It all started with #Hotelprius
After graduating from Emerson College in Boston in 2013 I had a plan - a very strategic plan. But then...life happened. I graduated that spring with a degree in Theatre Education with a emphasis in performance. At the time, the dream was to become an Educator. But when those plans took a turn for the worst after my car got broken into during a road trip across the country, I was forced to re-think everything, quite literally, overnight, I was left with nothing to show for the hard work and sweat equity of my college career because the thieves that broke into my car took two very important possessions - my laptop and back-up hard-drives that were inside a backpack in the back seat. It was as if I never went to college at all, and it was by far the most identity shattering life-event I ever experienced to date. And that is saying something considering my childhood was spent in various children's homes with rotating parents and the trials and challenges that come with that very unique upbringing. Needless to say, life got really hard, really fast. Not only was I trying to pick up the pieces of my “sense-of-self” and who I was, I was also trying to find my way and stay above the proverbial water. So what did I do? I went back to what I knew - waiting tables. IIt was what I did before going off to college so why not right? This time I threw in substitute teaching on the side - a very humble reminder. Here I was with a college degree and couldn’t go five minutes without thinking “I went to college for this?” I hated where my life was (and was going) and I wrestled for weeks to find the silver lining in it all, but the idea of "starting over" proved to be more depressing than encouraging. I was struggling to pay rent and bills, working towards nothing, and from what it felt life, wasting opportunity and MY LIFE. I was struggling to make ends meet, and for what? For a crappy apartment and NO life? There was no single facet of my life I was proud of or enjoyed, and that just felt just WRONG to me. So to avoid throwing money away for a space I didn’t use or had time to enjoy, I had the revolutionary idea to move into my car, as a way to avoid it all! I called it #HotelPrius.
"Limitations Force Creativity"
#Hotelprius wasn't supposed to be a full-time thing. In fact, it wasn't supposed to last more than a month. It was supposed to be until I got catch up will all my bills. At first, I wasn't even sure how was all going to be possible, I just had to go for it and see what happened. The idea of living out of my car was scary. It was scary because the unknown is always scary. But it needed to be done. I saw it as a necessary sacrifice to get ahead. But suddenly my once-considered limitations suddenly forced me to get creative - and I forgot how integral creativity was to who I was! Not only was it really not that bad, but it was actually kind of fun. Sure, it came with its challenges and learning curves at first, but at least they were NEW problems. I was tired of the same-old problem, "How am I going to make rent?" These problems, although seemed a little more rudimentary, finally felt like something worth solving. After the first week of figuring out the safe and appropriate places to park, I got the hang of it. The secret really was making sure I kept myself busy during the day, that way sleeping and eating was really the only thing left to do. Showering and where to use the bathroom was easily solvable. A simple monthly memberships to the gym answered those challenges all at the same time. Plus the perks of working-out, swimming, and free Wi-fi wasn’t too bad for $25 bucks a month. After that, everything else just came naturally. One month turned into two, two into three, and before I knew it, Life in my car became my "new normal." Living in my car changed the game completely. All of a sudden, I was not spending all of my time wondering where to sleep, eat or how I was going to pay for unnecessary bills. For the first time, I could focus my energy figuring out how to enjoy life again. Life almost felt like one big luxury camping trip. And then it dawned on me: I was also no longer limited to one city or one job anymore either. I could wait tables anywhere AND still explore all the other amazing “parking spots.” In this new season of life, I wasn’t certain of what was down the road for me, but once I changed the way I looked at the unknown and the mysterious darkness ahead, the more comfortable I learned to become with it. What I did know was, there were opportunities everywhere and I was now in a position to reach out and take them.
Finding my "RolL" in the world
It wasn't long after starting the #Hotelprius lifestyle that I got involved in a restaurant startup at the beginning of 2014 and fell in love with the newness and energy of restaurant start-up culture. With already 5 years under my belt in the restaurant industry before college, and a new found appreciation for clever designed spaces, I quickly realized I didn't just have experience, but also, I brought to the table something very useful and unique. With my new lens to which I saw the world now, I began to see an unmet need in the restaurants industry. You see, when architects design a new restaurant, they focus most of their efforts with the design and overall aesthetics of the building, not necessarily concerning themselves with where or how the employees of the restaurant are going to accomplish their day-to-day duties efficiently. Needless to say, it’s not their “thing.” Duties like where to stack dirty dishes, or glass racks, or how to insure speedy delivery of table settings takes away from the attention we should be giving our customers - at least that’s the way I saw it. I recall one restaurant in Nashville where the architect completely forgot to leave room for a dishwasher or beverage station in the designs - true story! So that’s where I found my role. Coupled with 5-star fine-dining experience and an arts degree, I suddenly I stood out amongst the new-hires and quickly elevated myself as an indispensable role within the new restaurant. Although I was paid a server salary (my preference), I also sometimes filled the role of Part-Time Manager, Server Trainer, Maitre-D, and Social-Media Marketer. Because my tables' tips were my revenue stream, chefs and managers loved me, because to them I was cheap only having to pay me my $2.13 an hour. My section was my business and I took it VERY seriously. I made my own money while at the same time helped build a restaurant business and made them look good. I was practically free labor for them and they were the next project for me. With a life I loved, money in my pocket, and a fresh zeal for the work I was doing, my permanent smile and energy was both contagious and inspiring - or so I was told. So much so, that anytime a celebrity or VIP came into the restaurant, they were sent to me; thus assuring the mutually beneficial relationship to me, the guests, and the new restaurant investors. It was a win-win-win. After the restaurants celebrated success in the first few months, and a glowing recommendation from my first restaurant from an Austin Celebrity chef, I decided it was to embark on more restaurants - my next adventure.
