The Phantom of AoL: Persistence Pays, or  “Stayin’ Alive!”

By Shlomo Maital

  Eric Simon




  The BeeGee’s


   This blog often stresses the crucial importance of dogged persistence in entrepreneurial success. For a startup, I believe persistence ranks way above IQ and even creativity.  Here is a great story from the San Jose Mercury, a paper that covers Silicon Valley startups, about persistence:

    To save money for two months, 20-year-old Eric Simons surreptitiously lived inside AOL’s Palo Alto office, sleeping on its couches, showering in its gym, sneaking its snacks and laboring there all day to develop his dream — the Internet site ClassConnect, which he launched to help teachers create and share lesson plans with students and other educators.   Simons said he managed to avoid detection because AOL regularly lets budding innovators not affiliated with the company use its building to work on their projects.  “The startup guys always stayed there really late,” he said, adding that he was merely doing what was necessary to get his business going. Sticking a few clothes and other belongings in two lockers in AOL’s gym where he washed up, he slept on the couches in several out-of-the-way rooms and took advantage of snacks AOL set out for everyone in the morning.   “I’d grab two cups of Ramen noodles and trail mix for lunch and dinner, and cereal for breakfast,” he said. Then he’d work in the building 15 hours a day or more developing his company’s website and software.

   “To put the odds in your favor, you’ve got to use all of the resources you can. You have to figure out ways of staying alive,” said Simon.

    Let’s pause here to pay tribute to the BG’s great hit Stayin’ Alive, by Maurice, Robin and Barry Gibbs, the anthem of entrepreneurs, and mourn Robin Gibbs, who passed away on May 20.  His brother Maurice died some years ago.

Life goin’ nowhere somebody help me

   Somebody help me, yeah

Life goin’ nowhere somebody help me, yeah

   I’m stayin’ alive, ah ha ha ha stayin’ alive

      A self-described “worst nightmare” as a high school student in Chicago, Simons said he became intrigued with assisting educators when a chemistry teacher pulled him aside one day and asked him, “What would make you interested in learning what I’m teaching?”  After moving to the Bay Area last year, he got a $20,000 grant to develop his startup from the business incubator Imagine K12, which was using AOL’s Palo Alto office. The money didn’t last long, however. No longer able to pay rent, Simons said he figured his best option was to move into the building until he could get ClassConnect on its feet. His badge to the building from Imagine K12 still worked.

“It was pretty hellish,” he said. “In some respects, it totally sucked. But if I didn’t put in that much time, the product wouldn’t have launched.”

  Class Connect is now a big success, and young Eric has money and a place to live.

   “Among those willing to make a bet on Simons is Clink Korver of Palo Alto-based Ulu Ventures, who also met Kopf through Imagine K12. He was so impressed that Ulu and investor Paul Sherer recently pumped $50,000 into ClassConnect, giving some financial breathing room to Simons, who now rents a Palo Alto house and sleeps in a bed.  “Eric was just a really compelling individual,” Korver said. “You’ve got to love somebody who’s willing to put everything out there to make his dream come true.”

 If you’re willing to eat trail mix and sleep in your office, because you believe in your idea – well, maybe, just maybe, you have what it takes to launch a business.  Eric Simon did.  By the way: Check out