When John Lemp, the co-founder and CEO of Revcontent, learned that Hurricane Irma was on track to hit the west coast of Florida, he decided to convert his office into a shelter. The 150-employee Sarasota advertising firm, which brought in $183 million in 2016 sales, opened its doors to more than 100 people and 50 animals over the past weekend, while also offering up food and supplies.
Lemp is among the many Florida entrepreneurs working to support their battered local communities, while also weighing the impact to their bottom lines. Hurricane Irma, which made landfall as a Category 4 storm in the Florida Keys on Saturday, was not initially projected to reach as far north as Sarasota, Tampa, and Daytona Beach; as a result, many residents in those cities were caught unprepared.
"A lot of people were scrambling at the last minute as the local shelters filled up," Lemp tells Inc. (Revcontent was No. 215 on the 2017 Inc. 5000 list and Inc. is one of the company's clients.)
The offices of Revcontent reached full capacity by Saturday morning, thanks to an invitation on Facebook by the executive team that went viral. Several of the company's employees were among the group that found safety in the building, which is equipped with storm windows. There, those displaced passed the time by watching movies and playing video games and even beer pong. Meanwhile, other Revcontent employees traveled across the Sarasota area to board up the homes of 10 co-workers that were expected to be in harm's way.
As of Monday morning, Irma had left as many as 6 million Florida homes without power, according to FEMA. In addition to Florida, the hurricane caused severe damage throughout the Caribbean, as well as parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
"This is definitely the scariest storm I've seen in my lifetime," Lemp says, nodding to structural damages and power losses across Sarasota. "I've seen oak trees that have been around for 100 years uprooted and thrown."
The perils of South Florida
Some Florida business owners say they felt well prepared for Irma after experiencing previous severe storms. Stu Sjouwerman, a Dutch expat and the founder of KnowBe4, a cybersecurity firm based in Clearwater, learned the hard way that having a physical data center can be risky. When hurricanes in the late 1990s struck the Tampa Bay area, his previous company, Sunbelt Software, was forced to haul power generators over to the data center just to keep operations going.
But thankfully this time around, his company's data is housed on remote servers. While Sjouwerman anticipates that the company may experience some problems as a result of lost productivity, he's relieved the situation didn't turn out to be more dire. "This particular hurricane has turned out to be the best-case scenario," he says.
Adam Scott Riff agrees with that assessment of the storm's severity. The CEO of Exact Match Media, a 5-employee tech startup based in Boca Raton, urged his employees to work from home as early as Wednesday of last week. Although many have lost power, Riff says he hasn't seen much of a dropoff in productivity, as staffers continue to communicate and work via their mobile phones. "Being in South Florida, unfortunately, you're kind of used to this," Riff says. "We went through Wilma 10 years ago, and we were out of power for 10 days. So I think everyone took [Irma] seriously, and was very prepared."
For many local businesses, the frustrating aspect of the situation is that they still don't know the extent of the damage from the storm. Riff says he hasn't been able to assess the state of the Exact Match Media office, though his worry is tempered somewhat because it's located in a high-rise building.
For Howard Yeh, the co-founder and CEO of Healthcare.com, the uncertainty is harder to bear. Yeh's company, which generated nearly $17 million in revenue last year, is based in New York City but has seven Florida-based workers. "The power was going out intermittently on Saturday and it's completely out for both of our folks who are still there," Yeh tells Inc. He hasn't heard from one of those employees since Sunday, he says.
Clarification: Adam Scott Riff said he does not know the extent of the damage to Exact Match Media's office, but he did not mean that he is unsure whether it is still standing.