"Quality and Efficiency Specialist"
From the back of my car, parked near whatever free Wi-fi I could find, I built a website, much like this one and pitched myself as a "Quality and Efficiency Specialist." I would travel and seek after new restaurants with big name chefs with large followings online. I ordered a few business cards using online promo-codes for cheap and pitched the idea to anyone who would listen. To my pleasant surprise, It worked, and I got every job ever applied for, in ANY city I desired. This assurance made moving and traveling much easier. I'd work in a city for a few weeks, sometimes months at a time, and with every new restaurant I was apart of, I made sure to continue to collect recommendation letters along the way - making sure to save them to “The Cloud” this time. With hard-work and a little bit of passion, inevitably I began working my way up the celebrity chef ladder. I opened 13 restaurants across the country from Seattle to Miami and several cities in between in about a single years time. I’ve helped support award-winning chefs, helped some earn their Michelin Stars, and worked and served along side amazing people. I absorbed myself in my craft and gave everyday my all. I was young, excited, and had all the energy in the world. Doing it all, while living in the back of my Toyota Prius. The lifestyle was fast paced, financially freeing, incredibly rewarding and at the same time…lonely. I got to see some beautiful places, meet some pretty great people, enjoyed some amazing food, and did anything I wanted. But it wasn’t sustainable. The greatest lessons I learned in that experience: “Newness” always wears off, and community is paramount in experiencing life to its fullest. I needed a change of pace. So... at the end of 2016 I decided to call it. You see, In my mind, I did and accomplished what I set out to do. I reached where I wanted to go and inevitably had to move on. But also, it was just time. Jobs like mine have a shelf life and a year in ones car by that point, takes a toll in ways that most wouldn’t expect. As I traveled from city to city, I had no community, thus any accountability. There was no one in my life "calling-me-out" - both for my literal and metaphorical blind spots. I became impatient, arrogant, entitled, and hard to be around. And something happens when you spend that much time in your car alone. It makes sense that the space inside your car becomes your own, but somehow you become weirdly and accidentally possessive of the road too. I found myself becoming so much more upset and impatient when I would get cut off in traffic or when someone would park too close preventing me from opening my door all the way. Strangely, I felt like they were invading MY living room. It wasn't just the space though, it was also the very toxic habits and mindset I had been cultivating inside, started to manifest itself in the big ways. And the sad part? I wasn't able to recognize it at the time. I was treating others differently because of the allusion that I was the most important person in my world. It was like I was slowly morphing into a kid again and while I was progressing very rapidly in professional and personal experiences, I was digressing in character.
Habitat for Humanity
Experience is the best teacher. And I knew from experience the best way to focus less on me, was to focus more on others. Around Christmas time in 2014, while finishing up my last restaurant in Nashville, I decided to take a break from the restaurant scene and started volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. In total transparency, the decision to join Habitat was still mostly selfishly motivated. The truth was, along with my desire for character development, I missed a different type of creativity, the kind that allowed me to build stuff with my hands. I also missed learning. Ironically, even though I was always moving, I was becoming at the same time, stagnant. I knew I needed a change. So for months I devoted myself to learning all I could about building homes. I would help build homes by day, by annoying the old retired IBM guys working on-site asking tons of questions like… “What’s that?...What’s this do?... Is this right?... Can I try?...etc. And by night. I moonlighted, taking night classes online at the prestigious and world renowned school of Youtube and earned a self-proclaimed masters in Googling. Once again absorbing myself and learning and soaking in information. I did this full time for a little over 5 months until buying my first very own Rigid tool-kit on craigslist. With almost a child-like eagerness I began looking for any excuse in the world to find a way to use them.
