This is the micro-documentary series I was featured in. It was filmed a while ago, but just recently was released by Cisco. As you can tell, a lot has changed for me since then. But regardless, it’ll make a nice keep sake from my experience :)
Phew.. what an incredible experience the last several months have been. Sadly, I have done a pathetic job at keeping my blog current. So here it goes - finally, an update.
It’s been 5 months since I left my “normal” life to live from a car in Silicon Valley. I’m happy to report that, as of a few weeks ago, my wife and I moved into an apartment in Mountain View. Although relieved to have a roof back over my head, I can honestly say that the decision to move up early was one of the best I’ve ever made. During that time I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with some truly amazing people, learned a ton about building products, and made quite a few meaningful personal realizations. The latter may be the most important of the three, and I could write an entire post on the new perspective that you gain while living in such a minimal way. I’m undoubtedly more grateful to have the simple things in life than I ever was before.
If you’re curious as to how I made out with the physical and logistical part of car dwelling, take a look at my answer on Quora. I will eventually elaborate in a more detailed blog post, but this should satisfy any eager minds for the time being. I even included a video of me waking up in my car. Maybe that’s TMI, but I’m all for being transparent.
Alright, let’s talk about startup stuff. What’s my current status and the progress I’ve made? Well, like any other entrepreneurial journey mine has been filled with bumps. For numerous reasons, I have decided to stop the development of DailyToaster. Mainly, the concept was too niche in order to realistically build a sustainable company around. It was more of a novelty app than anything else. This became clear after conversing with experienced entrepreneurs and a couple early stage investors.
Here was the idea, explained by Inc. Magazine:
His product, an app called DailyToaster, started life as an iPhone alarm clock that could be dismissed only from a computer. Varner, a chronic oversleeper, hypothesized that if people were forced to sit down at a desk, they would be less likely to crawl back into bed. Once they were online, information spilling in from various feeds, networks, and accounts would engage their minds, waking them fully. Users would visit the site almost every day to deactivate their alarms, and Varner believed that inherent stickiness would appeal to marketers.
I think the cause for my blinders was that the app solved my problem with oversleeping extraordinarily well (even with the bugs). However, I found that not enough people who have similar sleep habits actually want a solution. Or at least not want it bad enough to be forced out of bed every morning.
All that said, I’m super pleased that I took the opportunity to work on the project. It gave me reason and drive (no pun intended) to make the move to the Valley. It provided something to demo while meeting people, and I was able to portray my passion for creating. This whole experience was well worth throwing out a couple of months worth of work.
After I the hit the restart button, I went through a week or so where I felt very lost. I had no project, no one to work with, and few friends. I debated looking for a job at a startup (which would actually be a fine outcome), and calling it quits on the entrepreneurship side for a while. It’s just too draining to go through it by yourself for as long as I had (going on 2 years). But I dug deep and decided that I wanted to push through at least for another few months. After all, I wasn’t living from my car without reason.
Around that time I started bouncing new ideas off of a couple of the people I had met at the Hacker Dojo. Through this process I began creating friendships. One of the ideas stuck well between my pal Lin and me. He was in the process of winding down some freelancing work and expressed interest in working together after it was completed. That time recently came, and I’m thrilled to have started working with him as my co-founder. He’s an amazing developer, and I’m fortunate to be collaborating with him.
Finding someone to work with was my primary goal I set prior to moving north. It was a huge win for me, and I’m excited to move forward. As far as the idea, I’ll keep you posted as we really start to build it. It’s currently at the earliest kernel of a product, thus I’m sure it will be changing quite a bit.
So, that pretty much brings you up to speed on what I’ve been up to. I owe so, so many people enormous thank yous for helping and encouraging me along the way. The support, both online and off, has been amazing. Even simple things like a friendly email or tweet, kept me in good mental standing.
The real journey starts now.
Yes, the crazy car living adventure is over. It served its purpose and was an invaluable experience. However, there’s so much more that lies ahead. I’m more excited for my future now than ever before.
TL;DR I lived from my car for 4 months, realized a ton about myself, stopped developing DailyToaster, lots of lessons learned, got a co-founder, moved into an apartment in Mountain View, started building a new product.
Photo credit to Drew Kelly.
So many people are afraid to learn. I will not be one of them.
