In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, an event that impacted local businesses up and down the eastern seaboard, we asked Josh McCarter, CEO of GramercyOne, how his company stayed on track to maintain support and continuity of service for those local business customers.
As CEO of a NYC tech company, GramercyOne, based in Lower Manhattan, my company experienced every conceivable impact of the storm. From displaced employees and evacuations to no power at our office for four days, we feel fortunate to be reuniting today and getting back to business.
As Sandy hit on Monday night, millions of gallons of sea water surged over the embankments, engulfing many parts of Lower Manhattan (below 31st Street). In anticipation of some flooding, Con Edison turned off major power grids and the government evacuated areas around Battery Park and Wall Street.
As a result of the power outages and the flooding, the majority of lower Manhattan was without power and was largely inaccessible. At night, it was eerie looking downtown to see complete darkness, then turning uptown to see iconic buildings like the Empire State and the Chrysler Building, lit up as if nothing had happened.
Amidst this chaos emerged a great story of triumph and camaraderie for our GramercyOne team. As a provider of cloud based software, we embraced these systems for our internal infrastructure and despite our office and surrounding area being completely offline and inaccessible, all of our mission critical systems, including our SaaS application used by thousands of businesses, was fully operational. This enabled our team to be online with Gmail and chats, and we were able to re-route calls using Google Voice to employees with power and Internet in the NYC area and to our California office. More importantly, with our sales team working remotely from apartments, coffee shops, gyms, hotel lobbies and (I’ll admit) bars, we ended up closing with a stellar month. Many of our sales people passed their goals in the last hours of Halloween.
Fortunately, our office, which looks on to the World Trade Center, regained power and Internet on Thursday night, so I ventured back to the office on Friday. It was surreal driving down Lexington Ave, from the midtown hotel where my family and I had sought refuge for several days. The entire area below 31st street, including Murray Hill, Union Square and Soho, looked like a ghost town. No stores or restaurants were open and the National Guard had set up emergency headquarters around 25th Street. As I passed, I saw numerous transporters, HumVees, and mobile command centers — presumably coordinating the thousands of troops deployed to Manhattan. Union Square was equally staffed with police cars and ConEdison trucks, covering nearly every inch of the asphalt around the park.
With our sales team working remotely from apartments, coffee shops, gyms, hotel lobbies and (I’ll admit) bars, we ended up closing with a stellar month.
The trip from East 49th Street and Park to Broadway and Cortlandt Street took about 15 minutes at “rush hour” on Friday. Normally, this would be a 30-45 minute commute. The streets were barren, as many cars and taxis were not able to refuel or remained idle after being tattered by the storm. I’ve heard stories from cabbies of 2-3 hour long gas lines and of people’s cars dying while waiting for their next drops of gas. It’s hard not to think back to “Mad Max” when you envision this.
I was fortunate to arrive to the office on Friday and find everything in working order. Our IT systems were operational, along with our phones. We only had 20 people (out of 100) in the office, as many were still dealing with no power or access in to the city. We all shared many stories of our experience over the prior days, which ran the gamut from childhood homes being completely destroyed and parents displaced to others who enjoyed TV and wine as the storm barreled through.
Today, despite our office being officially open, we anticipate that many of our team will not be able to make it in. Contrasting to our office in California where everyone drives their car to work, about 95% of our New York employees (including myself) take subways or trains to the office. As of Sunday night, most of these were not connected yet with downtown. We likely will continue to have some people work remotely until they are able to make it to the office in a reasonable amount of time. As for me, I just filled my bike tires with air and plan on riding to work until the blue line is back in service.
As things start to return to a new normal, my goal with my family and with my company is to find a way to help those businesses and individuals who will be impacted for weeks and months to come, sharing some of our good fortune and hopefully making a difference in their recovery.