The Revolution

Beta Test! New York Startups Think Occupy Wall Street Has a Bad Pitch

Zuccotti Park, the Occupy Wall Street protest's headquarters. (flickr.com/photos/shankbone/6183443813/)

On the Saturday that thousands of protesters marched to Times Square, the brass bells of the New York Stock Exchange rang out at noon–signifying the takeover of the trading floor by the New York startup community. Companies like Etsy, Meetup and ZocDoc were handing out t-shirts and branded ping pong balls to fresh-faced engineers in backpacks who circled the screen-filled roundabouts while munching the complimentary sandwiches provided for SA500, a Silicon Alley recruiting event.

The choice of venue could be interpreted as symbolic aggression. New York startups compete fiercely with the finance sector for programmers and MBAs–and while they can’t match Goldman’s salaries, they do make the social argument. Knewton wants to transform education, Sulia wants to reinvent news, and the mobile payments app Venmo wants to replace credit cards. Meetup is “starting a local community revolution”; Etsy’s mission is to “empower people to change the way the global economy works.” The lofty talk of startups is not unlike the rhetoric of the protesters, who are advocating–albeit vaguely–the most radical agenda of any political movement in recent memory.

“I see them as very, very similar,” said Scott Heiferman, co-founder and CEO of Meetup.com, who orchestrated a field trip to the protest after a recent board meeting. “Most of the successful startup people are out to make a dent in the universe and change the world in some way, and that’s what they’re trying to do downtown. I can’t speak to the people who are just hanging around for the free pizza, but there are people downtown who are really fired up to see some sort of systemic change in culture.”

But while they’re definitely talking about the protest, many techies aren’t sold. The movement has high engagement (and revenue!) but the brand, the marketing and the roadmap need work. Read More

The People's PayPal

Scammers Get Into the Occupy Wall Street Fundraising Game [UPDATED]

Fake?

The Occupy Wall Street protest in New York has only two official venues for donations–well, three if you count Bitcoin–but there are more than 200 online accounts claiming to raise money for the occupation. Some of those are affiliated groups or helpfully-minded syndicates–legal defense funds, generator funds, food funds, to personal fundraising to get to an occupation (transportation), and “scholarship” funds, for occupations across the country. But some of them are looking like scams.

Betabeat discovered an account on WePay.com, “Occupy Wall Street Fund,” which purported to be raising money for the organizers behind the New York City protest. One of the original organizers, Victoria Sobel, told us that the account looks fake–the fund claims to be raising money for things like cell phone service and medication refills, which the protest doesn’t pay for, she said. [UPDATE: This fund is legit, Betabeat discovered, after a protester got back to our request for contact. The money went to the group that runs the OccupyWallSt.org site. But there are others, including a WePay account attempting to raise $10,000, she said, that are dubious.]

Organizers plan to address the problem and try to get rid of some of the scammy accounts, she said, but it’s not being addressed just yet. “We’re actually facing eviction at the moment, so right now it’s not our top priority,” she said, referring to the city’s effort to clear the park tomorrow. “But protecting the interests of our very generous donors is very high on our list of priorities.” Read More