Silicon Valley's Tech Elite Are Spending Millions To Live Like Kings At Burning Man, The Savage Desert Festival

Alyson Shontell

Burning Man is a 50,000-person event in the middle of the desert filled with music, strange outfits, and drugs.

It is also a favorite event for many important people in Silicon Valley: CEOs Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Larry Page have all attended. Mark Zuckerberg helicoptered in once, too.

Now, some of the tech elite have decided they don't want to fry in a normal tent without air conditioning. They don't want to use nasty outhouses. And they don't want to feast on snack food all week. So they're paying to create premium services and build fenced-in rich-people zones with RVs, The New York Times' Nick Bilton reports.

Here's some of what rich techies are spending their money on:

  • "Sherpas," who cater to their every need throughout the week.
  • A sherpa tells Bilton what the experience like: "Lavish RVs are driven in and connected together to create a private forted area, ensuring that no outsiders can get in. The rich are flown in on private planes, then picked up at the Burning Man airport, driven to their camp and served like kings and queens for a week. (Their meals are prepared by teams of chefs, which can include sushi, lobster boils, and steak tartare.)"
  • One camp detailed by Bilton says models get flown in for free, but every other member has to pay $25,000 to join. Collectively, the guests pay about $2 million for the weekend. The camp has "the craziest chefs in the world," with AC and beds.
  • Another camp promoted by The Key boasts Wi-Fi, electricity, water, and chefs.
  • "Luxury" restroom trailers are being brought in, like the ones used on movie sets.

Business Insider's Aly Weisman went to Burning Man last year and stayed in a tent, but she snuck inside one of the more luxurious camps. Inside, she found a pool table:

"Anyone who has been going to Burning Man for the last five years is now seeing things on a level of expense or flash that didn’t exist before," a burner tells Bilton. "It does have this feeling that, 'Oh, look, the rich people have moved into my neighborhood.'"

Dustin Moskovitz, cofounder of Facebook, has been to Burning Man for five years and counting. He wrote a blog post detailing some of what the tech elite does at Burning Man and asking those who are less wealthy not to judge.

"I smugly read about startups 'invading' Burning Man ... and a reference to Mark Zuckerberg 'helicoptering in to serve grilled cheeses.' I’ll go ahead and confirm the rumor, since it’s clearly out there now anyway," Moskovitz wrote after reading The Verge. "The implication in the article is that he paid into a turnkey experience, but I know he was a guest in the camp I built and no money changed hands. Along with its other inhabitants, he helped pitch his own tent."

Moskovitz believes Burning Man is for everyone, from plumbers to millionaires who want to live lavishly for the week.

"The animosity towards wealthy burners is supposedly based on the concept that they are violating the core principle of Radical Self-Reliance," he writes. "Burning Man is for absolutely everyone. Everyone. That’s what Radical Inclusion means."

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