Young Entrepreneur Lived on AOL’s Campus to Build His Startup

Credit: Eric Simons

How dedicated are you to your business? Do you often find yourself burning the candle at both ends, doing what has to be done to put your business in a comfortable position? Finding it tough to keep yourself motivated to build your business and work towards the potential you know you’re capable of reaching? How’s this for some inspiration: try living in your office building for two months.

That’s exactly what Eric Simons did last fall. The savvy young software developer had a business plan in his sights and very little funding to build it with, so he stretched his budget by living at AOL’s Palo Alto headquarters for two whole months.

In high school, Eric fit the bill for your average underachiever. School wasn’t interesting, he was bored with his classwork and wanted to change things instead of just trudging through assignments. He was incredibly smart and capable, but didn’t have the drive—so much so that his teachers all but begged him to find some way to get himself interested in school again. His answer: develop software for educators that brought current technology to classrooms.

Straight To The Action

After high school, Eric tried the college route for a semester, and eventually settled with a Silicon Valley startup incubator that specialized in education software. They shared rented office space in AOL’s Palo Alto campus and had access to the building at all hours thanks to special access cards. Eric blitzed through his incubator’s four month development period and ran through his $20,000 seed money he earned in the beginning. Despite that he needed more time, and had no means to continue building the software, and no other plans for his future.

Thanks to a happy coincidence, Eric’s card still worked after his classes were over. He still had his all-access pass to AOL’s campus and it still worked whenever he tried to use it. Eric was familiar in the building after having spent four months there already, so he could pass himself off as a regular employee. As far as Eric was concerned, his invitation to work on his business had just been extended.

Without any actual income and no place of his own, his only solution was to live at AOL’s headquarters. He could still grab free meals, use their workout facilities, and take showers in the locker room. After watching security guards’ patrol routes, he found space on a conference room couch to sleep on.

After he figured out what he could live on and what he was capable of, he capitalized on his opportunity to use his office as his living quarters. By 7am, he would show up “early” like any other employee to use the workout facilities and shower. He had all of his meals at the on-site cafeteria, and when he wasn’t on a lunch or dinner break, he worked. Eric’s schedule had him working regularly until around 9pm, where he could sneak to a break room sofa and sleep. He kept his belongings in a locker, and cleaned his clothes at the on-site laundry facilities too.

Caught, But Not Thrown Out

Eric’s sneaky arrangements lasted all of two months before being discovered by a security guard. They recognized who he was and knew he was a student at one of the in-house incubators, so AOL allowed Eric to keep coming to his tech classes. He lost his all-access badge, and had to sleep on friends’ couches for some time after being given the boot, but he earned valuable exposure for his unorthodox business development strategy and sheer determination to see his project through.

The time and effort Eric dedicated to his software paid off. His project showed so much potential that he earned $50,000 in private funding from a local venture capitalist. Eric put the money towards renting a house for himself and three other staff members to expedite his development process and get it ready for the market. Eric’s outlook after his experiences couldn’t be better for a small startup founder: “…Save money wherever you can, and use all the resources you can. And don’t die.”

Eric’s example is an excellent inspiration for anyone that thinks building your own business is tough. You can have the best product, with the best website, and the best content marketing, but your personal determination is what will see it all through to success. If you’re building your business from the ground up, stories like this help you keep your head up and stick it out for the better. Just like Eric had to rely on friends as a backup plan for his living arrangements, if your online business needs some extra support from the sidelines, there are always people that know how to help you out.


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Andrew Glasscock is currently based in Nashville, Tennessee. He graduated with a BA in English, specialized in Creative Writing, with a minor in Marketing this past May. Along with copywriting, he loves being an improv comedian, playing frisbee, and dogs.

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