Can You Remember Any of These Happening to You?
If you are genuinely wondering, here’s mama Carlos to tell you some stories. I’ve already written about the infamous Startup Castle in Silicon Valley, how my first House Manager almost screwed my business, and even about that time I had rats in my coliving.
These stories are part of a “Horror Stories in Coliving” series, and I like to share them so others can avoid these situations. Some of them, I’ve found out, are completely unavoidable.
Today’s article is a series of short stories that’ll redefine what you thought was scary.
The Corpse of Hacker Fortress
This started circa 2012 in Silicon Valley. A guy who was part of YCombinator’s accelerator latest cohort had decided to start a hacker house in Los Altos Hills he named “The Hacker Fortress.”
YC is arguably the best startup accelerator in the world because if an entrepreneur gets accepted into it, their life is forever changed. Let me first make it crystal clear that this story has nothing to do at all with YC. It’s just that one entrepreneur going through their program decided, like many others before him, to start a hacker house.
At that time, we didn’t call them “coliving.” A hacker house was a way to share a space between a group of entrepreneurs that, by definition, were almost broke. Hacker houses were typically a big mess, as startup founders have the tendency to spend all of their time coding.
They don’t even care about eating! I once met a guy who used to put a pizza in a blender and drank the stuff that resulted to “save time.” Needless to say, he ended up in the hospital.
Our Hacker Fortress was no different than the blender pizza. People would sleep in the corridors and wash their underwear in the kitchen sink. Unfortunately, this was commonplace in those times as hacker houses were a solution entrepreneurs found to affordable housing—but the founders who ran them didn’t care much about cleanliness and order.
One morning, a guest was found dead in his room.
They found him on his couch, blue face staring into the cushions. After leaving Hacker Fortress, my friend Eric told me about the gruesome details when he arrived at Startup Embassy.
Nobody knows how it happened, and I won’t be the one who makes uninformed false assumptions. But whatever it was, it stayed on my mind, making me a little paranoid about my own coliving space. What would I do if it happened there?
How would you react? Do you have a protocol for a situation like this? What would be the tremendous impact on your community? You can read here a post about what it was like to live there.
A Secret Killer Amongst You
Ok, this might be far-fetched, but hey, anything can happen.
My friend Oliver once operated several colivings with approximately 75 beds altogether. One of his guests suddenly disappeared. No one knew where he had gone or if he was OK.
Then dinner time came, and someone realized that all the kitchen knives had disappeared as well! They immediately related the strange disappearance of the tools to the guy who was nowhere to be found. Some guests started telling stories about serial killers, everything from real stories to Halloween movies. It began as a joke, but some started to get really worried as the night was closing. It’s not like there has never been a serial killer in California before, right?
That night, and the following, people slept with barricades on their doors. They used everything they found, from chairs to large wardrobes. They lived in a constant freak state until the guy was found days later. It turns out he had gone to stay with a friend for a few days, and that friend didn’t own any knives. So, he borrowed some to help out. Go figure.
This case was quickly solved when the guy reappeared, but you could have a guest with a severe mental illness. While not life-threatening, I once experienced a guest with untreated schizophrenia who really brought trouble into our community.
Statistically, it’s not improbable, especially nowadays, to host guests dealing with extreme societal disconnects. How would you manage the situation if it comes? Can you set filters in your selection process to detect them before they join your community? Is it legal to reject someone in this condition?
Everything—and I Mean Everything—will break.
While not as spine-tingling as the other stories, you should be aware of it. Everything in your space will break, and most of the time, no one will fess up that they were the one that broke it. Don’t even bother to ask; unless you use technology to catch the offender, you will waste your time trying to find the culprit.
The Toilet Will Break
Once, I had to remove the fucking toilet altogether. It leaked so badly that nothing I would do to seal the leakage would work. It would break again and again. The experience was disgusting, but we did have a good laugh.
After watching numerous YouTube videos, we covered our legs to the knees with trash bags and managed to seal the thing with a special wax. Believe me, YouTube is your friend. I wish I had a picture!
The Sink Will Break
On another occasion, some ignorant asshole thought it was a good idea to throw oil through the kitchen sink, and we got a huge clog. (OK, I confess, that asshole was me.) But it could have been anyone else; many of my dear guests seemed to have just fallen from the nest (We called one “little bird” because of this) and had to teach them everything from ironing their pants to cooking a roasted chicken for their girlfriend. But on this occasion, I was to blame.
