EA Hotel Fundraiser 1: the story
post by toonalfrink
score: 57 (28 votes) ·
This is the first of a series of posts that accompany the EA Hotel fundraiser, which will run over the course of January. It will cover the broad narrative of its inception, its current state, and its future. The next post will be an in-depth statistical analysis of impact.
By 2017, there had been various initiatives that had attempted to reform EA and Rationalist housing. The idea was simple: find a place that is dirt cheap, then all move there together to lower our cost of living considerably without losing most of our network. Existing hubs like London and the Bay were always great for finding connections and capital, but at the price of a living cost that forced many to commit to low-risk, short term strategies. People talked about moving out together, but no project managed to get off the ground.
Blackpool was a popular holiday resort in the 80s. When international holidays became cheaper, it fell out of fashion. But the council held on to the city’s main source of income. Many of the hotels back in the day did not get permission to convert to residential. They’re still around today, and most of them are completely vacant. This means that hotels in Blackpool are among the cheapest real estate in the developed world.
By the end of 2017, aspiring effective altruist Greg Colbourn made some successful crypto investments. He used that money to decisively turn these latent intentions into reality. He bought a hotel in Blackpool, and the EA Hotel was born [EA · GW].
2. Current state
Those that want to do independent EA work are invited to apply to the hotel. From the pool of applicants, the EA hotel selects those that meet a minimum bar for expected impact. The bar depends inversely on availability. Those that are selected are given free room and board, free housekeeping, and a stipend. Any worldly obstacles they may have are taken away for them to focus freely on their work.
Right now, all of the hotel’s rooms are occupied with people working on EA projects.
Once a week, residents are asked to talk to the management in a one-on-one conversation to help them keep themselves accountable. We keep track of their work and advise them where we can.
In the meantime, the operations team works to continuously upgrade the environment, creating a space that is more conducive to productivity and well-being than anyone could ever create on their own.
All of this happens on a budget of £6,000 per resident per year. The total cost to support the hotel’s ~20 residents, doing EA work selected for impact, is ~£10,000 per month.
Based on our regular interviews with the current residents, we think that this is worth the investment.
3. What kind of EA work?
To give you an idea of what current guests are working on, we will describe a few abstracted case studies:
A is an aspiring EA entrepreneur, in the process of starting an effective charity. They have some good ideas, but can’t easily get their organisation off the ground. For that, they need to develop their ideas by bouncing them off people. They also need to apply for grants, develop a platform and work through the formalities of starting a registered charity. Instead of doing this in their spare time alongside their day job, they joined the EA Hotel for 6 months. Here they meet people that already have experience in starting charities, who give them good advice. They also learn about some important considerations that lead them to change the scope of their charity for the better.
B is an EA with an eye to community building. They have some good ideas about what people in the community need. To this end, they host events and retreats that help EA’s get more socially involved and helps them get a clearer picture of how to contribute. They do this work pro bono from the hotel.
C would really like to launch their EA career, but is still looking for a place to start. They move into the EA Hotel, where they take a few months to really educate themselves on how the world works. During their stay, they identify the cause areas they find most pressing, and decide that they would be a good fit for an ops role. They do a few applications and leave the hotel with a fresh job at an EA organisation.
A future post might interview some actual residents, to let them chime in with their experience.
4. Short and long term future of the project
Our funding extends to May, and we are fully booked (dorm beds only until end of March). We are seeking funds to 1) extend our runway to the industry standard of 18 months and 2) expand: buy the building next door and host up to another 15 EAs. These correspond to funding targets of £130,000 and £300,000, respectively.
In the 6 months that the project has existed, we have worked continuously to improve it in domains such as housekeeping systems, maintenance, community, mentorship, and more. According to internal surveys, the happiness and productivity of the residents is already considerably higher than the counterfactual. We intend to continue making upgrades in the next year. While solid work has already been done, we expect to be able to show much more of it in a year’s time.
The derelict hotel next door is available to purchase for £50-55k. We expect initial repairs to be another £20,000. This will free up space for 15 more EA’s to do high-impact work unhindered.
Looking ahead, the entirety of our street is made up of vacant and under-occupied hotels. Together these could support a population of over 300. If we move towards operating a significant subset of them, this would make Blackpool an EA hub on par with London and the Bay area.
Looking ahead even further, there are thousands of vacant buildings in Blackpool. EA’s tend to be competent and innovative people. If we reach a population in the hundreds, this might trigger a tipping point beyond which Blackpool will become a new hotspot of innovation. This is what happened in the Bay area in the 60s. The small chance that we can seed Blackpool this way might be another source of expected value.
Do you like this initiative, and want to see it continue for longer, on a more stable footing, and at a bigger scale? Do you want to cheaply buy time spent working full time on work relating to EA, whilst simultaneously facilitating a thriving EA community hub? Then we would like to ask for your support.
For further instructions please see our GoFundMe.
To learn more about the hotel, and to book a stay, please see our website.
comment by Jan_Kulveit
· score: 26 (13 votes) · EA
Is it possible to somehow disentangle the funding for continuing the current project with funding for scaling it up? It seems to me there is a large exploratory value in EA Hotel, and the project should totally get funding to continue, but I would guess before significant up-scaling, it may make sense to do so some careful cost-benefit analysis whether it's better to grow the existing hotel in Blackpool, or copy the model and create similar places e.g. one somewhere in the US and one somewhere within EU. (It is possible to get to the same costs in other places).
comment by Greg_Colbourn
· score: 22 (13 votes) · EA
The scaling up is a stretch goal, and we could in theory have separate pots, but in practice one would funge against the other to some extent (due to e.g. me being more likely to spend my money on buying next door instead of paying for current running costs). Personally I think we should get next door whilst we can, as it will make scaling up by ~75% so much easier than buying a building even on the other side of the street (adding a door in the wall would create effectively one big building, which could be run with the same kitchen, buffet, laundry and staff as the current one). It's also a relatively low risk investment as I don't think the prices can get much lower. Adding capacity is also much easier than being more selective, and it's more in keeping with the original idea (I'd rather the hotel didn't end up super exclusive like all other sources of EA funding).
