11 Startups Suddenly Getting Political
The Tech Doctrine
Tech companies and startups are quickly being pulled into the political fray, whether they want to or not.
Just consider the case of Google Home devices, which offer up a fairly contentious answer when asked “Is Obama planning a coup?”
But it’s not all accidental conspiracy-mongering – check out how 11 companies are dealing with the new political realities.
Dating app OK Cupid has been looking to distinguish itself in a crowded marketplace, so what better way than by embracing that big conversational no-no – politics. The company recently added a series of questions to its q-and-a feature that asks how users feel about Trump’s immigration orders, climate change, and more.
After gaining traction as an organizing tool for Howard Dean’s ill-fated 2004 Democratic primary run, Meetup is returning to its political roots. On February 6 the company posted a rousing call to arms on Medium.
“Before today, our company had never taken a partisan stance. It’s not a decision we take lightly… But after Donald Trump’s order to block people on the basis of nationality and religion, a line had been crossed.”
The New York company launched more than 1,000 #Resist Meetup groups to help organize around protests, town halls, and social activism.
“I think it’s pretty clear we’re going to have to play an increasingly more vocal and maybe much more productive role in [political] issues going forward,” Aaron Levie, the CEO of cloud-storage company Box, told Politico in February. Levie has been an outspoken critic of Trump, going so far as to make parody hats for last year’s annual BoxWorks conference. And in a recent conversation with Marketplace he spoke at some length about the dangers in Trump’s immigration ban.
In January, the influential seed accelerator Y Combinator included a 97-year-old company among its class of startups – the ACLU. “If there’s one thing Y Combinator is good at it’s helping organizations scale,” YC president Sam Altman told Forbes. ” I think the ACLU is about to get bigger.” Altman is also funding a site called Track Trump that compares his promises with policy changes.
While the tech giant itself has maintained a relatively neutral stance, officially, Google staffers are making their voices heard. On January 30, coordinating via the hashtag GooglersUnite, more than 2,000 Google employees staged a walkout to protest Trump’s immigration order.
While Etsy, too, has remained largely silent on the political front, the platform is helping get politically-oriented merchandise to protesters. From pussy hats to “Resist” t-shirts, the marketplace has seen a thriving industry in agit-props.
The plant-based food company Hampton Creek has seen its share of internal problems in the last year, so they were more than happy to change the conversation to politics. In September CEO Josh Tetrick took out a full-page ad in The New York Times writing, “Your campaign doesn’t just seem wrong. It feels un-American… Turning away from you is a way to say who we are.”
Tetrick also paid to have the text of his letter projected onto buildings throughout Cleveland, as the Republican National Convention was being held there.
Like some startup Avengers, LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman has teamed up with Zynga founder Mark Pincus to create a new organization called Win the Future (or, WTF). Along with Sierra Club President Adam Werbach, the org hopes “to connect political organizers and shore up progressive candidates and causes ahead of the 2018 midterm and 2020 presidential elections,” according to Politico.
On Tuesday January 24, Bandcamp CEO and founder Ethan Diamond emailed every user to say “…last week’s Executive Order barring immigrants and refugees from seven Middle Eastern countries from entering the United States is not simply immoral, it violates the very spirit and foundation of America.”
And that Friday, Bandcamp donated 100% of its share of proceeds from any sale to the ACLU, along with more than 400 artists and labels.
Whether it was a savvy PR move, a selfless donation, or both, Lyft’s $1 million gift to the American Civil Liberties Union in the wake of Trump’s immigration ban also helped turn the tide against Uber. In an email to its users, the company condemned Trump’s immigration ban, writing, “We stand firmly against these actions, and will not be silent on issues that threaten the values of our community.”
Amid the immigration crisis in late January, Airbnb pledged to provide free housing to refugees and those recently banned from the United States. The company also pledged to donate $4 million over the next four years to the International Rescue Committee, which helps refugees. And in perhaps the most high-profile stand possible, Airbnb also aired a Super Bowl commercial, announcing “no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, we all belong #weaccept”.
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