Business

Hurricane Sandy is no match for New York City’s tech startups

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Hurricane Sandy is bearing down on the Eastern Seaboard as I write this. It’s got New York City right in front of it.

The National Weather Service is forecasting torrential rains, power outages, and widespread flooding. The storm will pick up this evening, and vent with full fury beginning tomorrow morning. The New York City transit is preparing to shut down.

Here’s why “Frankenstorm,” as residents are calling it, is not flustering New York City’s tech entrepreneurs.

In the past, extreme weather conditions like these have halted business: Mom-and-Pop stores close their doors, and large corporations issue warnings to employees to stay at home. However, through the adoption of cloud-based management systems, social enterprise tools and robust servers, tech founders are finding ways to surge ahead.

The vibe in the city is a mixture of anxious and couldn’t-care-less,” said Kathryn Minshew, cofounder of the digital media startup geared toward professional women, The Daily Muse. “A lot of people who’d previously experienced Hurricane Irene were very lackadaisical up until today, but are now starting to take this more seriously.”

With competitors down, it’s a boost in business

For H.Bloom, the flower delivery startup, these “fire drills” as cofounder Sonu Panda refers to hurricanes Irene and Sandy, are par for the course.

Panda (on the right, featured with cofounder Bryan Burkhart), who is currently in Manhattan preparing the disaster plan, needs to balance safety with the company’s customer satisfaction guarantee.

“We’re not a digital media startup where everyone can just work from home until the whole thing blows over,” he said. Although many of the operations staff will remain at home, for those that are engaged in the processing, design, loading and delivery of the flowers, it’s business as usual.

By leveraging the latest cloud-based, geo-location technologies to monitor the weather and the movement of trucks up and down the coast, the company will continue to deliver for as long as it can, far surpassing expectations. If a shipment of flowers cannot be delivered, its customer relationship management (CRM) system will automatically notify customers to expect a delay.

“During Hurricane Irene, we were delivering when the U.S. postal service was shut down,” said Panda.

If anything, the storm is a marketing boost for the startup, and an opportunity to showcase its technological prowess.

Hooray! More time to code

For small teams, it’s an opportunity to hunker down and devote time to product. “We’re using this time to sneak in a few extra hours of productivity when no-one is looking,” said cofounder Jana Trantow of JoinFun.

For companies based in Brooklyn, an evacuation zone, technical types are already congregating in the nearest safe haven.

“Three of our engineers live together and plan to work for the next three days, iterating on any feedback we receive,” said Reuben Doetsch, cofounder of Brooklyn-based startup, Sportaneous. To prepare for the storm, Doetsh told me he bought them all the essentials: “bedding, flashlights, and a generator so we can still code.”

With face-to-face meetings cancelled, entrepreneurs view this as an opportunity to get things done.

“We actually built our office to be a lot like an apartment, so myself and a few others are crashing there for a couple of days,” recalled Jason L. Baptiste, CEO of New York startup, OnSwipe. “I see the hurricane as an opportunity to be heads down and get a lot of work done over the next couple of days.”

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, a handful of startups went the extra mile by opening offices in perpetually sunny locations. ZocDoc, the New York-based health tech company, opened an office in Pheonix to be geographically isolated and avoid power disruptions.

They have a “business as usual” disaster plan

Not ready to open a second office on the West Coast? New York’s most well-prepared entrepreneurs from startups like Mirror, a Flatiron-based social discovery tool, Tip or Skip, the mobile shopping game, and OMG Foodie shared their finely-tuned disaster relief plans:

  • Re-route servers: According to reports, power outages are to be expected! For the tech entrepreneurs that have experienced those dreaded Amazon outages (last week, Reddit, Foursquare and others were down last week due to a performance problem in Northern Virginia), it’s always a smart contingency plan to roll over servers to the West Coast. “That way, at the very least, you’ll have a web presence,” said Doetsch.
  • Set guidelines for work at home.  “Productivity matters at every business, especially startups.  If our team has power, they will be working,” said Daniel Mattio, cofounder of Mirror. Mattio plans to remain in the office during the storm to coordinate workflow — he told me that during Hurricane Irene, he communicated with his Pennsylvania-based CTO on Skype (“I was watching his hotel room service get delivered while Irene was raging in the background on my end”) and asked for updates from the staff via GroupMe every three hours.
  • Charge your devices and buy a few generators: “We hope to utilize backup generators and tether off our phone as a worse case scenario,” said Gary Reloj, CEO of OMG Foodie. “I’m home charging every single device I have,” added Julie Fredrickson, CEO of Manhattan-based PlayAPI, who emailed me while stuck on a checkout line at Whole Foods.
  • Stock up on food! “Myself, I’ve stocked up on gallons of water, Korean ramen, and Mac & Cheese,” Reloj advised. The team is finalizing its three-day work plan at the office with a hard-stop at 5pm to ensure that everyone can get home before the MTA shuts down at 7pm ET. Just hours ago, the office of the Manhattan Borough President issued a warning to New Yorkers to purchase plenty of bottled water, granola bars, medications, a first-aid kit, pet care, child care, and other non-perishable food stuffs. Not a native New Yorker? Expect the unexpected. Peter Shankman, founder of HARO, made a food-run to ensure his staff wouldn’t starve. “I’m prepared for Sandy doesn’t mean I have take-out menus. Go shopping tonight and give the delivery guys a break so they don’t have to deliver tomorrow in a hurricane,” he said.

Cancelled tech events

  • The Google Android Kick-off Event: As we reported this weekend, Google had planned Monday’s event in an evacuation zone. Learn more here.
  • D: Dive Into Mobile: The conference, organized by tech blog AllThingsD, has been postponed until further notice. The conference hotel, the Ritz Carlton, is giving full refunds and waiving cancellation fees.
  • The Big Apple Smackdown: VentureBeat’s own Ping Pong and networking event has also been cancelled until the storm blows over.

New Yorkers, you are nothing if not resilient!

We are updating this list as we learn more. 

Top image via Shutterstock


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