EA Hotel Fundraiser 1: the story

bytoonalfrink22d27th Dec 201818 comments


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.

1. Inception

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.

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.

The ask

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.