The Big Jump
By the summer of 2015 I had accidentaly purchased my next project. I was living back in Austin at the time and as summer was quickly approaching, I was looking for any opportunity I could, to get out. A friend of mine from college who was living back in Nashville, sent me a Craigslist link about a 1963 Vintage Beeline Camper that she was strongly considering buying for herself and converting into a food truck. She called me one afternoon, knowing my restaurant experience and my recent Habitat work, and asked if I would consider helping her make it ready. It couldn’t have been better timed for me. After listening to her ideas and vision for the project, it got me excited and my creative juices flowing. With limited capital, she was hesitant at first, but we got off the phone agreeing to split the camper 50/50 and work on it together to at least get its “bones” in good shape. This would give her a little more time to decide if this is something she really wanted to do. If not, she could sell me her half of the camper, and I would figure out what to do with it. That afternoon, I removed all of my camping gear from my Thule hardtop on top of my Prius and started filling it will power tools. In less than 24 hours, I was ready, prepared, prepped, and eager to step into my next adventure – the beauty of #HotelPrius. That Saturday when I was expected to make the drive to Nashville, I got a call from my friend, saying she had cold feet and couldn’t pull the trigger. I’d tried my best to assure her that I had worked everything out and things would come together, but to no avail. I was reminded in that moment of how it felt to be afraid of what was next – to fear the unknown and to be intimidated of the factors in life one can’t plan or prepare for. I was thankful for my hardships up to this point, but I couldn’t blame her for not having those experiences of her own. I however, was already committed. I decided to move forward despite her dropping-out. As I drove to Nashville, I was forced to arrange and plan a completely different strategy. Thankfully I had opened a few restaurants in Nashville only a year before, and had at least a small network of friends and co-workers to call on help. My biggest challenge was finding a backyard to work out-of, and a truck to deliver my new camper. Coincidentally, a resent customer who I met while waiting tables, now turned friend...had a friend...who had a landscape designer...that had an employee...that had a brother with a truck. And a good friend of mine let me rent out his backyard for $250 a month. Things were coming together
TRIAL BY Fire
With only a budget of about $5,000 safe-to-spend, and really no idea how much money a project like this would actually take, I had no choice but to take it "one day at a time" as they say. For 15 weeks I worked on this little camper and slept out of the back of my car parked in my friends backyard. It wasn’t long before I got all set up and found my routine. Between the numerous Home Depot runs I would make each day, I was always on the look out for free materials I could use to save money any creative ways to use what others threw away to my advantage. It was exhausting, but awesome at the same time. Finding a big stack of pallet wood was almost as rewarding as that feeling you get when you find a crumpled twenty-dollar bill in your laundry - just me? Most of my learning was "trial-and-error" with the ever-so-often facetime chat with my old professor - Prof. Tom Silva from re-runs of This Old House on YouTube. I ran out of money around week 6 of 15 and turned to Craiglist 'gigs' and apps like TaskRabbit for help. Odd jobs saved my life. I helped people move, cleaned boats, mowed lawns, and anything I could to make money for the project. Finally after 15 weeks I had finished the project and called in a little help from my uncle to help me transport my new camper back to Austin. I had invested everything I had into this camper and was determined to find a way to make a return on my investment. Whether that meant living out of it OR selling it, I needed to figure it out soon. Then a friend called to tell me about this little app called Airbnb....
Thank God for Apps
Now broke (again), jobless, and no where to park this new 80 square foot house on wheels, AirBnB seemed like my only realistic and feasible option to make a decent return on all the time, money and sacrifices I poured into this thing. So I turned to Craigslist once again looking for anyone that had some extra space in his or her yard AND willing to take a risk and try something new. At the time it was a completely original idea, and it happened so organically up to this point. I hadn’t seen it done before, nor had I heard of anyone trying it. But then again, I wasn’t really looking either. I was going in blind, but I was doing what I always did – I took stock of my possessions and my resources, and started to get creative with solutions to make it work in my favor. Honestly, It was challenging and pretty defeating at first when nobody seemed to respond to my ads. Or if they did, I was quickly dismissed when I was asked questions about city codes and legislation when I didn't have the answers. Many of my leads fell through simply because nobody wanted to take a risk with a guy that appeared to have no idea what he was doing or talking about. I learned pretty quickly that people like having assurances - assurances I wasn’t able to provide because I really did have NO idea what I was doing. The only thing I could say to them was, “If it doesn’t work, I can just roll it away.” I tried to make it as low-risk as possible, but at the same time, it was important to me to try and give my new potential partners, as accurately as I could, the plan's potential benefits. But the only way to really know was to just go for it. Finally by March I pulled the trigger on a spot in South Austin with a woman with a nice small piece of property, in relatively popular part of Austin. She really wanted to make some extra money for SXSW– Austin’s biggest music festival, and we agreed to a one month trial run and decided to keep our expectations low. But the trial run, yielded quite the unexpected and relatively lucrative return- certainly more than I considered possible. As the first month came and went it only made sense to extend our agreement and split profits evenly. That spring, bookings were averaging 85%-95% and the little camper was gaining quite the online traction. By that November, my camper had already paid for itself. But unfortunately our new little thriving adventure came to an abrupt end one day when it caught the attention of Austin City Code Enforcement on a routine drive-by, and I was given a “Cease and Desist letter.” I was given a 30 day notice to move-out, but more eager than ever to find a spot that was could honor and uphold Austin City Code while continuing to lean into the camper's momentum. Now with big attention of social media, and an official 'working' business model, it wasn’t so much where to move my camper, but with whom. By February of 2016, I had met a woman on on Instagram of all places. I had mentioned the unfortunate news of #MotelCamper through a post to my followers and direct messaged me from a mention from a mutual friend and we met up. She was older, recently divorced, and really trying to figure out who she wanted to be next, and what she wanted to do with these new and big changes in her life. As we got to know each other, we seemed to share in common pursuits and immediately I saw the potential for a cool friendship and a potentially thriving business partnership. I learned she had property all over Austin but struggled to find reliable, consistent workers to help her fix it all up. Coincidentally, I had a desire to learn more about building and construction, and no property to do it on. It seemed like the perfect fit.
