AOL squatter is aspiring entrepreneur


This little writer is a sucker for “battling-the-odds” stories.

In a time when most people my age are working jobs that they hate just to scrape up enough money to pay rent, it’s inspiring to hear a story of a twenty-something who hit the bottom of the barrel and is coming out victorious on the other end.

Eric Simons, a 20-year-old with dreams of digital entrepreneurship, spent two months secretly squatting at the AOL campus in Palo Alto while he tried to build a grass-roots startup.

That’s two months, people.

When I read CNET’s story on Simons, I almost couldn’t believe it: He was a Chicago kid who hated school, then got the idea for an education-based start-up and moved out to California.

Simons accepted a slot in the Silicon Valley-based incubator ImagineK12. Here, he planned to launch his idea ClassConnect, a new way for school teachers “to create and discover lesson plans, and share them with students and teachers.”

Part of the incubator was hosted workspace at AOL’s Palo Alto campus.

Predictably, the $20,000 offered up by the incubator ran out before Simons’ company had gotten off the ground.

With his incubation over, his wallet empty, and still stuck far from home, Simons turned the AOL campus into his own secret hideout while he continued to work to make his startup a reality.

Simons discovered that his building access badge continued to work, so he took to working tirelessly on his company during AOL work hours. He ate free cereal or ramen supplied in the building, showered in the company gym, and slept on a rotation of couches at night in order to avoid security.

It sounds like Urban-Legends-meets-Silicon-Valley-meets-a-bizarre-twist-on-an-episode-of-The-Mentalist.

But it’s true.

No money. No home. No help.

Just couch surfing around the AOL offices, trying to get his company off the ground.

You can’t deny it, he probably has more dedication than some of the actual paid employees in that building.

Now, of course, Simons eventually got caught by security and ousted. But that also led to $50,000 in funding for ClassConnect, which has helped him rent a house and hire an engineer and interns to help build his company.

From couch-surfing in college, to dodging security, to receiving funding to make his ideas a reality.

Hats off to you, Eric Simons. You are, without a doubt, my new favorite “battling-the-odds” hero.

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