In business school at MIT, Andy Rebele and Andy Sack frequently met to discuss startup ideas. Today, two decades later and in a city more than 3,000 miles from their alma mater, the two Andys are in business together for the first time thanks to their recently launched project — a house for Seattle hackers called IoHouse.
The pair — Rebele is the founder and Sack a partner —officially opened the house at the north end of Capitol Hill on Sept. 10. Little about its outer appearance has changed since then, but just a few steps inside, a whiteboard in the living room is covered with complex equations.
With room for eight, IoHouse is designed for those interested in both short-term housing and networking within the city’s flourishing tech industry. Rebele and Sack’s goal is to give developers, designers, inventors, scientists and others a conducive and supportive environment in which to live and work.
"I think bringing together passionate developers and entrepreneurs to create things happens both at work and at home,” explained Sack, “and the more contact that you have with those people and the greater the trust, the more opportunities for serendipity and great things to be created."
Sack should know. The managing director of startup accelerator Techstars, he has also co-founded three other successful tech businesses, including Firefly Network, an Internet personalization company acquired by Microsoft. Rebele's no slouch either: He sold his company, City Auction, for $54 million in 1999 and he's since founded two more.
Seattle's hacker house is not the first of its kind. Kansas City's Homes for Hackers touts their Google Fiber connections and HackerHouse in Gainesville, Florida, has a goal of creating eight prototypes in three months. Down in Los Angeles, Hacker House LA is preparing for its summer 2015 launch.
For the two Andys though, inspiration came primarily from a rash of hacker houses surfacing across the Bay Area. And although Seattle's tech community is slightly smaller than San Francisco's — or perhaps because of it — they decided a hacker house would be a useful contribution to the city’s startup ecosystem. So the two found a spot to rent.
The rooms in the house vary in price, but the cheapest arrangement is $40 per night for a top bunk in a room with two sets of UW bunkbeds. The other two rooms — one with two beds and another private room — are a tad pricier.
No matter which room you pick, the house's seven residents share two bathrooms.
"The biggest strengths of this specific house is its ideal location,” explained Rebele, “and its ample work space." The house's attic, living room and reading room have been converted into comfortable, cozy workspaces.
Devashish Meena lived at the house for a little over a month last fall while attending TechStars, a 13-week mentorship-program for startups. “I've had long and interesting conversations with the fellow housemates on what they work on, new technologies and new ideas they're exploring,” he said.
He has since moved back home to India, to work from there, but said he received some helpful feedback for his own startup at the Hacker House and exchanged ideas with a resident from CodeFellows who is working on an iOS project.
Just as its creators were hoping, Meena’s experience is common at IoHouse. Sack and Rebele often have demo nights and invite speakers to visit the house, so that tenants can glean advice from others thriving in their fields. A house captain, who also lives in the house, is charged with maintaining order and vetting prospective residents.
Rebele explained that while the arrangement of the hacker house probably wouldn’t work for people in independently minded careers, it does for tech-people because of the importance of collaboration. “Everyone has an incentive to be nice to each other,” he said.
So far, IoHouse seems to be doing well in Seattle. Since it was founded six months ago, it has been relatively full — the majority of residents come from Techstars and CodeFellows, a Seattle-based bootcamp for programmers. The house has also received a few guests from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
If there is enough demand to fill a second house at 90 percent occupancy, Rebele says they may go ahead and open another one.
“We hope to learn with this first one how much demand there is over the course of a year, and where the best locations would be,” he said. But for now, they will continue to focus their energy on this first project they started together.