Tech entrepreneur secretly lives at AOL HQ for two months

An enterprising young fellow named Eric Simons secretly lived at AOL headquarter for two months. He was given a badge while working a short stint at AOL's Imagine K12 incubator event for young education entrepreneurs. He really enjoyed his visit, so he just stayed, and his badge kept working. He used the company showers and gym, slept on the company sofas, and worked on his business plan until he was finally busted by a security guard. Having since secured $50K for his startup, ClassConnect, he has found rental accommodation. Daniel Terdiman wrote for CNet:

Having spent several months legitimately working in the building, often quite late, Simons had noticed that although there were security guards with nightly rounds, there were at least three couches that seemed outside those patrols. Plus, they looked fairly comfortable. He claimed them.

This was his routine: He'd work until midnight or later, and then fall asleep around 2 a.m. on one of the couches. At 7 a.m. -- and no later than 8 a.m. so he'd be safely out of his field bed before anyone else arrived -- he'd wake up, go down to the gym for a workout and a shower, and then go back upstairs and scarf a breakfast of cereal and water or Coke. Then he'd work all day, finally waiting until everyone else in the building had gone home before returning to one of his three favored couches.

"I got a really good work ethic," he said, "and I got in shape, since I had to work out every morning."

But the real point was that he was spending next to nothing. The first month, he spent just $30, mainly on the occasional trip to McDonald's or for "random food expenditures when I got sick of eating ramen and cereal. I could have not spent a dollar, but I was going crazy."

Then, of course, there was Thanksgiving. That Thursday, to splurge, he grabbed dinner at a local Boston Market.

Meet the tireless entrepreneur who squatted at AOL (via Kottke)

(Image: Eric Simons)


  1. I want to fit this into my preferred narrative that corporations and capitalism suck and they’re making working conditions worse constantly … but at least they kicked him out instead of building quarters for workers like Foxconnn. Watch how business media spin the story. “What a bright lad. More of you should be doing this!”

  2. Same thing happened at Apple back in the day. The guy who developed the Graphic Calculator app did so while no longer employed there (although I think he didn’t take quite such advantage of the amenities.) I believe the story is on, but I keep coming up with a different one in my searches.

    1. I think it’s this story about the Mac Graphing calculator

      1. That’s the one. Back when CompUSA started selling Macs I would fire up the demo mode of that app on the display models every time I stopped by, to show what the computers could do (their salespeople weren’t the best.)

  3. no. Fuck this kid.  this is not normal and it shouldn’t be condoned.  this will become some sort of precedent and then next thing everyone is working 18 hr days EVERY DAY.   These are the same kids that think they don’t need health insurance because everything’s great – Now.  There is no thought to the future or to any other people who have to pull these kinds of hours sacrificing family and a life.  This should not be the way you get ahead.

    1. These are the same kids that think they don’t need health insurance because everything’s great – Now.

      If he’s living on cereal and Coke, and treats McDonald’s as some sort of pro-nutrition break, that ‘now’ probably won’t last very long.

    2. It is interesting to consider that the only differences you’d need to inject to characterise this as slavery are involuntariness on the kid’s side and knowledge of it on the other.

      1. Lemoutan and nickelrocket seem to be mistaking entrepreneurship for employment. 

        1. Pah! Only if you consider a third difference – the kid is benefiting himself, not AOL – as an important  distinction.

          Oh. I suppose … 

    3. 1,000% in agreement. I like computers. Work with computers. Have done insane hours. But honestly if I had a choice to do that aspect of my life all over again, I would. The workaholic ethos espoused by the modern high tech world is sickening.  It ultimately does not pay off in the long run and deprives you of a life.

      Whenever they show off the “wacky” workspaces folks at places like Google have, I wince.  They create a playground with free catering to deprive you of a life so you can just work for them.  Horrible environment and philosophy.

    4.  This is not the way you get ahead … working for the man.

      There, fixed that for you.  Now, if you feel the need to put in that kind of time getting your own enterprise going, by all means. :)

  4. This is pretty cool.  I did the same at med school (minus the workout) for three months without getting caught.  But 5 hours sleep a night?  That would catch up with you pretty quickly.

      1. I’m 54. I only sleep 6 hours. Some people just sleep less. If I sleep for 8 hours, I feel horrible the next day.

        1. I’m a little older. Five hours is enough, especially in the summer, has been for some years now and I don’t think it’s caught up with me.



        2.  Yeah, but a shitload of people sleep less and actually are miserable, they just don’t let themselves know it. They just think it’s macho not to sleep. Kinda like with multitasking: SO many people are ‘great at multitasking’ except they’re not.

        3. Same here.  I go to bed when I’m tired, which is usually about 12:30 AM plus or minus an hour.  I read myself to sleep which doesn’t take long, but that’s another 15-30 minutes.  Then I have my alarm set for 6:30 and often am up before that in the summer.  If I sleep in, I feel miserable.  Sometimes a nap on a weekend afternoon is great though.

    1. I’ve slept 5-6 hours every night my entire life. Any more than that and I start waking up every fifteen minutes.

  5. I say kudos to him for having the guts to do what he had to do. If he wasn’t there he probably wouldn’t have had access to software and hardware he needed to work on his project. Think of all the great ideas people have but can’t make progress on because they can’t afford to go buy a copy of C# or decent hardware. I’ve been there. It takes resources to get off the ground.

    What I wonder is what’s going on at AOL that no one noticed the guy working in the cubicle, logging in every day, working all day without assignments or reporting to anyone. Who’s the manager there? If your badge gets you in, you’re good to go? Clearly that’s a BAD sign for how AOL is run.  I know, they’re kind of a joke anyway, but still!

    1. While I get your point, I wanted to clarify that the C# compiler has always been free. And there has been a free version of Visual Studio for those who don’t want to muss around with command lines for several years.

      As far as no one noticing, that’s not too surprising. AOL is still a  big company. When I use to do consulting, I worked at many Fortune 500 companies. Some were very territorial about cubes, to the point that I spent four months working in a small hotel cube shared with a project manager while the floor above us had hundreds of empty cubes that couldn’t be used because they belonged to another group. But I worked at other places where you could pretty much squat where ever you wanted as long as someone hadn’t individually made a permanent claim to that cube. People moved around all the time.

      The main thing that I would think would have gotten this guy busted by an actual employee would be striking up a conversation about what he was working on. His project was (or at least started off as) legit but being there night after night could have been a tip off. Maybe there just aren’t many people working late at AOL… just enough to provide cover but not enough for any single person to notice a pattern of this guy being around all the time.

      I wonder how he finally got busted. Was someone auditing the access records and saw this person with a partner-access authorization in the log way too often?

      1. I’m betting someone just happened to have to take a walk down the hallway past his chosen couch and found him sleeping. He was staying on couches that were out of security’s normal routine, but not out of their reach entirely.

  6. We had an artist at my former employer whose fiance kicked him out, and he lived at the office and lived mostly on crackers for a while.  Thought he was being sneaky but there were security cameras all over and the sofa started to smell. :P

  7. It seems to me that this kid’s prolonged stay at AOL on an expired pass is a pretty good meta-commentary on AOL’s continued existence as a corporate entity:

    “Wait… You’re still here?? Erm,  could you remind us exactly what it was you did here that was in any way useful? And, er, why are you still here now?”

  8. And now that he’s secured $50K for a plan he worked on while living at AOL, will he be paying his back rent?

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