In March 2011, I remember that night, I was about to go to bed and get ready for a trip the next day with my wife. As I was brushing my teeth, about to shut off the tube, I saw the breaking news on Twitter about a major earthquake near Japan. I turned on the TV and, as soon as I saw the location of the epicenter and the magnitude estimates, I knew what was going to follow. I stayed up nearly all night watching those horrific images and videos roll in, and as someone who has old friends in Japan (and a deep love for the culture), it was a really, really sad experience.
Over the next few week, I was invited to a fundraiser by a local Valley group focused on Japan called the Kezai Society. I’d never heard of them before, but what was great is that everyone went around the room to talk about their connection to Japan — and many people in the room were actually in Tokyo during the rumbling. Within a few minutes, the discussion turned to what could we all — everyone in the room that day — brainstorm as help we could offer to Japan in addition to money. A great discussion ensued, and I wrote about it here.
As it happened, some startups were also trying to help by making slight platform tweaks to lend a hand. I wrote a post trying to get more of the Valley to think about the topic, and the response was great. I know that Airbnb tried to help from thousands of miles away, obviously Twitter was really important for on-the-ground communications and coordination, and kits were handed out to let Sendai earthquake refugees create ad-hoc cell networks through mesh routers.
Over the past few days, I’ve been inspired by some of these startups again (some run by friends) who have suspended parts of their main focus to help those affected by Sandy, such as:
- Airbnb, making it easier for the displaced to find shelter.
- thredUp, an online used clothing exchange, teaming up with Red Cross to funnel clothing donations.
- HotelTonight is waiving fees for hotels booked through their site, funneled to Red Cross.
- Many technology companies using their homepage to encourage Red Cross donations.
I’d be very interested to learn about more startups that can help with shelter, clothing, and food and how they’re addressing this. As someone who grew up where Sandy hit, and where my family lives (and is fine), I can tell from the imagery that this will take weeks (and in some cases, months) to shovel out of, and the economic impact for many families will be catastrophic. Thanks for reading and sharing your ideas, too, and I’m really eager to hear about other corporate acts of kindness during these times.