19-year-old entrepreneur Eric Simons spent two months secretly living at AOL's Palo Alto, Calif. campus, sleeping each night on a couch like this one. (Credit: Eric Simons)
It was 6 a.m. when Eric Simons was jolted awake by the yelling.
After working until 4 a.m, the 19-year-old entrepreneur had finally passed out. A few hours of sleep would help with the day ahead.
But unlike most people working at AOL's Palo Alto, Calif., campus who were surely still hours from showing up at the sprawling complex, Simons was already there. He'd been living there for two months, hiding out at night on couches, eating the company's food, and exercising and showering in its gym. And now, with an angry security guard bellowing at him, it was all over.
The story of how Simons, just two years removed from a Chicago high school, came to be living in AOL's Palo Alto campus could well become part of Silicon Valley lore, especially because it highlights the lengths some entrepreneurs will go to make their dreams a reality. And though stories abound these days of startup founders barely old enough to drink swimming in venture capital, far more have to get by on packaged noodles and the good will of friends with extra couches.
You hear it all the time, but Simons, now 20, was a mediocre student with little interest in school. That changed one day when his high school chemistry teacher confronted him and demanded to know what she could do to get him interested.
"I was stumped," Simons writes on the About Us page of his startup, ClassConnect. "She didn't ask me to try harder, she didn't ask me to stay after for help or study more -- she asked me to figure out how she could grab my interest. No one had ever bothered to ask me that before. A few moments later I replied, 'let's get everyone working together on computers -- I'll even build the software for us to use.'" His life as an entrepreneur had begun.
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