In the few months leading up to my wedding, a number of really fascinating articles and stories piled up that I wasn’t able to address. Digging back into the files, I came across one NYTimes article from July that definitely wants to be shared. It covers the Silicone Valley phenomenon of “Hacker Hostels.”
These hostels offer cheap lodging and nerdy community for the waves of would-be entrepreneurs who flock to tech-mecca each year. And with a spot on a bunk going for $40/night, they’re a pretty savvy piece of entrepreneurship themselves. Overhead is low (wifi and a roof), and the residents – typically techie men in their mid to late 20s – don’t want much more than to be left to their work.
Cramped living conditions aside, these hostels a pretty popular idea. After all, cramming into tiny spaces is a time-honored tradition in the hacking community: HP was famously founded in a 12′ x 18′ rented garage, and early coders at MIT slept in their offices while waiting for time on the mainframe. When it was acquired in 2012, Instagram was still shoveling pizza boxes out from under the employees in a cramped SF office.
Keeping things cozy does two things. It saves on rent and allows entrepreneurs to put money into their businesses, which is great when credit cards are keeping the lights on. Even if money isn’t tight, running a “lean” business is still a bit in fashion, and shoestring offices are pretty common: I recently found a friend of mine buying furniture for his office in a Mission thrift store, and another friend was startled last summer when he arrived for work at a top-tier solar startup to find that the only signage was an 8.5″ x 11″ paper note on an otherwise unmarked door.
More importantly, keeping things cozy keeps the ideas flowing. As Justin Carden, a 29-year old software engineer currently living in a Menlo Park hostel gushed about his current home, “the intellectual stimulation you get from being here is unparalleled.” Stacking dozens of passionate entrepreneurs and coders (literally) on top of one another creates a perfect environment to exchange ideas, test theories, and find business partners. That exchange is what drives innovation, after all, and it’s a big part of what makes incubators like YCombinator and 500 Startups so successful. Living with like-minded folks also provides the motivation to put in the tremendous amount of work required to bring an idea to fruition: typing away until 3am is a lot easier when your bunkmate is up working too.
Ironically, the runaway success of the hacker hostels has caused a few problems. The city of Mountain View (where several are located) is investigating some, for instance, as it turns out that running an underground hotel isn’t *quite* legal. But although cease-and-desist letters are on their way, it will likely only be a temporary setback. Blueseed’s “incubator boat” is apparently on its way, and in any case the nerds will always find a way.