Why author and app startup boss Yossi Ghinsberg sleeps in a tent —wherever he's living
by Cromwell Schubarth Senior Technology Reporter Silicon Valley Business Journal
Yossi Ghinsberg was already famous long before he pitched the Blinq mobile app that his startup, Headbox Inc., developed at 500 Startups late last year.
That’s because a book he wrote about getting lost and nearly dying in the Bolivian jungle became a best-seller that in turn became a Discovery Channel docudrama and is reportedly now in the early stages of becoming a movie.
We caught up with Ghinsberg a few months after he was featured in The Pitch in February. Our conversation was edited for length.
Is it true that you always try to live in a tent, no matter where your home is?
Yes, yes. Although right now, I would call it a beach shack. It’s kind of like a fisherman’s hut. But for years, everywhere I lived, whether it’s Los Angeles or Sydney, Australia, and five years in Israel, I lived in a tent that was always pitched as part of my house. If it was an apartment, I would build it on the roof of the apartment building. If it was a house, I would build it outside. But my tents weren’t about roughing it. They were very lush and luxurious. I built them in a very beautiful way.
Why do you do that?
It was about living in a temporary dwelling with walls that are very thin that let you hear the elements. It was symbolic for me because I belong to the world. I’m a nomad and a traveler. The tent symbolizes all that, the impermanence of life, the respect for life, and also the joy to be really in communion with nature. When you step outside the tent, you step on the earth. You build a fire, and you sit by the fire with friends.
How does your wife feel about this?
My wife, luckily, is like me. So for her, it is a delight as well. But I want to stress that this is not about camping out. It’s about a certain notion and a symbol that attracts me. I really enjoy it. There’s no sacrifice there. It’s pure joy.
Are you living in Silicon Valley now?
I have been living in the Valley since we joined the 500 Startups acceleration program. I was in Mountain View, then moved to Palo Alto, and then to Menlo Park. For five months, the entire company living and working out of a nice house in Mountain View. It was like we had a hackathon for five months. It was five guys, fully dedicated. Once we finished that, I took the development and engineering part of the company back to Tel Aviv. I came back here to do the business, and the networking, and the investment, and the rest of it. I’m building a presence here, which I will maintain myself. I’m not relocating my family yet, but down the road I will relocate my family.
When was the last time you went 100 percent offline?
Only when my battery dies.
I mean intentionally.
That is a very painful question. I changed the name of my species. I don’t call myself a human being, anymore. I have become a human doing. I’m constantly building a lot of things, so I haven’t been a lot offline, you know? I don’t recall having even a rest day, you know? I have wife and four kids that in the last seven months I hardly have seen. It’s not the best lifestyle.
Is there anything that you’re never without?
Yeah. My mobile device. I’m never without it. My Kindle, too.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
If there’s ice cream in the house, I wake up in the middle of the night and I go down and I eat it all. It’s not a sweet tooth. I don’t eat any candy, or chocolate, or cake, you know? But if there’s a good ice cream, I just cannot sleep until it’s done.