Hacker Houses, Homes of the New Renaissance

It’s twilight. There are over a dozen teens and twenty-somethings that have finally filled back in to the house. There is a Tesla parked outside and 8 or so bikes and a small beat up sedan.

Everyone crams in to the little living room. One of the more lanky guys gets up with his partner in crime and they give a full pitch for their new education startup.

Everyone listens intently as they explain how they are going to overthrow Khan Academy and Mann’s version of the education system with the same passion as one could assume any of the kids in the room would talk about overthrowing The Empire or The Alliance. There is a certain excitement that starts to build.

After they finish, the crowd breaks in to groups of 3 or 4. One is sitting under the “Fuck it. Ship it.” sign. Another is crammed into an old reading nook that was converted into a whiteboard room: there is nothing but books and whiteboards, perfect for developing new ways to approach old problems. Another group is sitting on the floor between several desks. Each desk is the space for an individual startup. At least three of these companies are meeting with investors in the coming two weeks to see about funding rounds well in excess of $1M.

Slowly, the August sun continues setting and tomorrow approaches. 2:00 AM arrives and nobody seems to notice. Three of the members go out to grab more food to power the rest of the think tank session. By the time everyone is done, it is close to 4 or 5 in the morning. Solutions have moved from education to neurology and mass transit and ending global hunger. Two companies have formed.

This is a typical Tuesday night in this house. This is a Palo Alto hacker house.

No longer just in San Francisco or New York City, hacker houses are one of the more ingenious things to come out of the millennial exodus to the Silicon Cities. Groups of young, motivated, and rather brilliant young adults are banding together in houses like Alexandria, Rise, and IO House. What happens behind closed doors some of these homes rivals the entrepreneurialism of accelerator programs, the community closeness of college campuses, and even the drive and curiosity found in most company cultures.

Purpose, People, and Price

The cost of living in the software and startup hubs of the US has been steadily increasing to nearly unlivable standards. Places like Seattle, New York, and San Francisco are seeing more and more of these highly dedicated entrepreneurs flood in, seemingly with nowhere to go and on bootstrapped budgets. This is often where hacker houses come in.

In a nutshell, hacker houses are co-living and co-working communities for entrepreneurs to stay from short to mid-length stays at reasonable prices, where they can be in the company of other amazing individuals getting shit done. The requirement of residents for most of these locations are being a curious, ambitious person working on an interesting project. The entrepreneurs can then live in what is usually a fairly luxurious location, work whenever they want, bounce ideas with people who speak their language, and go and meet investors that live a short BART ride away.

This is a world that makes salons, demo nights, and shared dinner an everyday experience. In the vacuum of the digital age, this may be one of the most influential ways to genuinely experience human connection for a lot of ambitious millennials that otherwise may not connect (on a social or intellectual level) with most of their “hometown” friends that went down a more traditional path.

Right Place, Right Time

This may very well be “our tribe”. As a young millennial that lives in a major city and has worked and lived with people completely outside my scope of interests, it can be downright isolating. I have had the immense pleasure of staying in a hacker house. I find their development, popularity, culture, and operation to be absolutely fascinating. More than that, some of the best friends I have made to date have sprung from a fortuitous time crashing on their couch.

There are so few places that I think showcase the heart and soul of this generation. Hacker houses, in my estimation, may not have the same glamour that they had in 2013-2014, but I believe that they have been influential all the same. There are few other places that a six hour long conversation can combine theology, death, human rights in Africa, cancer research, and history in such an amazingly cohesive way. This may be our own piece of the New Renaissance in which Millennials are playing a leading role - and that is beautiful.