When we reported last week that the "Startup Castle," a Silicon Valley group-home populated by tech workers, was looking for roommates with an insane list of requirements, we got a number of e-mails and DMs from people claiming to have lived in or visited the Castle in the past. We also got some details about John Lakness, one of the founders of the Startup Castle, a former Chippendales dancer and NATO Special Operations Command worker who appeared briefly on a pirate-themed reality show called Pirate Master. (Sadly, he was voted off in the show's first episode.)
Now, some former residents of the Startup Castle are coming forward with stories of what it's like to live in the infamous house. In a thread posted to Quora, titled "What is it like to live at the Startup Castle?", several former residents told their tales of living in a place where people who "wear make-up more than twice a week" or "have more than 1 tattoo" aren't welcome.
"I lived in this castle from November to January," wrote user Christopher Taylor:
The whole time I was there it was hilarious. The house was functioning fine, and John just kept getting more and more upset about how poorly everything was running. John is very ….. interesting. He's not crazy, and not a bad guy. But I just don't understand why a person with his … unique… personality and skills is so determined to manage a community.
Taylor also recalled several interactions with Lakness, including this one:
"John, can I just keep a beer for myself in the fridge?"
"No. Absolutely not. never."
An even more scathing review came from an anonymous Quora user, who says he lived in the Startup Castle while Lakness was in charge:
Imagine one day having your bed converted into a bunk bed without your consent. Being promised food to be included in the fee you pay only to be yelled at when the food runs out. Witnessing an ex-military dude marching around the house yelling at people who didn't "keep their shit clean enough". Being chastised for not organizing events for the house. Being drawn in to long, inappropriately misogynistic, conversations about sex. Witnessing former room-mates being treated unfairly when they try to terminate their contracts and leave the house.
I think one of the house managers John and Katie hired last year put it best:
"This place is a prison. It's like living in the Hotel California, except we can't even drink wine here."
Kate McKeon, a commenter on Fusion's site, told her own horror story:
I stayed at the House in September and October via Airbnb. Crazy doesn't even scratch the surface. Some of the residents are interesting, but the level of personal dysfunction in the folks running the show creates a hostile environment.
John hopes to create a quasi-military situation in the civilian world. Jam on technical stuff with a common mission. Okay, fair enough. But he has no mission. He clearly wanted to be a leader, but he demonstrated no vision and was prone to temper tantrums (actually throwing stuff throughout the house, many days 3:30-5p). His not-a-girlfriend who thinks she's his fiancee only added to the crazy.
I wish them no harm, but this house is not safe for women. It is best for 20-25 year old men who would dedicate their lives to fighting COBRA.
In the Startup Castle's defense, not everyone hates it. Nathon Gunn, whose LinkedIn profile lists him as a "collaborator" at the Castle, had this to say in our comments section:
I give the founders of this house a ton of credit for trying to do something that is unique in Silicon Valley. they are trying to create a community of excellence. in an environment that encourages constant drinking and superficiality. so before you go judging what they're trying to do why don't you consider the value proposition they're really offering. these are good people building a great community and for once somebody actually cares.
If you hoped to live in the current incarnation of the Startup Castle, you may be in luck. A house member didn't return our request for comment, and Lakness didn't immediately return a message. But the original SUPost listing is still up, which means there may be more rooms available.