Entrepreneurs Are Preparing for Burning Man

A blog about business and economics.
July 2 2014 1:45 PM

Entrepreneurs Are Preparing for Burning Man

He's ready.

Photo by Hector Mata/AFP/Getty Images

This story first appeared in Inc.

The festival doesn't start until Aug. 25, but already the tech-and-investor-packed utopian-hive that is Burning Man is already being assembled. San Francisco entrepreneurs are leading the charge to create souped-up art cars, hulking art installations, and a giant, musically controlled Tesla coil.


(Because, really: What would Burning Man be without a lightning-spewing Tesla coil lighting a massive dance floor on the playa?)

The annual festival of about 60,000, held in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, is a de fact holiday—free from convention, currency, and most clothing—for the Bay Area's ranks of entrepreneurs. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is a regular. So are Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who reportedly hired Eric Schmidt in part because he'd attended Burning Man. Facebook's Dustin Moskovitz ran into, and apparently made amends with, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss there last year. And Burning Man founder Larry Harvey is an entrepreneur himself. 

This year Elon Musk, the Tesla and SpaceX founder and CEO, was widely quoted after a screening of the HBO show Silicon Valley, as being critical of a party scene in the show. "I really feel like Mike Judge has never been to Burning Man, which is Silicon Valley," Musk said. 

But what inventive absurdities are these entrepreneurs planning for this year? Oh man. Glad you asked.

1. A massive, four-story-high zeppelin, powered by a bus.

Former Googler Casey Ho, an artist, software engineer, and entrepreneur, is working full time—not on a new company, but rather, a dirigible airship that doesn't actually fly. He's dubbed it the Zeppelin Mutant Vehicle. (How all-in is Ho? He lists "Zeppelin Mutant Vehicle" as his current employer on LinkedIn; previously he's worked at startups Smartizen and Notizi.)

The Zeppelin, which is funded through Kickstarter (it's raised more than $7,000) is billed as what will be "a massive airship made of color and light flying across the Burning Man playa at night." Ho's collaborators on the airship project? "The group is comprised of Burning Man veterans and non-burners alike, and hails from a multitude of theme camps- primarily Asian Fetish Camp, Domo Arigato, and *CATS. We're growing fast, with over 25 contributors. New participants are always welcome!" So come on down!

2. A freezer truck shaped like a technicolor iceberg.

Justin Kan, the entrepreneur behind Justin.tv, TwitchTV, and, more recently, Exec, is building something new. And it's going to be ice cold during the hot, hot days in the sandstorm-prone desert.

It's called Titanic's End, and it's being built with the help of friends, colleagues, and fellow founders out of Nimby, an East Oakland art-slash-event-slash-party-space-slash-massive-junkyard that's constantly under construction. (The airship is also being constructed at Nimby.) On Crowdtilt, where the project is being funded, Kan describes it as the "world's first mobile iceberg." Oh yes, there is more: "Built on top of a cold plate freezer truck used to deliver ice cream, we're adding polycarbonate panels, LED lighting and a kick-ass sound system to freeze your minds out on the playa this year at Burning Man 2014. Titanic's End will cruise around the playa, opening up our mobile ice lounge (which will be cold!) to visitors during the day, and becoming a mobile dance party at night." OK then!

3. A lightning-spewing party dome.

The lead engineer at Two Bit Circus, Daniel Busby, is part of a team building "a giant, musically-controlled Tesla coil sculpture for Burning Man 2014." The project's Facebook page reads: "When done, it will be a 10-foot-tall Tesla coil bolted onto a 20-foot dome, controlled by a DJ booth. Which means dancing under freakin' lightning, people." Trippy, dude. The project is more than $2,000 short of its $8,200 Kickstarter goal. If you want to be dancing under freakin' lightning, people, ante up!

4. A car that looks like a brain crossed with a jungle-gym. Also: technicolor! 

Yet another project out of Oakland, which is being funded on Indiegogo, is a "huge brain art car" being constructed by data scientists, engineers, animators, and brain researchers, and a couple of startup folks, including an employee of Misfit Wearables. Dubbed "Dr. Brainlove," the project is described as "a climbable interactive brain mounted on a modified biofuel-powered school bus." It's earned $14,700 of its $26,000 goal on Indiegogo so far. 

Let's repeat that: "A climbable interactive brain mounted on a modified biofuel-powered school bus."

5. A tall ship on wheels that you can ... sit on.

Michelle Taniguchi, a business consultant from Santa Cruz, wants to rebuild The Monaco, a Burning Man art car resembling a tall ship, replete with a multitude of sails, which, according to the car's Facebook page, was "lit on fire by a passing art car" some years ago on the playa. 

What is The Monaco? Glad you asked. "She is approximately 45 feet long and holds more than 40 passengers. She's got 3 masts, a generator for music and lighting, a bar and plenty of room on the deck for both crew and passengers. Voyaging to Black Rock is hard on our lovely sailing ship, though, and she's in need of some repairs and improvements in port before she makes another journey." It's been funded beyond its $5,000 goal already on Kickstarter, but it still has dreams of becoming technicolor someday. Should an additional $2,500 be raised, Taniguchi hopes to add new LED lighting and color control, and undercarriage lighting.

6. A social club for the bitcoin mafia.

Yep, in the temporary village of Black Rock City, where money is basically verboten (though bartering is allowed), there's set to be a "Camp Bitcoin." Aside from being a camp where cryptocurrency evangelists can sleep and evangelize about cryptocurrency, what will it be? That's unclear. But the page is hosted on Hive Web's website, and is created by a couple of Hive employees, along with Erik Voorhees, a serial entrepreneur who is co-founder of the bitcoin company Coinapult, Josh Rossi, creator of Satoshi Square, an open-air bitcoin marketplace, and Charlie Shrem, the co-founder and CEO of bitcoin startup BitInstant. (Shrem, alas, won't be there: He's under house arrest after being indicted on April 10, 2014, on accusations of attempting to launder more than $1 million in virtual currency.)

Christine Lagorio-Chafkin is a senior writer at Inc. Follow her on Twitter.


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