“We’re not making fucking glamping tents for bros at Coachella,” Jeff Wilson, co-founder and CEO at Jupe is eager to reassure me, as he outlines his vision for the company. “At this point, food is a distribution problem, clothing is largely solved. There are about 1.5 billion people in the world that still don’t have adequate shelter. If you’re going to work on big problems here on earth, that’s one worth working on.”
It seems like Garry Tan from Initialized and the gang over at Y Combinator agree — they just secured a roof over Jupe’s head for a few months with a $9.5 million seed round. The money will be spent on building out the team and continuing its mission of housing the unhoused. To date, the company has received more than 300 preorders, and has started shipping Jupe shelters to a number of locations.
“Jupe’s vision of universal autonomous housing will ultimately allow anyone to live anywhere on the planet, comfortably and with an internet connection via satellite. It’s something the world has been waiting for,” commented Initialized Capital founder and managing partner, Garry Tan. “They are building a first-of-its-kind hard tech and software platform for the world.”
Jupe’s mission sure isn’t shy, and its founder is a character and a half, but he’s got the passion and mad scientist vibe to pull it off.
“I lived in a dumpster for a year, because I wanted to try to live using 1% of the volume, and 1% of the energy used of the average American home,” Wilson told me in a recent interview, before shifting gears and explaining how he landed with the idea for Jupe: “I have a PhD in environmental science, and I think climate change plays into what we are doing. We don’t have to pour any foundations, we aren’t hooked into the grid or tied to a particular plot of land. Jupe is a step forward in solving the housing crisis that impacts 1.5 billion people annually. Jupe units are 10 times cheaper and faster to deploy than traditional temporary, mobile housing solutions, and ship 15 times more efficiently. On top of that, its unique design provides dignified lodging for everyone — with an internet connection.”
“Garry Tan, who led the investment round, coined the term universal autonomous housing. That’s a really good descriptor of what we are doing here,” Wilson explains, adding that he currently lives in one of the Jupe units in the middle of Soma in San Francisco “For right now, it’s someone that wants to have a very high-design, very comfortable experience in nature, off grid. Longer term as we build out the technology, we will build for people that no longer want to live in the cities, that want to live with a community of folks out on a raw piece of land. From there we expect to widen that time horizon to where people are living in these for weeks, months, ultimately their entire life.”
The current version of the Jupe shelter, the company’s founder describes as an MVP. It’s a sturdy construction with a chassis that houses the core technology of the shelters, with an aluminium exo-skeleton on top. It withstands high winds pretty well, but is primarily aimed at temperate climates, in the high 40°F (5°C) to high 80F (27°C) range.
“The next version will have a hard top on it, so you’ll be able to use it more of a four-season kind of environment,” says Wilson. “With our existing structure, we can’t take heavy snow loads. The ones we had in Colorado, we had to take down in winter. It’s an evolution, though — we are a young company. We do have growth ambitions, though. We built our first Jupe in April of 2020, and we already have around $7 million of revenue booked.
The company wasn’t eager to share its pricing model with us, and Wilson argues that it isn’t relevant anyway; the company is hoping to build out a network of Jupes and place them on plots of lands. They then rent it out, and split the revenue 50/50.
“You have no upfront cost, apart from a small licensing fee. We put it on our booking platform, and we hot-swap them out. If the Jupe on your land gets old, we come and replace it, almost like a car trade-in. We bring in the newest technology for you, and take the old one for another use case,” explains Wilson. “Just add land, that’s our slogan.”
The company’s biggest challenge right now is to attract the right CTO who can take charge of the technical side of things — the company is looking for a technical, “almost founder level CTO” to help build the future of the technology platform.
“They just have to be a good fucking human. There are so many assholes out there, and we need someone truly excellent. We’re probably looking for someone with 15 years experience, who has had exposure both to startups, and managed and grown big teams. Someone who is really strong in the software side, but who has also done a bunch of integration stuff. This is a gadget; a device,” explains Wilson, “It’s going to be a hard find, but we’re going to spend a significant amount of money and equity on this person to get someone who is competitive, and who can help us get to the vision I have.”
It’s a bold vision — the company wants to house a hundred million people.
“I know everyone wants to go to Mars, but let’s not give up on Earth quite yet,” Wilson concludes. “Screw the valuation of the company, this is what I want to do with the rest of my life. I need the best folks in the world who are also good humans. Let’s work on this cause.”