On March 17, Kurt Varner drove from his home in Los Angeles to Mountain View, where he will be living in his car while he attempts to launch a start-up. For the next four months, he’ll be toiling in co-work spaces, brushing his teeth in coffee shops and sleeping in his two-door Honda Civic while he searches for a co-founder — and, eventually, some investors. On Small Business will be checking in with Varner periodically by phone as he works on his company, an alarm clock app called the Daily Toaster.
Q: How did you get into entrepreneurship?
I graduated from college in 2009 and moved to Los Angeles to work in flight-test engineering for the Air Force. It was a good job, but I really wasn’t finding fulfillment. A year in, I decided it was time for a change, and I started my first company, Vloggo, which is like Twitter for video. After 10 months I sold that business and was able to move on to my next project, the Daily Toaster. It’s an alarm system that guarantees you’ll get out of bed in the morning, but I’m not disclosing exactly how it’s going to work yet.
Q: Why not wait till you had more money or do it in LA?
I was very involved in the L.A. tech community for a year and a half...it’s really good and there’s a lot of growth there. However, the Bay Area is still the best place to build a start-up. I am a single founder, and just meeting people is one of the most important things right now.
But when you’re building a start-up, the term “waiting” shouldn’t be in your vocabulary. For me, living in my car is not going to be something that stops me from doing what’s best for my start-up. My wife, who is a teacher, can’t leave her job till the summer, but eventually she’s moving here as well. Knowing that, it didn’t make sense to find a team or a co-founder in L.A.
Q: How did your first weekend go?
I drove up Saturday afternoon after some last-minute window-tinting, which proved to be a good decision. I got to [co-work space] Hacker Dojo in Mountain View, got the tour, signed up for a membership. I made my dinner there. I knew it was legal to park my car on the street in Palo Alto — it’s the only city in the Bay Area where it’s legal to live in your vehicle. I ended up parking in a residential area, hunkered in there and slept great.
I have a three-inch mattress pad and a small duffel bag — I don’t need much.
The next day, I went back to Hacker Dojo, brushed my teeth and sent e-mails to schedule meetings with people this week. I haven’t showered yet, but I actually am meeting up with someone to shower in a few minutes. After people saw my blog, the outreach was incredible, and a lot of people have been offering me showers.
Q: Who are you hoping to meet by being there?
Right now, I’m looking for a co-founder, but so are a thousand other people. I just want to create genuine relationships with people, and I want to get plugged in and expand my network. It’s going to be impossible to raise money as a single founder, so my first priority is to find someone who’s interested in helping me help people wake up in the morning.
Q: Have you run into any unexpected challenges so far?
I think I underestimated how much out of my comfort zone I really am. The first night I was up here and looking for a place to park, it was a very uneasy feeling.
Not having a place to go home to is a little weird — a place to go to the bathroom or whatever. When I woke up this morning, I had to go to Starbucks and buy coffee so I could use the bathroom. Yesterday, I went to a shopping mall. I think I’ll get used to that, though. I’ll learn hacks [fixes] to make this lifestyle work.