PALO ALTO, Calif. – Some of Silicon Valley’s most successful entrepreneurs are known for their humble beginnings. Internet startup founder Eric Simons is following that tradition.
Simons, 20, spent two months living secretly at the Palo Alto office of AOL Inc. to save money. His story — first reported by the technology website CNET last week — has generated buzz on social media sites.
Simons ended up at AOL after receiving a $20,000 grant for his site, ClassConnect, from a business incubator that used AOL’s Palo Alto office. ClassConnect helps teachers create and share lesson plans.
When he was no longer able to pay rent, he made the office his home. He kept clothes at the AOL gym, where he showered, slept on couches in several office rooms and grabbed snacks that were set out for everyone in the morning.
“I’d grab two cups of Ramen noodles and trail mix for lunch and dinner, and cereal for breakfast,” he told the San Jose Mercury News.
He would then work on the site for hours.
“It was pretty hellish,” he said. “In some respects, it totally sucked.”
He also occasionally stayed on a sofa at a Palo Alto house rented by two brothers he met through the business incubator, Imagine K12.
AOL allows startups not affiliated with the company to use its work space, so Simons said he was able to blend in for a while.
He was caught by a manager after about two months in December.
“It shows some tenaciousness on his part,” David Temkin, senior vice-president of AOL’s mail and mobile operations, told the Mercury News. But Temkin said he was not running a flop house.
Simons has since received $50,000 in new funding and is renting a house in Palo Alto.
He said word of his surreptitious sojourn has generated interest from other investors.
“To put the odds in your favour, you’ve got to use all of the resources you can,” he said. “You have to figure out ways of staying alive.”