The images of devastation in the wake of Sandy are overwhelming, especially for a NYC gal who only could imagine such wreckage in some distant city with a history of floods or hurricanes. To see such devastation in NYC seemed inconceivable.
So as NYC still reels from the trauma of Sandy on the visible landscape, there is another wave of destruction that is ready to wash up on the shores of our city like the carcasses of cars and houses washing up on shores months after the tsunami had struck. Amidst the wrecked homes and bridges that dominate the news, the wreckage that may wash up on our business shores are the wreckage of start-ups across the Tri-State area.
The start-up community here is especially vulnerable to volatile economic fluctuations because of a tougher investor-type here on East Coast compared to the West Coast's more laid-back investor culture. This is a "bottom-line investor city" leaving many of us start-ups under-capitalized and far more vulnerable in general.
As a result, we East Coast start-ups have become experts at juggling the uniquely weird combination of bootstrapping meets high-flying VC institutional fundraising. In the best of times, even a small kink in the system can disrupt our juggling act. Superstorm Sandy quite literal tossed the balls out the window along with the window after it.
In the storm's aftermath, the impact amongst start-ups began to be felt immediately as violently as a stone thrown into a calm river. The first ripple of devastation was the havoc caused to the many start-ups ensconced in outlier parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn -- the areas that got washed out most severely. Many struggled to find temporary spaces not easily procured in the devastation. Those of us that had power, organized to house our beleaguered colleagues enabled by companies like PivotDesk (kudos to them!).
As the weeks wore on, new evidence of the next ripple of devastation continued to rock the budding start-up community by disrupting most fundraising and sales activities; a hardship for all kinds of businesses -- possibly fatal for us chronically under-capitalized start-ups.
Our start-up story as a result of Sandy is typical. Our committed funding sources had to back out because of the very personal need to rebuild their homes destroyed by the storm. Worse, outreach to other funding options here on the East Coast is also significantly hampered since many investors are also focused on immediate post-storm recovery requirements -- not making investments. This is an outlier event no company could have planned for -- much less a start-up. For many of us on the very financial fringe, this is devastating. There's no assistance program or safety net to soften the blow. We are on our own in every sense of the word.
While one might expect New York start-ups to exhibit their well-earned reputation for toughness laced with a top note of kvetching, there's no kvetching going on at all. In fact, quite the opposite. A pervasive attitude of gratitude and faith is running deep through the start-up community.
Across the community, there's no resentment if an investor has to shift their funding priority. There's no complaining about how hard it is to keep a venture funded. Instead, consistently, all of us realize how much worse things could have been. We all realize that despite the intense pressure cooker that is a start-up, all we really feel is gratitude that our friends and family came out whole especially given how many close calls there were. We are confronted with a new perspective that there are some losses that could never ever be made whole again.
As Thanksgiving approaches, in a post-Sandy world, the East Coast start-up scene is hopeful despite the dire situation because we are riding on the wings of gratitude and faith. Even the wake of the destruction - or maybe because of it -- we will fly high. Just watch us.
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