I always run into people who always talk about wanting to start their own company, very rarely do I see people take action. Most people always seem to just fill themselves up with excuses of why they shouldn’t do it. These reasons can include logistics, financial struggles or any other BS reason they can come up with. Even if one manages to start one, I consistently see people given up well before they even finish a product.
Meet Austen Allred, a 23-year-old entrepreneur from Utah who started a company called Grasswire. He has been working hard to build his startup while trying to raise funding for it. However, Austen has a problem that many people have — he is broke. Austen is so broke that he couldn’t even afford to stay in Silicon Valley for meetings with potential investors. While many would have probably given up and delayed these meetings until they were in a better place financially, Austen came up with one solution: Take a road trip to California and live out of his car for 3 months.
In an interview with Yahoo, Austen said:
“I look at it as, really, an apartment is a place to sleep, and a place to shower, and a place to eat,” he explains. “So I slept in my car, and then I would shower and get ready at the local YMCA … After a while I’d tell people that I was living in my car and they’d go, ‘Oh, that’s crazy.’ And for me it was like, ‘Oh yeah, people don’t do that.’ [But, by then] it was just part of life.”
Because of all this, Austen was forced to live a very minimalistic lifestyle. At night, he would park at a nearby church and spread a sleeping bag across the front and rear seats of his 2002 Honda Civic EX Coupe. In the morning he would juggle his time between meetings and working at the Hacker Dojo, a coworking space in Silicon Valley. In the end, his gamble was not in vain and now has a couple investment offers lined up.
We recently had a chance to speak with Austen over email. In this interview, Austen talks about the lessons he’s learned through his experience, whether he would recommend what he did to other entrepreneurs, and the Secret Service recently threatening to tow his car.
So we hear you just got a job? Tell us why
I was out of money, pure and simple, and I got married on August 24th. I wanted to have something lined up before we left on our honeymoon, so I lined up four job offers on the 23rd. One offered me a job on the spot, I got two other job offers while on the honeymoon (one from a company I had interviewed with a long time ago), and started working the day after we got back.
Tell us a little bit about your startup Grasswire and how its been doing since your trip to the valley
Grasswire is “the newsroom of the Internet.” It lets everyone create collaborative news reports by voting on and fact checking social media content in for a breaking story in real time.
Basically you enter a keyword (say “Boston marathon”) and we pull all of the social media for that term from a half dozen social networks in real time. So you see everything. Users can then pick out and vote on which content is best, and it lets them fact check if something is off. It’s like social media aggregator + reddit = storify. The result is a newsroom 100% controlled by everyday people from first-hand sources. I’m biased, but it’s really cool.
It was a side project up until a few months ago when the Boston Marathon bombing happened. We posted a link and it spread like crazy; we had over 6,000 unique visitors day one and another 10,000 the next day. It was the classic startup story of us staying up all night keeping our little dev server up while the numbers of users on-site would climb and climb then crash. Then they’d drop down and start climbing again.
We knew we’d have to rebuild it to support all of the users that wanted to use it (a great problem to have) and that we’d need to raise money, so we headed out to Silicon Valley for three months.
Since we headed out there we’re getting really close to releasing a beta and the interest keeps growing. We have thousands of people on the waiting list to try it out and we’re talking with investors. We haven’t closed a round, but we’ve had offers from a few different places.