Voluntarily Homeless in Silicon Valley

I’m writing this post from the trunk of my 2002 Honda Civic; the place that I will call home for the next few months as my co-founder and I finish building and publicly launch Grasswire.

While the adventure has just begun, I honestly feel like this type of homeless lifestyle while building a company is not only possible, but sustainable.

Obligatory Backstory

A couple of months ago I left a link to our half-built product somewhere in the middle of a HackerNews thread. I hoped a dozen or so people would hit the site, look past our obvious UI/UX deficiencies, and give us some useful feedback.

Three days later we still had hundreds of people simultaneously on the site (most of our traffic came from Reddit, Facebook and Twitter by that point). Somewhere amidst the classic startup story of pizza, caffeine and the rush that comes from your server crashing from traffic as quickly as you can upgrade it, we concluded that what we were building had legs. The time had come to really pursue it.

We had been talking about the possibility of moving to Silicon Valley for a while, and had won some money in a couple competitions tech companies like ours had no right to be in (we finished 2nd place behind a popcorn seasoning company). But if I’m completely honest, it’s not about the money.

Candidly, living in a car in Silicon Valley had much more appeal to me than a single bed and a shared bathroom. If I happen to save some money by virtue of trying a new adventure, I’ll take those side benefits.  Much more than money, what fuels me is obsession with minimalism, reading way too much Thoreau, and trying to continually see life from a different angles (not to mention a passion for the company we’re building). It’s about questioning society at its fundamentals, and seeing what a life not tied down by a foundation really feels like. And so far I love it.

But How Do You ___?

The first thing someone will say when you tell them you’re living in your car is, “But how will you X?” X could be “sleep” “eat” or “shower,” but it’s never that complex, you just have to figure it out. Kurt Varner did an excellent job answering some of those questions on Quora, but since so many people ask, the run-down is this:

Sleep: Fold the back seats down, throw a mattress of some sort into the trunk (I recommend a slim air mattress generally used for sleeping on cots), and you’re golden. It still leaves plenty of room to store stuff.

photo 4

Eat: Don’t buy perishable stuff. The trunk actually stays cool enough to store things like cheese, but milk isn’t recommended. The Hacker Dojo (see “work” below) also has a break room style kitchen. You won’t want to plan on cooking there, but the microwave will get you by.

Shower: Stanford has free showers designed for those that use transport (please don’t abuse them), or you can get a YMCA or gym membership.

Work: The Hacker Dojo is only $100/month, allows 24/7 access, and includes the only thing more important than food or water: a 100 mbit Internet connection.

Park to sleep: Palo Alto hasn’t yet passed a law that makes living on the streets illegal, but I usually just find a random place that’s dark where there are a few cars (to make sure it’s legal) and climb in the back. Last night I was in front of some random people’s house and they were coming in and out and never noticed. People aren’t that observant, it turns out.

Jumping In

I have had my share of part-time, college-kid-grunt-work kinds of jobs–the kind of “sit at a computer and enter data until your eyeballs bleed” kind of job that makes you generally miserable. This is how I learned an important lesson: If you hate your work, you won’t just be miserable at work. Misery will spill over into your evenings and weekends. Eventually, very little about life is fun, interesting, engaging, or enlightening. It’s a miserable way to live–no matter how well it pays.

Living in a car doing what you are passionate about, by contrast, is  awesome. I get up every morning enthralled with the work we’re doing, and I have to force myself to turn off the computer and get some sleep. I’m not sure if you can just will a company into existence, but I believe what we’re building is something the world sorely needs, so we’re going to give it everything we’ve got. I’m not sure if it’s OK to recommend homelessness, but I recommend it.

And if anyone reading this happens to be an entrepreneur in the Valley, I’d love to meet as many of you as I can. So shoot me an email or follow me on Twitter, and we’ll see where this adventure takes us.

  • Julie Hansen

    Wow, I respect you so much Austen. I don’t think I could ever live out of my car haha :) Best of luck, all your MUN friends back in Provo are rooting for you!

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  • John D. Storey

    How did you make that “KUDOS” tracker. That thing is dope!

  • Pingback: I Lived Out of My Car to Fund My Startup | VentureDad.us

  • Luis Medina

    I found this very inspiring. I really wish you huge success in your new business, not lucky, because that is for losers.

    Greetings from Mexico

  • Daniel Plichta

    I live in new York as cold as hell and I love the cot but I’m about 6.3 and can’t comfortably sleep any suggestions?