How Eric Simons Squatted At AOL Palo Alto Headquarters For Two Months

Posted May 25, 2012

When Eric Simons was 19 years old, he was able to squat at the AOL’s Palo Alto headquarters for two months. He did not have a home at the time, but he had a vision. Simons would hide out at night on couches, eat the company food, and exercise and shower in the gym. When Simons was in high school, he had little interest in education. One day his chemistry teacher confronted him and demanded to know what she could do to make him interested. Simons was stumped because she didn’t ask him to try harder or to stay after school for help — she wanted to find out his interests. Eventually he said that computers were his main interest.

After high school, Simons crashed with a few of his friends at the University of Illinois, but he was accepted into the inaugural class of Imagine K12, a Silicon Valley incubator based on education. He wanted to start a company that builds tools for allowing teachers to create and discover lesson plans. It would essentially be a “GitHub for teacher lessons.” The company would be called ClassConnect.

ClassConnect was given $20,000 by the incubator, but after the 4 month program ended the money was gone and his friends at the company went back to college. Imagine K12 was hosted at AOL’s Palo Alto campus and everyone in the program was given a building badge. Simons kept his badge and it kept working even after the program had ended. Since he couldn’t afford to live anywhere, he decided to live out of AOL’s headquarters.

He did continue to work on ClassConnect while living at AOL’s headquarters. “There were so many people going in and out each day,” he said. “They’d say, ‘Oh, he just works, here, he’s working late every night. Wow, what a hard worker.'”

Eventually Simons noticed that there were security guards making nightly rounds, but there were at least 3 couches that were outside of those patrols that look fairly comfortable. Simons would work until midnight or later and then fall asleep around 2AM on one of the couches. At 7AM or 8AM, he would wake up and get out of bed before everyone else arrived. After waking up, he would go to the gym for a workout and a shower, then go back upstairs and eat cereal for breakfast. Then he would start working all day again. This was his routine.

In the first month, Simons had spent only $30. This was on his occasional trip to McDonald’s or for other types of food when he got sick of eating ramen noodles and cereal. On Thanksgiving, he splurged by going to Boston Market.

In terms of his clothes, Simons had the ones that were on his back, 5-10 t-shirts, a pair of jeans, and a pair of shorts. All of them could fit in one locker plus AOL had their own laundromat.

“Honestly (though), I didn’t think they were going to catch on,” said Simons in an interview with CNET. “I had no indicators that they even cared about that…After the first month, I was like, ‘This has worked so far, but this probably isn’t sustainable,’ so I made sure my friends were OK with” him coming over and staying with them later on.

One of the security guards finally found him sleeping on a couch at 6AM. The security guard started yelling at him and told him that he cannot use the facility as a dorm. The security guard knew that Simons was part of Imagine K12 so no one had called the police. He did lose his badge, but was still able to have access to the incubator.

After moving out of the AOL building, ClassConnect was able to raise $50,000 in seed funding from Ulu Ventures and Paul Sherer. “Tenacity and commitment are key attributes of a great entrepreneur. Eric has these in spades as demonstrated by his willingness to do whatever it takes to get his company off the ground,” said Clint Korver of Ulu Venures.