A tour of the car I’ve been living from for the last 3 months. MTV Cribs ain’t got nothing on me.
I owe big thank yous to a lot of people I have encountered over the last six weeks. I’m mostly writing this post as a sincere thank you to those people, however, I’ve also been asked many times to share whom I’ve been meeting since moving north. So, for those of you that are curious, here’s a list (que negativity for name dropping).
- Sahil Lavingia for sharing your story and advising me on fundraising.
- Evan Doll for your thoughts on co-founder relationships and patiently fielding my Apple related questions.
- Brian Wong for punching me in the face with reality.
- Justin Kan for the advice on why I should start small and test quick.
- Dave McClure for sharing how an investor may view my current living situation.
- Ev Williams for scheduling 16 minutes with me, although jury duty really screwed us here.
- Daniel Brusilovsky for breakfast and all the encouragement and kind words.
- Paul Braigel for not getting pissed about the number of times I emailed you. But seriously, it was awesome to get the perspective of someone who actively invests in early stage startups.
- Brenden Mulligan for the insight into 500 Startups and YC, great feedback about my product, and genuinely being a helpful person.
- Derek Andersen for everything - inviting me out of the rain, the meal, the Black Card, writing about my story, the support during Startup Grind. You have been the most helpful person I have met. Thank you.
- Matt Matteson for being one of the nicest people I’ve met here, and for the introduction to Kim.
- Shane Mac for your product insight.
- Ryan Mickle for discussing your YC and fundraising experience, your hiring strategy, and your overall perspective from an early stage startup.
- Josh Avant for being a friend, the couch to crash on, and investing a week to hack together.
- Kim Vogt for spending a day working together and introducing me to the Eventbrite team.
- DJ Chung for being the person I know is willing to listen and support me in my struggles.
- Nick Frost for the startup enthusiasm, introductions, and simply being a friendly face I consistently run into.
- Raphael Schaad for letting me pick your brain on iOS.
- Kirill Zubovsky for all the introductions and product feedback.
- Eoin McMillian for giving me the scoop on Startup House and for the introductions.
- Sara Huth for the tour of Square HQ and giving me your input from the VC side.
- Mike Chen for the pass to Startupism.
- Bjoern Zinssmeister for the friendship, advice and beer.
- Ven Jandhyala for walking me through icon design and mind sharing on product ideas.
- Rus Khakimov for the crazy late ride to the airport.
- Tim Johnsen for talking iOS and product brainstorming.
- Kelly Dessoye for genuinely caring about my well-being.
- Lin Xu for the brainstorming session and kicking it in the Dojo.
- Michael Baker for the thorough input on sleep and waking habits.
- Eugene Chuvyrov for dinner and the list of alarm ideas.
- Reilly Brennan for talking YC and the introduction to Ed.
- Ming Fu for the Greek food and sharing startup plans.
- Espen Siversten for the introduction to Tech Shop and thoughts on creating physical products.
- Inc. Magazine for the groceries :)
I’m so incredibly grateful for all of the help and support. This community of people and the mindset toward helping one another is what makes San Francisco a fantastic place to be. If you’re reading this, and I can be of any help, please don’t hesitate to ask.
[EDIT] I’m still living from my car. It seems this post was interpreted by some as a farewell. My mistake for being unclear.
In addition to documenting my story, from time to time I’m going to be sharing my thoughts on design and startups. I’d like to provide more value than just an entertaining story of some dude living from his car.
The same reason you expect food to taste good at a restaurant, your flight to be on time, and the movie you watch to be entertaining.
Pardon the slightly cheeky answer, but while others went rambling on with theoretical and abstract responses, I think my one sentence most accurately answers the question.
People expect a quality user experience because, at the end of the day, that’s all you are able to offer – an experience with your product. Whether your product is software, food or a movie, if the experience sucks, there is no reason for people to use it. In the case of software, consumers couldn’t care less about the technology you’re building, how much money you’ve raised or anything else that happens below the surface of your company. They just want your product to flawlessly work.
A perfect example of a company that understands UX is Dropbox. I have a single Dropbox folder on my desktop that I drag files into. When I’m using any other computer, I can open my Dropbox and all my files are there. Magic. The experience is seamless and only takes seconds. I never think about the extremely complicated technology that was built to allow this synchronization between devices. All that matters is my experience.
