Meet the Tireless Entrepreneur Who Squatted at AOL

Two years out of high school, Eric Simons wound up living in AOL’s Palo Alto campus in Silicon Valley. The 18-year-old 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. Surprised that someone was genuinely interested in what would grab his attention, he said, “Let’s get everyone working together on computers.” He poured himself into computer science and wound up graduating, but when his friends packed up to head off to college, Simons decided to move to California’s Silicon Valley — the mecca of technology. He couldn’t afford an apartment, so he wound up living at AOL. He kept the building pass he had received when his high school class went there to work on their computer project, and the pass continued to work. After working there for four months, Simons had figured out the routes the security guards took on their nightly rounds and noticed that there were three couches in blind spots they never checked. He slept on couches, showered in the gym, and even ate in the cafeteria. Meanwhile, he worked on getting his startup company off the ground, all courtesy of AOL’s computers. Employees just assumed after seeing him day after day that he, too, was an employee. Knowing that living at AOL wasn’t sustainable, Simons finally moved out and onto the couch of friends in the Palo Alto area. To their credit, AOL took the whole thing in stride when word of what Simons had done slipped out and made it onto social media. His hard work at AOL paid off. He was able to get enough funding to get a house in the area and launch his new company, an online community called Claco that lets teachers share lesson plans and tips.