A group of of 20-somethings, most of them Kennesaw State University alumni or students, are hunkering down in Cobb County to give the world yet another social media app. It will rely on just photos and videos, not text.
“We are in a no-word era,” the CEO explained to me.
The makers of Shouty, which may or may not catch fire once it launches in coming weeks, also are working on another local innovation: Living and working together. As in the same house. Sometimes on the same mattress.
They got the idea from the HBO show “Silicon Valley,” which itself riffs off a concept that apparently is a thing in The Valley.
Eight of Shouty’s 13 folks live or frequently sleep in one rented split-level house with an overgrown yard and a driveway packed with cars.
Austin Schmidt, the company’s 24-year-old chief operating officer, still had wet hair when I met him as he completed his morning three-step commute from the master bedroom to the living room/work room/dorm barracks/video production studio.
Did I say master bedroom? I meant “management meeting room,” because when everybody lives and works together in one suburban home, privacy is at a premium.
This kind of communalism breaks all the rules of workplace decorum. That’s what happens when you risk stumbling on the boss’s underwear on the floor or when the household chores posted on the refrigerator clearly shows who’s been dogging it.
The arrangement seems simultaneously unnerving and fun. Like college dorm life all over again, but with your boss as the R.A.
“We wanted to live a life of no work/life balance,” CEO Jonathan Hessing told me. “We wanted to make it a lifestyle, not a job.”
He quit KSU one semester shy of earning a business management degree so he could pursue Shouty.
(It’s main premise is that rather than putting the focus on following friends, people will want a social media option organized around their interests, allowing them to view and post a regular stream of images whether about Georgia Bulldogs football, Beyoncé and her latest concerts or a friend’s wedding weekend.)
“By having this house we were able to get more committed to the commitment,” Hessing said.
Nationally, there are plenty of funky iterations underway in how we live and work.
Living rent free
Co-working spaces offer entrepreneurs or tiny companies rented space, sometimes in one big room. Home-based businesses provide workers with a desk or a bar counter in the founder’s basement or kitchen. And in Silicon Valley, the Big Apple and some other tech hotspots it’s become a thing for aspirants to rent co-living space — which also can mean co-working space — with other entrepreneurs pursuing their own projects, but maybe also helping out on yours.
Sharing a living room, kitchen and even a bedroom with strangers is supposed to feed creativity and help with networking. (Unless somebody didn’t scrape the burned macaroni out of the saucepan everyone else has to share.) The setups also are supposed to be an antidote to high rent costs, though I’ve read it doesn’t always work out that way.
At Shouty’s house in Kennesaw, the company covers all the rent, using investor money. Which is a nice perk for the housemates/co-workers, because they don’t yet get a paycheck from Shouty while the team focuses on getting the app launched and wooing more funding.
For gas and restaurant money most of them have “side hustles,” as a couple of them told me.
They are part-time bartenders or servers at restaurants. One works at a nail salon. Another, who I initially found sleeping on a bunk bed in the living room, explained that he is “crematory certified.” He pulls shifts at a funeral home, picking up and prepping bodies for viewing.
They all have something bigger in mind for this slumber party.
“I wanted to be an entrepreneur,” said Zach Burpee, the funeral home guy.
Dressing it up
So they make do. One usually sleeps on a couch in the living room, one rollover away from table where he often works. A guy and two women sleep on a two-mattress bunk bed. Tracy Nguyen draped up curtains and a string of lights to dress it up. She’s working on a communications degree at KSU while handling Shouty’s digital production.
She gets razzed by the COO for taking too much time in his master bathroom while getting ready in the morning. Sound like a family? Or a gathering of friends on a mission?
“We don’t consider it work,” Nguyen told me.
Zunaik Ukani, the CFO, told me, “We are like family. Like brothers and sisters.”
He and Schmidt the COO and Hessing the CEO moved into the home in February. The others followed as people signed on to the venture.
Parts of the house morphed in the process. Like the space where foosball and air hockey tables share space beside a lawnmower.
“Society labels this a garage,” Hessing told me wryly. “This is really a breakroom/recording studio.”
And the master bedroom upstairs? “This is the management meeting room, not Austin’s bedroom.”
Premium bathroom time
Still, there are hassles. Bathroom time is at a premium at certain points in the day. Silverware and bowls always go missing. Someone’s phone charger is always disappearing. They tell me they don’t have lots of friends over. And I assume this kind of arrangement works best for singles.
“It’s easy to communicate because everyone is here,” Hessing said. “And it’s hard to communicate if you need to have a private conversation.”
Hessing understands the live/work option might work for a small startup but be difficult to keep feeding as the business gets bigger and more established as he hopes.
“We are going to outgrow it,” he said.
Well, maybe not all of it. He hopes he and the company’s two other founders will share a home in the future. And while Shouty’s main workspace will be in an office, he dreams of it feeling like a dorm room with couches and comfort.
“We want to keep the culture we have.”
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Other Kempner’s Unofficial Business columns: http://www.myajc.com/flist/business/unofficial-business-column-matt-kempner/f9y/