Furthermore, the original Quora question was phrased as if the expectation of quality UX is a new trend. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always expected the experience with a product I use to be good. I think that expectation is timeless.
I’m almost two weeks into my adventure, and it’s definitely been an exciting experience thus far. Let me bring you up to speed.
I arrived in Mountain View around 10PM on Saturday the 17th. I drove directly to Hacker Dojo so I could make some food. I signed up for a membership and prepared the lovely meal you see below.
It was late by then, so I headed to Palo Alto in search of a place to park. This is the first time reality actually hit me. I was randomly driving around an unfamiliar place looking for somewhere to sleep. I didn’t think I’d feel this way, but I was scared. Not scared of being harmed, just of being discovered. You feel super vulnerable when you don’t have a place to call home.
The spot I decided on was at the corner of a residential block and didn’t have a house directly in front of it. I thought if I could wake up early enough I could leave before people started their morning walks. I was wrong.
When I awoke, I poked my head out from my sleeping bag only to see someone walking their dog directly towards my car. My heart panicked, and I just tried to lie still as he approached. Then, he passed my car without even a second glance. This happened several more times as I attempted to get dressed, but still no one noticed me. It’s surprising how unobservant people can be in their everyday settings.
Looking out my rear window on morning number one
I spent most of Sunday exploring Palo Alto and searching for places to park that would have little foot traffic. I found two spots that have worked well for me. However, one seems to be popular with other vehicle habitants, and that makes me nervous. So, on most nights I’ll be parking here.
Sunday night I started cold emailing a lot of people that I wanted to meet. I could find most email addresses somewhere online, but for the ones I didn’t know, I’d take my best guess and put it in the To: line. But to ensure my email would reach them, I would Bcc: every possible email address I thought they could have. Most of the emails would bounce, but it gave me a great chance at one getting through. I must thank Brian Wong for this hack.
My schedule for the week quickly filled and I am gratefully to have had the opportunity to meet some really amazing people (just to name a few). The feedback about DailyToaster was very, very helpful. The discussions made me consider problems, as well as possible new angles that hadn’t previously crossed my mind.
Additionally, the serendipity of just being in San Francisco is incredible. For example, I only had one planned meeting on Wednesday, but Matt introduced me to Kim, who then invited me to lunch with 10 others from Eventbrite. It’s things like this that make living in the Bay Area invaluable.
Ok, but when am I actually working? Well it’s definitely a little out of balance right now. I work in between meetings and at night. My mindset was that during the first couple of weeks I wanted to make getting plugged into the tech community a top priority. My focus will now begin to shift towards more work and less networking.
As for showering, it has actually worked out quite well. A lot of people have reached out to me offering up showers. This generosity has really made me feel welcome, and I have made a few friends through it. That being said, after a week of hustling for showers, I purchased a 24 Hour Fitness membership. Now, I have a daily routine that is not all that different than most. I wake up, go shower, and go to my workplace. That’s it.
My whole situation is starting to feel a lot more normal. The paranoia I felt the first few nights has drastically decreased. I’ve been sleeping great and feel healthy. Good thing, as July is a long way off.
So it’s been a few days since my move, and I’m happy to say that I’m still a functioning human being. I’ll save most of the details until I post my weekly update, but for now I’ll show you what I’ve been eating (not that it’s particularly interesting).
Pictured above is the food I picked up the day before I moved. It should probably get me through the first two weeks. Here’s what I’m working with.
- Loaf of wheat bread
- 10 packs of tuna
- Canned goods – a lot. Fruit, veggies, baked beans, soup, and Chef Boyardee
- Microwavable rice
- 1 Potato. Surprisingly not bad when prepared in the microwave.
- 6 Cup Noodles (yes, I know it isn’t healthy)
- Peanut butter
- Mixed nuts
- 5 Apples
- Box of granola
- Triscuits… and cheese spray (I couldn’t help myself)
- 1 microwavable mac and cheese
So, I think I’ve got a pretty decent selection there. Just trying to balance staying healthy with being able to find things that you can prepare with only a microwave.
It’d be awesome if you could recommend some food or meals that I haven’t thought of. Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.
In two days, I will leave my cushy life in Los Angeles to live from my car in Silicon Valley. Yep, that’s right. From my car. It’s going to be one of the most adventurous things I’ve ever done, and will be a challenge to say the least.
