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Young entrepreneur squats at AOL office for 2 months to keep dream alive

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 11:05 PM EDT, Mon May 28, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Eric Simons was chosen to be part of an AOL program to foster entrepreneurship
  • His venture capital funds ran out while he was working from AOL's Silicon Valley office
  • Simons spent the next two months sleeping, eating and showering at the office
  • "If I didn't do that, we wouldn't have been able to build" his product, he says

(CNN) -- Trying to find a cheap place to crash in Silicon Valley? For most people, that's impossible.

But Eric Simons is not like most people.

The recent high school graduate scored a spot in AOL's first Imagine K12 cohort, an initiative aimed at supporting entrepreneurship in the educational field. His dream was to create software to tap the vast potential of the Web and facilitate collaborative learning among students and teachers, one of several such innovative efforts the technology company hoped to help bring to life.

Thus the then-19-year-old put off college, left his Chicago home and headed west last year to work out of AOL's Palo Alto, California, office.

The AOL Squatter

There, he continued working on his product and made the most of his new work digs -- heading to the office's gym each morning to work out and shower, then snacking over the course of the day on ramen noodles, trail mix and leftovers from meetings. He used his limited venture capital funds to pay his rent and assorted other bills.

Until, that is, that money ran out.

"I tried to sleep on my friends' couches, but they were full for the next month or so," Simons told CNN on Monday, explaining what he did after losing his apartment. "So I just ended up sleeping on their couches."

By "their couches," he meant the furniture he could find in the Northern California offices of AOL, which was once but is no longer a sister company of CNN.

Simons evaded security for two months -- not to mention having to pay for an apartment, gym membership and more.

He said that he spent a total of $30 over those weeks, splurging at Boston Market for his Thanksgiving feast but otherwise subsisting largely by "eating scraps."

"I wasn't paying for rent, I wasn't paying for water, (and) most of my food was provided by other companies leaving leftovers," Simons recalled.

He knew that squatting in a corporate office "is certainly frowned upon." But Simons insisted it was the course he had to take if he really wanted to get his venture, ClassConnect, off the ground.

"If I didn't do that, we wouldn't have been able to build this product, (and) we wouldn't have been able to launch it and get the large amount of traction that we did," he said.

Today, ClassConnect is up and running and close to securing $500,000 more in funding, on top of an earlier $50,000, according to Simons.

AOL hasn't talked to him directly about the couch-surfing that helped make the dream a reality.

But AOL senior vice president, David Temkin, released a statement about Simon's situation, saying, "It was always our intention to facilitate entrepreneurialism in the Palo Alto office -- we just didn't expect it to work so well."

Simons, now 20, admits that mooching and living round-the-clock at AOL's offices was "certainly a gray area" legally. But he now casts this experience as a positive when pitching ClassConnect to potential investors.

"If you were to invest in a company, would you invest in someone that closed up shop and went home?" he said. "Or would you invest in a person that, kind of against all odds, ... figured out a way to pull everything together when everything was stacked against him?"

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