That Time a Drunk Driver Ran into Our Office

April 4, 2014

General, Team Adventures

Night. A car drives down California State Route 84, weaving lazily between the reflectors cemented to the road. The driver’s chin jerks up from his chest, eyes locking open. But leaden lids and leaden forehead gravitate again.

The stripes delineating the asphalt trace leftward. The car, which does not automatically heed traffic markings, continues on its path. Its tires slam into the curb, jolting up and onto the concrete sidewalk. The peeling plastic steering wheel jerks counterclockwise, slipping between grasping fingers as the driver is jerked awake. Tires now on the grass find no purchase for maneuvering turns as the car jounces across walkway and lawn, before slamming through the tempered glass wall of a building. The vehicle tears at desks, computer monitors, a founder’s dreams, a miniature refrigerator, viciously crushing all. A water main in the building is shattered, showering the floor of the office. The driver, head spinning from violent g-forces and too many drinks, drifts back to sleep, where he is found by the police.

The next morning, John Freier, CEO of Statricks, receives a call. “John, I have some bad news.”

Statricks outside with a hole in the building


Statricks was doing well. Not “we can absorb a loss of all of our physical assets” well, but “servers are humming, users are happy, lots of promise” well. When digging through the salvage (salvage in the sense of “a ship found at the bottom of the ocean, completely unsuitedfor its original purpose”), John found that everything was either completely smashed to pieces, covered in bits of glass and mud, filled with water, or, most frequently, all of the above. The chair in which he sits, often while coding overnight, had been ominously pinned directly between the car and the hallway’s steel supports. It was only by luck that John wasn’t there that night. He had planned on coding overnight (for the second time that week), but a headache sent him home early for some much needed rest. We were moved to a temporary office down the street while our awesome landlord fixed the building.

Crushed interior of Statricks

Everyone knows that startups are supposed to be risky, but we hadn’t contemplated that one of the risks we would face would be a drunk driver slamming into our office and destroying almost all of our stuff. Statricks is early stage, without institutional investors, so we couldn’t just ignore the event and get back to business.

Normally, one would expect that in the case of a vehicle accident, you simply contact the police, get the person’s insurance information, and file a claim. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The police refuse to release the identity of the driver until their report is filed, a process that can take up to two weeks. During the interim period, you have no idea whether the person even has insurance, and the insurance is only useful if the loss of infrastructure doesn’t disrupt the development, partnership negotiations, and other day-to-day activities that your business needs this week to survive the next six months.

Damaged interior wall

Initially, John was out of sorts. The days were depressing and chaotic. And stressful. With so many existential risks looming, it seemed unjust that we would be put in so precarious a position through events that are not just out of our control but completely random. He has invested years of his life in Statricks to get it to its current point, and a startup requires investment of all of your hopes and dreams, not just some of them. But the only way to move forward was to do whatever it took to save the company.

John is lost

It turned out that the driver had only a minimal legal automobile insurance policy. A meager $5,000 that must be split pro rata between the owner of the building for its damages, a neighboring office, and us. Not nearly enough to recover our lost assets. We had no business insurance, which seems perhaps foolish in retrospect, but the honest assessment is that the risks faced by a startup due to the market, technology, and hiring so vastly override insurable risks that it’s not clear at the moment whether startups should get business insurance as a matter of course.

But events such as this have a way of tempering the will. Statricks is today, three weeks after the accident, if anything more driven to succeed no matter what is required. We have replaced our physical property through the magic of “credit cards,” and we have new announcements coming down the pipe that could make these days seem like a distant memory. Wish us luck!

(The story appearing at the top is a dramatization. We don’t know the true events and have only seen their aftermath.)

By BJ Terry

B.J. is a former investment banker and Berkeley EECS graduate. B.J. enjoys elaborate cooking, effective altruism, and powerlifting. He can be found meditating in between coding sesh's.

View all posts by BJ Terry

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