Teen squatted at AOL for 2 months undetected

Last updated 05:00 29/05/2012

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Eric Simons is the kind of young entrepreneur who will do anything to make it.

So secretly squatting at the headquarters of internet giant AOL late last year until he was caught wasn't out of the question.

Simons, now 20, has revealed to technology news site CNET how he lived at AOL's headquarters in Palo Alto, California, for two months last year while he was 19, eating the company's free food and enjoying staff gym access.

He also used the company's lockers for storing his clothes and laundromat for cleaning them, and slept on couches outside security patrol areas, all while building a technology start-up of his own.

Simons managed to stay undetected at AOL after he enrolled in a four-month start-up incubator program, called Imagine K12, based at its headquarters.

The program awarded him US$20,000 to work on his education start-up and gave him a building badge.

After the program ended and his funds dried up, Simons found his building badge still worked. It was then that he decided to start living at AOL to continue work on his start-up, ClassConnect.

"I couldn't afford to live anywhere," Simons told CNET.

"I started living out of AOL's headquarters."

While living and working at AOL on his start-up he would use the gym and showers after work, and devised a plan to make sure that he remained undetected, which involved waking up at a certain hour each morning.

It meant staff did not catch on to the fact he was not an employee.

"There were so many people going in and out each day," Simons said. "They'd say, 'Oh, he just works here; he's working late every night. Wow, what a hard worker.'"

It was only after a security guard came in early one morning that he was caught.

"One of the guys who manages the building came in at like 5 or 6 in the morning," Simons said, "and he scoured the entire place to find me. And he ripped me a new one. He was pissed that I was treating it like a dorm. Which was reasonable."

The security guard who found Simons knew that he was previously a member of the Imagine K12 incubator and did not call police. Simons did lose his badge, though, but still has access to the incubator.

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AOL's senior vice-president of mail and mobile, David Temkin, told CNET: "It was always our intention to facilitate entrepreneurialism in the Palo Alto office - we just didn't expect it to work so well."

Now Simons has been able to secure $US50,000 in seed funding from Ulu Ventures and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Paul Sherer based on what he was able to create while squatting at AOL's headquarters.

He is using the funds to pay for a rental house in Palo Alto, where he is now living, and plans to hire an engineer and interns, all of whom will share the house with him.

Being the entrepreneur that he is, Simons has also rented out one of the rooms that has a bunk bed in it using Airbnb, a social site that connects people who have space to spare with those who are looking for a place to stay.

- Fairfax Media

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