How to Survive in SF as a Broke Startup

[Update] tl;dr: Listen to my short NPR Marketplace Tech interview instead (starts at 3:30):

I lived like a roach for the past year.

Before my startup failed, my three co-founders and I survived on a mere $450 to $500/person/month. This included rent, utilities, food, travel and miscellaneous expenses. We never had to resort to cup noodles and always grubbed like poor princes.


How was this possible? That I grew up in a working class, Asian American household (cheap), lived in an Asian American SF neighborhood (super cheap), and shopped at Asian supermarkets (super fucking cheap) played a big role.

You have my word.

Now, the five following coveted secrets are for my fellow entrepreneurs who crap at the thought of hitting ramen profitability in an overpriced city. Here’s to your startup surviving just a bit longer.

1. Live with your co-founders:
The absolute best way to save money. Take it a step further and share a room. You’ll see your living costs plummet by half or even 75%. You’re going to live, breathe, eat and shit the startup anyway, so you might as well move in together. Call this living arrangement your office, too.

2. Snuggle in the Outer Sunset district:
Yes, the boondocks of San Francisco. Consider this district a quiet, safe, plenty-of-parking gem in the city. Sure, it’s 80% Chinese American, but rent for a four bedroom house here is equivalent to a two-bedroom condo in SOMA. Don’t try to compete with techies in the Mission or SOMA–they’ll outlive you there.

The L-Taraval or N-Judah train offers a 20 - 30 min ride straight to the heart of the city (in case you get lonely).

Bonus: Some of the best (and cheapest) Chinese restaurants are found here (see Irving, Taraval and Noriega).

Double bonus: Ocean beach. Need I say more?

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3. Lease an entire house:
Create a makeshift bedroom for you and your team in the dining room and sub-let the bedrooms on Craigslist and Livelovely. Work out of the living room. Your team’s total rent will cost less than your monthly student loan repayment.

4. Shop at Asian Supermarkets:
Scout out Sunset Supermarket (on Vicente and Irving) or local Asian grocers for meats (like, $0.99/lb chicken drumsticks cheap) and produce (probably the most affordable fruit and veggies you’ll find anywhere in SF).

If you get bored of Asian shopping, head over to either nearby Safeway or Trader Joes (next to Stonestown Mall).

5. Learn how to cook:
Cook and you’ll realize that restaurant food can be overrated and overpriced. Trust me, it’ll take no more than an hour of your day. Pick up a cleaver, debone that bird and spice massage the hell out of it. Simply Google recipes and pick the ones with the sexiest pictures and most reviews. The kitchen’s your oyster.

Oh, and did I mention you’ll find yourself spending just $1.50 to $3 per meal?

My go-to sites:

[Simple dishes] Food Wishes:

[Korean] Maangchi:

[Chinese-American] The Art of Cooking:

[Southeast Asian] Rasamalaysia:

[Rustic] Turntable Kitchen:

[American-Italian-Asian] Lady and Pups:

[Below are images of what my startup managed to make while living together]

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Thoughts on this list? Suggestions or feedback? Tweet me @wlimdo

[Disclaimer: This post is not responsible for the influx of techies and hipsters invading the Outer Sunset]


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