Two is Always better than One
The goal was South-by-Southwest (SXSW) 2016. It was late February when I met Alice and we had less than a month the get the property up and running against what felt like a task list that would never end. But together, with super early mornings, lots of espresso, pure drive, hard work and a considerable amount of laughter Alice and were able to get #MotelCamper as well as one of her small cottages also on the property up and running just in time for SXSW! With March also happening to be “the busy season” it wasn’t long before bookings were piling up and online publications like House Beautiful magazine were raving about “The Cutest Motel in Texas.” We both had that moment where we had looked hard at the work we had had just accomplished and realized we had a thirst for the next thing we could do together. We sat down one day with the numbers and determined pretty quickly exactly what we needed to do next- It was time to build an “AirBnB Empire!” well at least that’s what liked to call it. We immediately began looking on Craigslist for campers again first searching in the Austin area, then slowly increasing the radius with each day hoping to find anything we could work with for the next big project. Growing a little impatient I came to the conclusion, that if this was really going to happen I needed to look much further than my own town. After that, finding one became a mission and I wasn’t going to let up. My only criteria? If I could get one for cheap and just “gut it and start over”, I knew I could make it work!
Then finally, in Memphis I found one! I called a buddy with a truck and before you knew it,the three of us, found ourselves on a little road trip to Memphis to pick it up our next adventure we called #InstaInn. We came up with the name on the way. Being super budget conscious we had another great idea to do a free workshop for anyone that wanted to lean about vintage campers. I would offer any and all information I could to teach what I had learned about these campers to other like-minded individuals, in exchange for a weekend of free labor. A last minute Instagram post advertising a free workshop was all we needed. A group of lovely girls showed up one weekend and we had a blast and was able to knock-out a considerable about of demolition. From there it was me and Alice every day for about a month - completely rebuilding from the trailer up. At the same time of the camper remodel, we began renovating another rental property she owned across town that she sold it for a really nice return. Up to that point, our money from our properties stayed separate, but after selling of the flip-house, and the collective unmeasured time and sweat equity we both put in, we needed a business plan. With no business experience from either end of this newly discovered power-team we were going in blind. We did our best to navigate the uncharted waters of large and surprisingly consistent revenue streams coming in from all directions, but it certainly came with its challenges. With fairness and friendship at the forefront of the relationship we did our best to make sure everything was fair.
Austin “Glamping” was Born!
In only three months time Alice and I were running 3 rental properties, and a successful small house flip under our belt and we weren’t stopping there. Every day was a new challenge, a new adventure, and that much closer to creating a lifestyle we both enjoyed and had fun with. And before we had a chance to look up, Austin Glamping was born. With one more spot to fill on the property it made sense to try to fit in one more. But with an already electric bill more than tripled and a breaker panel maxed out, power seemed to be the biggest concern. But limitations always force creativity and with some some clever outside the box thinking, we landed on a Scandinavian Tepee - or a Yurt, to build next. I found a few resources online illustrating how to build it from scratch and decided we was ready to take on the challenge. With my right hand (woman) accompanying me, Alice and I hand-built and designed the #UrbanYurt in just 3 weeks, hitting a new record for fastest project with no experience. We were on fire! It was another few months before we had the property running itself. Getting a little too hard to manage ourselves and still climb at the pace we were used to we outsourced what we could like cleaning crews and property managers and by December of 2015, “Austin Glamping” was officially the coolest AirBnB in Austin.