While the newly rich continue to gobble up overpriced real estate in San Francisco proper, the budding young entrepreneurs who continue to flock to Silicon Valley, heads all filled with Zuckerberg dreams, are operating on a much tighter ramen budget. Enter "Hacker Hostels" — the latest way for startup types to keep up their collegiate lifestyle alive while they figure out how to pay the rent with their next big idea.
The New York Times picks up on the trend today with a look inside Chez JJ, a San Francisco apartment where geeky types can take up temporary residence for as little as 40 bucks a night. Like the backpacker havens and dorm lounges that inspired them, the hostels sound just a low-budget as you might expect:
...inside, in a third-floor apartment, there are enough Ikea bunk beds to sleep 10 people, crammed into two bedrooms. The living room is bare except for a futon, a tiny desk and laptop power cables strewed across the hardwood floor like a nest of snakes.
The tenants, mostly men in their 20s, sleep next to heaps of dirty laundry. There is no television set; the men watch online video, on laptops with headphones. On a recent afternoon, 23-year-old Steve El-Hage, who came here from Toronto in May, ate slices of ham straight out of the package.
Chez JJ was spawned by Jade Wang and Jocelyn Berl, two ladies with an entrepreneurial streak of their own. Along with a third cohort, they rent out bunks at a trio of nerd-friendly flophouses through AirBnB. (A setup that has some other less legitimate hacker hostels running afoul of their landlords.) Although each home in the Chez JJ mini-chain is different, they all offer amenities like free breakfast, free WiFi and the chance to live in mild squalor while practicing one's elevator pitch. Chez JJ's Mountain View guest house even boasts a projector for making sure guests have their Powerpoints properly polished and the AirBnB listing makes it a point to highlight the easily walkable distance to startup incubator Y-Combinator.
So, other than the cheap rent and free WiFi, what's the appeal of sharing a bathroom with all the other nerds competing for a slice of the Valley's seed money? As one Wharton School professor told the Times, it reminded him of his own days at M.I.T. when graduate students used to bunk up in their offices. Or as one 29-year-old software engineer put it, “If you’re wanting to do something to change the world and make it a fundamentally better place, you need to be around the right people.”