Waves of young people, mostly men, migrate from small towns across the country to San Francisco, the tech mecca of the United States. Many look for the trodden but lucrative path — to join the well-tended ranks at Facebook or Google. Others nurture stranger dreams: Get-rich-quick schemes, quasi-legal ideas, eccentric plots.
How did they get here? How did they find each other? What’s the frequency?
To find answers, we ducked into one co-working space, run by Dave Grossblatt, a cryptocurrency miner, where some of these young migrants spend their days. It bore resemblance to any other run-of-the-mill co-working space — open office arrangement, availability of protein powder, standing desks. What’s different is Grossblatt stopped charging rent and started letting the young inventors use his desks for free. Part clubhouse and part incubator, they call it their “Dojo” and sit elbow to elbow.
Here are their stories.
Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland
Occupation: Cryptocurrency miner, swimming pool quote generator
Founded: Ecoin Club, SwimmingPoolQuotes.com
“I got a law degree outside Baltimore and all of a sudden I was like, ‘You know what? I don’t want to do personal injury law.’ My buddy was going to California, so I did too, and founded the Dojo in 2008. Renting desks was still a way-out-there idea, but we put Myspace refugees in here. And as people cycled, I realized I didn’t want to be a landlord. I started worrying that people I liked would have to move out. Around 2009, I said, ‘Forget it — no more rent,’ and started calling it my clubhouse. You start to get some really cool weird younger companies in very early stages — the crypotocurrency, the drones. And maybe they don’t pay rent, but they help me on my projects. There’s no way I could afford the talent in this place. It’s not something you can put on a spreadsheet, but I think about the value of my core business because of the Dojo, and it’s infinite. We’re very serious about making things that make money. It’s not look to the left, look to the right, one of you’s gonna die — everyone’s gonna be better when they leave. Plus, it’s good for me. It keeps me young. And at the end of the day, what else do you want to buy with your money?”
Hometown: Sacramento, California
Occupation: Medical tourism guide
Founded: Emissary, “Destination Healthcare You Can Trust”
“Medical tourism makes a lot of sense financially, but sometimes it’s hard to feel comfortable going overseas for surgery. We’re providing the schlep for the patient. We’re building the bubble of a luxury experience, and the trust. Now we’re on our 12th patient. We’re leading a trip back to Costa Rica in April — two dental implants, three people getting lasik. I met my co-founders at LOLapps, an early developer group building on the Facebook platform that had 190 million monthly active users but went under really fast. But we were on the same Sunday sports team, and we were looking for ideas. I was actually our first patient. I chipped my teeth at Burning Man and went to Costa Rica to get the inlays done.”
Hometown: Hollister, California
Occupation: Cryptocurrency miner
Founded: Ecoin Club
“I met some guy who works here because we played World of Warcraft together for years. He was like, ‘Hey, I need to hire someone for my company.’ I was a Subaru salesman in Monterey, so I was like, ‘Yeah.’ We do that for each other. I met Rafael over there playing Final Fantasy 11 and was like, ‘Come out here, learn how to program, drive a Lyft to support yourself. There’s no opportunity in Katy, Texas.’ (Rafael Diaz, 29, is being “onboarded” and hasn’t started a company yet.) Anyway, so I was hired to work at a Dojo startup that ended up moving to Australia, and Dave was like, ‘You can work for me for a while.’ We bought when Bitcoin was $50 or something. Then we bought some hardware to mine. One of Dave’s friends has 5 data centers across the country, and now we’re working with him to set up a massive Litecoin mining center in Idaho because electricity is pretty cheap there. We all work together. I’m helping John, who started Bottles Tonight, with developing.”