I'm all for franchaising the model to mainland Europe and the US though. Happy to let people copy everything we have. In practice this will require someone to step up and buy a building like I did though I think (unless this fundraiser exceeds all expectations!)
comment by toonalfrink
· score: 5 (3 votes) · EA
You might precommit to only spending some amount of your money on expansion if this amount has already been matched by donations from others. I'd personally be happy to refrain from expansion until we got the green light from external parties. It would be a good incentive to document our work.
comment by Agrippa
· score: 7 (6 votes) · EA
I do have a sense that if the Blackpool hotel scaled to a population of 60 for example, this would give information that couldn't at all be captured by having 3 distant 20-person hotels. Said information is probably? more interesting to me for social network effect reasons, but I'm not very experienced with EA meetups and stuff, so I might overrate the value of that.
comment by Peter_Hurford
· score: 17 (12 votes) · EA
1.) How do you think the EA Hotel compares in impact to giving out direct £6,000 grants to individuals selected for impact, to work wherever they are, without having to relocate to a hotel? I imagine the hotel may have some economies of scale but may also be limited to only those who can relocate?
2.) How hard is it for people to relocate to Blackpool?
3.) How many EAs apply for EA Hotel residency but don't get in? What is the "selecting for impact" process actually like? Who does the selecting?
4.) How long do people stay?
5.) Are there concrete results from past EA Hotel residents yet? Or would it be too soon for that still? It would be great to see the actual testimonials here.
6.) How easy is it to "host events and retreats that help EA’s get more socially involved" from Blackpool?
comment by Agrippa
· score: 20 (15 votes) · EA
I am a current short term visitor. Re: 1)
A) It's much easier to filter for "genuine" applicants in this case vs. direct grants. The number of people who would like to have free money is very large, and many of them aren't EAs. The number of people who would like to live in a hotel in Blackpool with a bunch of EAs is much smaller, and people in this set are much more likely to be genuine EAs.
B) I am interested in living at the hotel because having a place to work around other people is important (even necessary) for me to be productive, and it helps A LOT if we share values and interests. A grant wouldn't do anything for me. I'm sure my position is common.
Re: 2) I had a lot of fun explaining the hotel to customs.
comment by Greg_Colbourn
· score: 13 (11 votes) · EA
1). In theory we are open to giving out grants to people who spend the same amount on their living costs (say in Chiang Mai), as I stated in my initial forum post [EA · GW] about the project (see Value Proposition section). No one has yet enquired about this though. One issue however is that if people are spending more on their living costs you are proportionally buying less work time for them (e.g. you might only get 4 months from someone in London instead of a year at the hotel), so it would require a fair amount of trust that they are only spending that amount. Also the community, coordination and collaboration at the hotel is worth something.
2). So far it is easy for Europeans, but Brexit might change this. US Citizens can get 6 month tourist visas and we have had a few. Commonwealth citizens can get visas for a year or two. More info here. Ideally I think there should be a network of EA Hotels, with one in mainland Europe and one in the US.
3). Most people who have applied so far have got in. The few that haven't have been people who didn't seem to really get EA and had their own non-EA pet project. The Trustees do the selecting for stays over a month. Managers for stays under a month.
4). ~3-12 months seems to be what a lot of people are going for. We've also had a fair number of short term visitors stay for 1-14 days.
5). The second post in this series will cover this.
6). I think this is referring to organising events and retreats elsewhere (e.g. EA Netherlands retreats). The hotel did host the EA London retreats at the end of August though. Lately I've been thinking that we could probably use a hotel dedicated to events, retreats and bootcamps (we have the common area at the current hotel, but not the sleeping accomodation).
comment by casebash
· score: 2 (2 votes) · EA
I think that a lot of the potential value comes from the connections that people make. Although this is probably lessened to an extent by the fact that the hotel is so fully booked up as it makes it harder for someone to just join someone else's project after they've finished theirs.
comment by Kit
· score: 8 (8 votes) · EA
Are the 'abstracted case studies' each an anonymised description of a single current/past resident?
(I wondered if they might be hypothetical or blended after reading the possibility to 'interview some actual residents' mentioned later.)
comment by toonalfrink
· score: 8 (8 votes) · EA
I think the best way to think of them are as types that are derived from the data. For each of them there are a few guests that closely resemble it, and together they're meant to cover most of the cases.
comment by Denkenberger
· score: 6 (7 votes) · EA
What about an EA hotel in Australia/New Zealand? Safer from nuclear war and pandemics...
comment by Agrippa
· score: 2 (3 votes) · EA
> Safer from nuclear war and pandemics...
Thus undermining a powerful incentive to help reduce x-risk!
comment by Denkenberger
· score: 9 (4 votes) · EA
Perhaps for some, but I think most people working on X-risk are primarily altruistically motivated. And for them, it is more important to stay alive in a catastrophe so they can help more. A less extreme version of this is living outside of metros to reduce the chance of being killed in a nuclear war.