Why am I doing it? Trust me, a lot of serious thought went into this decision. The main reason being that the Bay Area is the center of the startup universe, and I know that locating there is best for both my startup and me as an entrepreneur. That being the case, I’m going to do whatever it takes to be in that environment.
But why my car? Mainly, because I don’t have to pay rent to my car. I currently have an apartment in LA with my beautiful and supportive wife. She is staying here until the summer, and it’s not feasible for us to rent two apartments.
People keep asking me if I could stay with a friend. Given that my current network in the Bay Area consists of only a couple of people, I wrote this option off from the beginning. However, to my surprise, a friend recently reached out to me and offered to let me crash at his place. Although I truly appreciate the gesture, I’m sticking with my Honda. No, I’m not crazy. I just don’t feel comfortable completely bumming off my friends. I also don’t want to put myself into a situation where I have to worry about when I have access to the house, overstaying my welcome, pissing off roommates, etc. With my car, I know I have a consistent place to sleep that allows me to stay focused on work.
Furthermore, a non-obvious benefit of living from my car is gaining a minimalistic perspective on life. Everyday, I take for granted things like a warm bed, shower, and home cooked meals. It’s easy to lose sight of how privileged we are as middle class Americans, but hundreds of millions of people are without these basic things. I’m no adamant philanthropist, but it can’t hurt to better appreciate the little things in life.
So that’s that. I’m set on living from my car. You may be curious as to how all of the logistics are going to work. Where can I park, shower, work, and eat? How exactly am I going to sleep in my car? I’ve been planning this for a while and think I’ve got most of it covered.
Parking – You can find me on the hard streets of Palo Alto. It’s the only Bay Area city that allows you to live from your vehicle. So, it looks like I’ll be parking there. However, vehicle habitation is currently a hot topic in Palo Alto, and may be voted illegal in the near future. If it does become illegal, I’m sure I can find a privately owned lot that will allow me to stay. And if all else fails, I can always buy a car cover.
Showering – This may be the most difficult detail to pull off. I’m really going to rely on the startup community to help me out here. My plan is to post $1 listings on Zaarly and to ask for showers through Twitter. Despite the difficulty, I really like the challenge of finding a shower. I think that it presents a great opportunity to meet new people and start expanding my network. This attempt may end in total failure, in which case I will purchase a YMCA membership. Not a bad worst-case scenario.
Working – I plan to work from two co-working spaces, the Hacker Dojo and PariSoma. The Hacker Dojo is located in Mountain View and is $100 per month for a full-time membership. PariSoma is in San Francisco and will cost $295 for full-time. The rationale for working from two spaces is to meet more like-minded people and to quickly get plugged into the community. I’m a single founder looking for a co-founder, so this aspect is key. I also want to ensure that I am meeting people from both Silicon Valley and San Francisco. That being said, I’ll probably only keep both memberships for the first month. After that, I will stay at the Hacker Dojo as it will be closer to my car and is less expensive.
Eating – One great benefit of having a co-working membership is that they have kitchenettes. I’ll prepare most of my food there. I can store a small amount of perishable food in their refrigerators and everything else I can keep in my car. Admittedly, I won’t be eating like a king, but I’ll make it work.
Sleeping – My sleep will revolve around a sleeping bag, long underwear and a foam mattress pad. I’ve folded down my car’s back seats and laid the mattress pad from the trunk up to the rear of the interior.
I feel confident I’ve got all the big issues under control. Maybe I’m missing something, but I’ll figure that out when the time comes.
Ok, so how long do I plan to live like this? Good question. Well I’m definitely not getting an apartment until mid-July. So that leaves me with four months that are up in the air. However, there’s no possible way to actually understand the difficulty of living from a car until I’m literally doing it. As of now, the plan is to try and pull through until summer. But overall, I’m just taking everything a day at a time, and if it’s clear that my living situation needs to change, then I’ll re-evaluate my options at that point.
I’ll be regularly blogging about my journey here, and you can follow my daily updates on Twitter. I’d love to hear your thoughts or advice. You can email me, reply below or comment on Hacker News. And if you live in the Bay Area, it’d be a pleasure to meet you.
Here’s to being relentlessly resourceful and not conforming to the status quo.