. I won’t ramble too much about that experience, but there was one talk in particular that just captivated me.
I didn’t know anything about locks. Didn’t even know how they worked and didn’t really care to know. It turned out my friends, though, had been playing around with locks since they were kids, just not very seriously. They dragged me along to a talk that Barry Wels, the head of The Open Organisation Of Lockpickers, was giving. Barry is this very charming, very smart Dutchman who gave the most remarkable presentation. Watching him open locks on stage was like watching a very subtle, understated magic show. His organization had set up a lockpicking “Village” at the conference and I went over there and picked the first lock I would ever open. By the end of the afternoon I was teaching the basics to other people who had gathered around. I was instantly hooked.
I bumped into Barry in the lobby of the hotel and took a moment to thank him for his talk and tell him how excited I was about lockpicking as a hobby. I asked if he had a stateside group and how to get involved. He suggested I come to a meeting he was having the next day and I agreed to go. When I arrived I was introduced to Babak Javadi, Eric Michaud and Eric Schmeidl, all of whom seemed very surprised to see me. I would find out later that they were already well established and had done a lot to launch locksport in America. Without any other explanation, Barry opened his arms wide, looked at all of us and declared that we would be his board of directors for his new American organization. I got thrown into the deep end the day after I learned to pick!
I flew to Holland a few months later to compete in my first international. I won half of my head to head matches and was off and running.
What sparked the idea to bring your project to Kickstarter?
Originally, I was planning to launch the company with seed money and the support of two close friends. We were all committed to it, but our daily lives and myriad other projects kept expanding the project’s timeline. Finally we reached a wall and nothing moved forward. Whenever we would get together great progress would be made, but we just couldn’t keep up steam so things stagnated. I should have been the driving force, but didn’t manage to keep things moving.
So, I had heard a lot about Kickstarter, but hadn’t investigated it myself. As I saw friends launch projects on it and read an article here or there I was fascinated by the concept. The germ of an idea was starting to form. Basically, if I did this as a pre-sale I wouldn’t have to get friends to take on the financial burden and could gauge interest as well. Most important, though, was the update process. Forcing myself to regularly update the project with my own progress would keep me progressing. Kickstarter, to me, seemed like the perfect way to keep both external interest and internal focus up. Still, I waffled, because I didn’t see anything quite like what I was doing on here. When I finally decided that putting the lockpicks up for consideration couldn’t hurt anything my expectation was it would be rejected up front, so I wasn’t too worried. I was taken aback when I got the green light. Shocked, but very excited.
One of the most striking things about your project is the community of support you’ve built around your idea. The response to your project has been overwhelming! Were you surprised by this?
Well, yes, but not just by the response. I knew that the same community I talked about above would be interested and that some of them might rally to help me out. They are a really wonderful group of people and, as a rule, love to support innovative, quirky, passionate people and projects. I knew I’d have a base. What’s shocked me are the number of people who have never picked a lock, never heard of locksport and have come running to the project anyway. I’m really excited by the chance to introduce so many people to something I love.
You’ve been great about adding rewards for your backers as you continue to exceed your goal. What inspired you to continue evolving your project as you gained more support?
I backed Jenny Owen Youngs’ Kickstarter as soon as I saw it launched and was really excited to see it go from funded to super-funded in less than 2 days. Her response was great. She was stunned, just as I am, and immediately wanted to give more back to recognize the huge surge of support. As I was writing this I got an update from Tom Henderson’s awesome punk mathematics project where he, too, became super-funded and wanted to give more in response. I think it’s a natural reaction. I don’t think any of us, from rock stars to artists to authors expect this to actually work, so it’s a nice surprise when it does. And when it doesn’t just work, but completely overwhelms you with the response, you want to reward that. You want to live up to that enthusiasm. For me, I’m adding some hand made things and my $10K update is going to announce a really fun, candy-related bonus. Additionally, I try to include some relevant information in my updates. I’ve recorded demos and explanations of different locks and tools and updates from some of these conferences that I attend.
For aspiring lockpickers out there, any advice/tips you could offer about getting started? What’s the best way to find your local lockpicking community?
Oh, man. Well, first, check out http://lockpicking101.com. It’s the largest, most open community of locksport around. They’ve been around for years and while I meander in and out for months at a time, I always come back there. They have a good local section as well, just scroll WAY down the page and you should be able to find something going on near you. Also worthwhile is finding a local hackerspace, as whether or not they have a formal club, you’ll probably be able to drum up interest and find some like minded people. I run workshops in the Boston area at Sprout in Somerville, and I’m actually planning a trip down to D.C. to see HacDC, donate a lock library and do a workshop in September. Check out http://hackerspaces.org to find a space near you!