A crowdfunded house for techies in Vegas. What could possibly go wrong?

By Erin Griffith , written on April 17, 2013

From The News Desk

Tony Hsieh's Downtown Vegas project is resides firmly in the category of just-so-crazy-it-might-work. PandoDaily has looked closely at the crazy bad and crazy good sides of the massive project.

One year in, Hsieh's craziness has rubbed off on the members of the tech ecosystem he's building. Case in point: Jon Sterling has only been in Vegas for a month and he's already created Vegas Tech House, a crowd-funded residential home which he hopes will serve as a community hub and flophouse for visiting techies.

On the face of it, the project sounds like an outlandishly silly idea. Who really owns the house? Who gets the rights to stay there? Is it more of a commune or an Airbnb? Why would someone want to donate money for a stranger to buy a house? Who will cover the maintenance and utility costs? Not to mention, all this talk of "epic parties" is bound to end in tears.

After talking to Sterling (who previously acted as an advisor to equity-for-work crowdfunding platform Late Labs), though, I'm convinced he might be the one to pull it off. But even if it totally fails, you have to give him credit for trying. We'll say the same thing about the Downtown Project if that doesn't work out, too. But unlike Hsieh (an investor in PandoDaily), Sterling's project won't bankrupt him if it flops. For funds, he's turning to the power of the crowd. He's using Indiegogo to gather support for the Vegas Tech House.

Here's how the Indiegogo campaign works: If Sterling raises $125,000 in the next month, he'll buy a foreclosed home in the John S. Park neighborhood, which is walking distance to the Downtown Project area and home to a growing number of techies living and working from shared houses.

To kick things off, Sterling is hosting a hackathon and a big party. Donors to the Vegas Tech House will get to stay in the house for one night on a future visit, with two years to redeem it. Donors also get a t-shirt, or an invite to the launch party at Vegas' upcoming version of SXSW, or a ticket to the Vegas Tech House's hackathon. For $1,500, donors can sponsor a bedroom in the house, covering its walls with their marketing propaganda. For $10,000 donors can sponsor the whole house.

Crowdfunding houses and other property isn't a brand new idea, but it hasn't quite been done like this before. For example, Realty Mogul, which we wrote about last month, emerged from beta to facilitate regular people investing in real estate. It's more for investors, less for individuals buying houses.

Sterling could have bought a house on his own -- with eight years working at Keller Williams Realty, he has the understanding to purchase a home. (That's why he decided to buy one in the first place -- he noticed real estate in his neighborhood is incredibly affordable.) He has the capital too.

No, Sterling took to Indiegogo rather than buy his own home because he wants this house to be a community hub. Gathering support (and dollars) from the wider tech community will help with that. When he moved to Vegas just a month ago, he crashed on couches for a few days before finding an apartment. Vegas Tech House aims to help newcomers in that same way. Further, the house will host events, host visitors, and act as a co-working space.

Sterling will live there, acting as a sort of innkeeper. And babysitter, and event planner, and host, and bouncer, and tour guide, plumber, maid, and ringmaster. Oh, and he's building his own company, too. The entire plan is totally crazy, but who knows? If it works, it'll be for that precise reason.