Frankenstorm

NYC Startups Batten Down the Hatches for Sandy

Who's afraid of a little superstorm?
 NYC Startups Batten Down the Hatches for Sandy

Scary sky

With mass transit closed and dangerous storm surges set to wallop the city, New York startups aren’t messing around when it comes to hurricane prep. Most, like Usablenet, Kickstarter, HowAboutWe and SideTour, are urging employees to work from home due to the closure of the MTA system.

“We have a simple rule of thumb that if the subways are shut down, the office is closed and people can work from home,” Onswipe CEO Jason Baptiste told Betabeat over email. “A few of us are actually crashing here over the weekend – myself and a few engineers. We built the place to be like a home, so it’s a great place to be stuck for a few days :).”

“For those that are staying here, we have ample food, beverage, and entertainment. More iPads than flashlights,” he added.

Hey, we’re sure there’s a flashlight app.

“The offices are closed; we’re working from home,” a developer at Etsy told Betabeat. “We put the Brits on point for Ops, though, in case the power goes out.”

Many startups are also thanking their lucky stars that their data centers are out of the line of the storm. “Usablenet’s platform is cloud-based and none of its U.S. data-centers are likely to be affected,” a rep for the company told Betabeat.

“We’re on Amazon Web Services, but we’re in different data centers for redundancy,” Mr. Baptiste said. “We’re not worried about downtime.”

Of course, startups with businesses that revolve around reliable delivery services are rolling out massive contingency plans to combat the bad weather and get the goods to their customers on time. H. BLOOM, a subscription flower service that delivers luxurious bouquets monthly to homes and corporations, is well-versed in the weather troubles heaped upon delivery startups.

“Unlike a lot of other technology businesses in New York, a pretty big component of our business is dependent on touching tangible products, receiving it, making something beautiful out of it and then actually delivering it, so there’s no question that a situation like this has an impact on the business,” said Sonu Panda, COO of H. BLOOM. “The thing that is comforting to us is having external things impacting our operations is a regular occurrence. We have a bit of a scale–like if President Obama visits the U.N. and eastern Manhattan is turned into a traffic mess, that has an impact. This is a much more significant event and requires a lot more preparation, but in general we’re sort of used to these fire drills.”

 NYC Startups Batten Down the Hatches for Sandy

Mr. Panda

“We got through hurricane Irene just fine,” he added.

By beefing up operations workers and having them start their shifts earlier, H. BLOOM intends to fulfill all delivery requests tomorrow. “We’ve got teams that will be getting in as early as 3:30 a.m. tomorrow morning to be able to facilitate deliveries before the storm hits New York,” Mr. Panda said. “So the expectation is that everyone will be as delighted as they normally would be. In the instances in which deliveries can’t be done, we’ll be communicating early and often about what our alternative plans are.”

Seamless, the popular food delivery service that keeps many New Yorkers from starving on a daily basis, is also working hard to ensure that users not only receive their orders in a timely fashion, but that they also know what to expect when ordering delivery in inclement weather. Likewise, the company is working with those restaurants who request it to close down their ordering service on Seamless during the storm.

“We have the ability to customize neighborhood delivery times so that our customers are able to see most of the times with relatively accurate estimates,” Seamless’ VP of marketing, Ryan Scott, told Betabeat. “It’s not always perfect just because of the thousands of restaurants we have across the country, but we do our best to look at the neighborhoods that are going to be mostly impacted and use those data points to come up with a plan of attack.”

Mr. Scott said that users ordering in areas affected by the storm will also soon see a message crop up when they navigate to Seamless, letting them know about possible delivery delays.

We wondered if the site had seen any spikes in service over the past few days as New Yorkers brace for the storm, but Mr. Scott said that data wasn’t available yet. “Without seeing the data until tomorrow I wouldn’t know if tonight produced some sort of a record number, but I’m sure it will be a good day,” he added.

Of course, Seamless also urges you delivery lovers to tip your deliveryman well–it’s probably not very fun to brave a superstorm just to bring you some pizza.

Follow Jessica Roy on Twitter or via RSS. jroy@observer.com