Last week Hurricane Sandy pummeled through the North East, causing historic damage. Homes and businesses were destroyed and half of Manhattan was without power for most of last week, while some places continue to wait for power.
While the aftermath is horrific, the tech community’s reaction has been truly inspring. I just moved BrandYourself here from Syracuse and even though our new offices were completely out of power, I had a place to work and crash overnight within hours, without even having to ask. Zelkova ventures (one of our investors, @zelkovavc) was just one of many places who took in stranded startups, and although it was tight you couldn’t help but feel the sense of community as you worked together side by side. I don’t think any other professional industry has such a strong sense of community, and it reminds me what makes the startup ecosystem so special.
Important Disclaimer: it’s important to say that being out of power is not nearly as tragic as losing your home or a loved one. My prayers go out there for all those who lost everything and the heroes/volunteers working around the clock to help.
The Storm Hit and Left Half the City Without Power
I don’t want to spend too much time highlighting the damage (just look at these photos) but it’s important to know the Tri-state area has probably never been hit this hard. Lower Manhattan was completely without power, internet, or even cell phone service for most of last week. The subways were completely shut down below 38th street and you still can barely get in or out of Brooklyn.
This was especially bad for startups, since most of their offices and employees are located in lower Manhattan. As you know, the idea of not being able to get serious work done – push code, talk to customers, answer queries, etc. – is not only inconvenient, it can kill your startup.
The Startup Community Immediately Organized to Help Companies In Need
Despite the chaos, I have never seen a professional community come together so quickly. Even before the hurricane subsided, the tech community immediately organized to figure out who needed help and how to get everyone back up and running.
Charlie O’Donnell (@ceonyc), head of Brooklyn ventures, got things going when he started the hashtag #sandycoworking urging people with power and extra desk space to let them know:
From there, Noel Hidalgo (@noneck) created Sandy Coworking Map so offices could post available space and people in need could quickly find them.
People With Power Quickly Became Free Co-working and Charging Stations
- ShareDesk, a company that usually charges to connect people with available office space, placed people all over the city for free. Their site was getting flooded with startups looking for a place to work but most offices on their site were already at capacity. Rather than sit idle, they began manually making calls to anyone they could think of, even companies who weren’t members. Slowly they began finding available places, but rather than post them on their own site, they posted them on Noel’s SandyCoworkingMap. As CEO Kia Rahmani said, “It’s not about profit, it’s about helping other people out, and pooling resources is the fastest way to do that.”
- Some people are even opening up their homes. According to Kia, people were even willing to open up their homes to help, while others set up free charging stations.
- Bigger offices like Headhunter Labs are taking in as many companies as they can fit. Once CEO Josh Holtzman saw O’Donnell’s #sandycoworking tweet he let everyone know he had available space. While Headhunter labs is an incubator for startups in the recruiting space, he housed over 7 NYC startups ranging from mobile apps like GroupMe (group text messaging), Percolate (intelligent content creation platform), and others including Basta, Plaid, Poptip, Readmill, Homply and Gin Lane.
- @davidkyang and @coalition4qns set up a pop up coworking space in Queens
- Silicon Valley Bank provided over 20 desks for people in Manhattan
- Dumbo Startup Lab hosted people all day for those stranded in Brooklyn without power
Even Outside of NYC Startups Are Helping Any Way They Can
Perhaps most inspiring of all has been all the startups outside of NYC who have been eager to help any way they can.
- Airbnb waived its fees for both renters and hosts on all properties located in areas hit by Hurricane Sandy, including NYC and Long Island.
- Zaarly created a pop-up shop that allows users to purchase local services for NYC residents in need.
- Gilt City is donating 30% of all profits from sales on its NYC page to the Red Cross Hurricane Relief.
Most of My Friends (Not in the Tech Industry) Were Sh*t Out of Luck
More than anything else, I was amazed by how the tech industry reacted compared to other industries. Others didn’t even came close. I have friends in every industry from finance to advertising, and most of them were stuck without internet, power or a place to work. Even the stock exchange was closed. They were helpless as day after day passed and more and more work piled up. Most of them weren’t even able to reach their bosses. While I had strangers reaching out making sure I had everything I needed, they were on their own.
I think that’s what made me most proud to be part of the tech community.
Conclusion: We Are Lucky to Work in Such a Caring Community
If nothing else, these stories highlight the truly unique, collaborative culture that define startup culture.
Lately all you seem to hear are debates over who has the better ecosystem (Silicon Valley, NYC, L.A., etc) but I think it underscores something we sometimes take for granted: no matter where you’re located, there is no ecosystem more caring then the tech and startup space. There is no industry where people genuinely want to see each other succeed and look out for each other like ours.
That’s something we should all be proud of.
P.S. Have a story about how the tech community helped you or someone you know through Hurricane Sandy? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.