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