From Harrods tramp to AOL domain squatter

Posted on May 24, 2012


When I was a kid there was an urban myth about a tramp who spent Christmas locked in Harrods. Assuming that meant at least a couple of days, the story had it that he feasted on the best food, quaffed the best wine and basically enjoyed the best the world had to offer – clothes, toys, furnishings, you name it.

I don’t think I was that old before I realised that even back in the 60s or 70s (or whenever) a store like Harrods would have had security guards.

I still wanted it to be true though. What a wonderful story, set at Christmastime, about someone in a terrible situation for once lucking out.

So today I enjoyed reading the account of the would-be entrepreneur who spent two months living at AOL’s Palo Alto campus, all under the radar.

He was surviving, sure, but not like someone genuinely homeless – he was mainly finding a way to work on his start-up.

It’s the kind of story that captures the imagination – I mentioned earlier today that it could be the basis for a film or at least an interesting character – but also sums up the right stuff lots of entrepreneurs have.

It wasn’t quite the homeless guy’s lap of luxury in the world’s best department store. There were the long working hours, the diet of ramen and cereal, the showering in the gym. “I got a really good work ethic and I got in shape, since I had to work out every morning,” he told CNET.

There’s also a great quotation, from said campus squatter Eric Simons, to end the piece: “Yeah, save money whenever possible, and use all the resources you can,” he said. “And don’t die. That’s basically my motto.”

Now he has some funding he is even using Airbnb – a kind of rent-your-household-space peer-to-peer network – to make money on the spare room he has. (It’s in a real house and everything.)

That speaks to his entrepreneurial spirit but it uncannily ties in with an AOL tactic to use its office space for incubating start-ups.

AOL isn’t unique in that but it featured more than once in BusinessWeek articles I read. I wanted my employer at the time – like many, with great facilities, available space and an eye out for acquiring either up and coming individual talent or start-ups – to take a similar approach.

It didn’t happen, at least not while I was there, but it’s funny that Simons came into AOL originally on just such a programme.

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