Seasteading Startup Looking for a Good Cruise Ship

You can get a pretty good deal on a used cruise ship these days.

That probably wasn’t the core motivating factor behind Blueseed, a very early-stage startup that’s looking to set up a sort of giant live-work ship facility in international waters off the coast of Silicon Valley.  Its founders, committed seasteaders, envision creating a giant floating hub where entrepreneurs from outside the U.S. can build their startups and ferry in to network on shore.

Blueseed, in the process of raising seed funding, is the latest manifestation of the seasteading movement, which seeks, according the mission statement of Seastading.org, “to further the establishment and growth of permanent, autonomous ocean communities, enabling innovation with new political and social systems.” Though founders say the Blueseed isn’t affiliated with a political ideology, seasteading is a popular movement among libertarians, including Peter Thiel, who is to date the startup’s only named backer.

It’s a concept that, like many startup plans, sounds vaguely insane at first. But after a conversation a few days ago with two of Blueseed’s founders, Dario Mutabdzija and Dan Dascalescu, I walked away with the impression that, while still vaguely insane, it is a concept with some intriguing economics.

Here are the basics of the plan: First, get a giant ship with capacity for say, 1,000 or so people. Outfit it for entrepreneurs who plan to both live there and work there. Moor it in it the Pacific Ocean, in international waters, a short ferry ride from San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Get a ferry operator to shuttle residents to shore and back. Then, convince smart techie entrepreneurs who lack a visa to work in the United States to pay $1,200 to $3,000 a month to live and work onboard.

One thing that I found particularly interesting were the prices Mutabdzija and Dascalescu cited for used cruise ships. Because cruise lines are under fierce competitive pressure to look sleek and up-to-date, and because the trend today is for bigger and bigger ships, there’s not too much demand for older, smaller ones. They estimate a decent one in their target size range could be had for around $15 million (about a third the price of this house in San Francisco.)

My scrolling for used cruise ships unearthed a 1983 model, with capacity for 620 people, selling for $1.8 million,  a former floating hotel with 190 cabins, for 1.4 million Euros, or a fancier one, with its own cinema, shopping center, and pools, with capacity for about 1,000 people for $30 million.

Blueseed has drawn up a series of concept vessels, too, including the one pictured on the left, pitching the ship as a “Googleplex of the sea.” Other draws for entrepreneurs, they say, will be the ability to work 12 miles from Silicon Valley without a U.S. work visa, a daily ferry to and from the mainland, and accommodations to suit a variety of budgets.  With a business and tourist visa much easier to get than a work visa, entrepreneurs can come on shore of a total of 180 days a year, founders say. However, they are not allowed to work for a wage, so paid work will have to be done aboard ship.

So why not just set up a startup in Mumbai or Beijing or Berlin, and jet in to Silicon Valley a few times a year to schmooze and seek funding?

Mutabdzija says it doesn’t work like that.

“It’s very important to have physical proximity when it comes to entrepreneurship,” he says. There’s a reason why Google or HP can grow from Stanford garage startups to giant technology companies. While talent matters, so does being in the right place.

But entrepreneurs won’t be able to board ship just yet. Optimistically, Mutabdizija says, the goal would be to launch in 2013. In the meantime, he says: “We need some time to solve some of these logistical and other challenges.”

Blueseed also drew up new designs for what it’s preferred craft might look like, which are viewable in the slideshow below:

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[slide title=”Hull”]

[slide title=”Terraces”]

[slide title=”Side view”]

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