Hometown: San Anselmo, California
Occupation: Digital club promoter
Founded: Bottles Tonight, “Uber for Bottle Service”
“I’m building an app for same-day bottle service booking. Currently, clubs work through promoters who hustle and upsell. We come in with a simple app, and the nightclubs love working with us because they don’t have to work with humans, which is easier for them. And customers like us ’cause we give, usually, a 45 percent discount. It’s an industry that hasn’t been disrupted in 50 years. This month, we partnered with Uber — when you book a bottle, you can also get an Uber, just a few taps. We also partnered with Redbull, so in the app there’s a Redbull Vodka package — vodka and 5 Red Bulls. Since day one, we’ve had strong sales, 200 percent growth month over month. We launched in October, and we’re a 5 person team now. We work with 20 venues around San Francisco, which is about 90 percent of the places who do bottle service. We’re able to sell out clubs any night really easily.”
Hometown: Abington, Virginia
Occupation: Cryptocurrency miner
Founded: Ecoin Club
“I noticed Dave and Patrick were mining cryptocurrency, and I was working at a legal startup that pivoted to be something else, so I left and joined them. We posted a Litecoin on eBay to test demand and realized we could get huge margins on it. Huge! We were making $1,200 a day until eBay shut us down. We tried out different models, like in-person sales, which didn’t quite fly. We started moving into something similar to Coinbase and figured we could replicate it in Japan because Mt. Gox was going insolvent. We just met some Japanese VCs last week and are in talks with a large bank over there. This is a community here. Raj, who works on porn GIFs, will offer to help us on software development all the time.”
Hometown: Houston, Texas
Occupation: GIF porn scraper
Founded: The Worst Drug (NSFW)
“The site was just a one-afternoon side project. All we did was build something that pulls together the most shared GIFs in the world. Literally — that’s all our algorithm does. And 99% of it happens to be porn. But we’re really proud of our product. I love our site. I love our users. We have about 25,000 a day. What I’m most proud of is being part of this Dojo. Dave’s project has something to do with tech, something to do with fairness. We could all go work at Facebook or Google and he gives us the freedom not to. We whistle together every day. It’s the most annoying thing in the world, but it builds a sort of camaraderie. I have no experience as a soldier, but this is the closest I have to that I can imagine. Like, we’re all on this life-or-death march together. On the worst days, Dave will be like, ‘this is what winning feels like, bro.’ It’s about freedom.”
Hometown: Foster City, California
Occupation: GIF porn scraper
Founded: The Worst Drug
“There was an instance when I was on the ramen diet. Dave knew about it. I’d been eating ramen for a year, living on $1000 a month. Dave left me a couple hundred dollars on my desk and said, ‘Get some food or get out of my dojo.’ The one thing he requires is that you follow your dream. You go to any other office space and say, ‘Hey, can I run my porn company out of your office and not pay rent?’ And they’d laugh.”
Hometown: Born in Tokyo but grew up in North Beach (San Francisco)
Occupation: Drone hacker
Founded: Animal Robo
“I’m doing a lot of just experimenting with drones, building software for drones that anyone can use and that follow you. Right now, I’ve been building one that follows you with a GoPro, using your iPhone as a server. It’ll be great for extreme athletes, snowboarders. I’ve also been thinking about other opportunities. Maybe drone-sharing for videographers and real estate agents. What I’m really building is a software for autonomous flying — autonomous in the sense that you don’t toggle sticks, you press a button on your phone. And it’s not just drones — it could be any sort of unmanned vehicle, any sort of robot. In the same way that, in the ’80s, people thought that computers were for war, people see drones now as being about war. But they’re not. They’re the endgame of the Internet. It’s about a network of unmanned machines that do what you need them to do.”
Not pictured: Carlo Almendral, 35, who swings by. He’s a Dojo success story who recently got a large round of seed funding and now has 32 employees.
Hometown: Manila, Philippines
Occupation: Dog and human social network organizer
Founded: DogBff.com and Volo International
“I started DogBff.com, a social network for dog owners that ended up being more like an Avon for dog owners. In the meantime, I started Volo, which is a new kind of social network. It’s too hard to meet people online and I don’t want to Tinder them all. So, yeah, that’s what I do.”
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.