This happened way at the beginning when I was truly financially broke. I didn’t want to call the landlord because it was clearly my fault, and I had just signed the lease a few months back. I didn’t even want to think about hiring a plumber—just search for prices in Silicon Valley. Mark Zuckerberg should switch to working as a plumber; he’d make much more.
I was so afraid of spending all that money that I procrastinated and didn’t solve the issue until three days later.
Picture living in a hacker house with fifteen guys who can’t do the dishes for three whole days. It was like a war zone, and people were increasingly unhappy, no wonder. I then found out that you could rent plumbing equipment! My salvation!
I rented this machine for 100$ from the devil that you stick into the pipe. Like a yelling blender, it rotates at high speed. Brown shit splashed everywhere as I pushed in the metallic stick. It took me twenty minutes, and finally, the rod went through completely, indicating that I had removed the clog.
I was completely covered with a dense blob of food remains. I didn’t wait to shower and went back to the store to return the machine; I didn’t want to pay extra fifty bucks for a late return; it would have felt like a very expensive shower.
The Bikes Will Break
Oh, and the bikes! Were they a pain in the ass. Mobility is definitely something you must account for when you pick a location for your coliving.
We were a thirty-minute walk to the nearest train station. I wish that we had a bird scooter at the time, but they didn’t exist yet. The best option was to offer bicycles to our guests.
If you want advice, don’t offer bikes, unless, of course, your coliving is targeting cyclists. In a few months, all our bikes became utterly inoperable. Missing seats, broken chains, locked bikes with missing keys, broken brakes, and even missing handlebars—you name it. Any part of the bike that could break, it did. And, of course, it was impossible to know who was responsible.
You could establish a series of processes to minimize incidents, but in my opinion, it’s not worth it; it will take too much bandwidth from your team. Today, I would negotiate a deal with a company operating a bird-like scooter.
But it doesn’t stop there, of course. Doors will break, as well as water heaters. Washing machines, driers, and dishwashers? Yes, those broke too. And don’t forget about the electric stove. How can that break? Well, it turned out that one of the knobs broke, and we had to remove it, leaving a small hole.
Someone had the great idea of cleaning the stove when it was on; water went through the knob’s hole, and BAM! No more electricity in the house. That meant no internet! You can starve entrepreneurs, but don’t leave them without an internet connection.
A Wet Surprise Under the Mattress
This last story is disgusting, but it must be told so you have a full spectrum of what can go wrong. When this happened, I had lost trust in our housekeeper.
For some reason, after a few years of working with us, her work quality had clearly declined. We were about to close our house and open a new one, bigger and better. So, I decided to stick with her until we moved.
One day, we had a reservation from two New York-based entrepreneurs. The women were arriving in the evening, so I asked our housekeeper to please recheck their room.
She had cleaned up the day before, but I wanted to be sure that it was pristine. When she finished cleaning, I had a gut feeling to follow up, because like I said, I had lost trust in her work. I moved the bed to look underneath, and indeed, it was full of dust.
“Oh, Lord,” I thought. I left the room and returned a few minutes later with cleaning equipment and started cleaning.
At some point, I decided to redo the bed. I put my fingers under the mattress to pull it up, and I felt something cold. “Weird,” I thought. I pulled the mattress completely, and there it was. A fucking used condom! A condom!
We had a no-sexual-encounters-on-the-premises policy. We can discuss sexuality in coliving one of these days, of course. But it’s one thing to have rules and a very different thing to believe all your colivers will follow them.
Someone had not only broken this no-sex rule but had proven to be a completely disgusting ill-bred individual, leaving that used thing there. I could only imagine what would’ve happened if a guest found it instead of me.
Mama Carlos Says
I hope you now fully understand what it means when I say that things will go wrong. It’s not only that you might be puneeted, but it’s also difficult to manage your community. Anything can happen, and everything will happen. These are just some examples of situations that you might encounter, so be ready for the impossible!
I’d love to hear about horror stories you’ve experienced. Email me back with your best one or comment below, and it could be featured in a future horror story edition!