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Tech leaders write checks and code to help communities amid coronavirus

From connecting volunteers to buying hospital workers meals to writing $1 million checks, tech leaders like Sheryl Sandberg, Dick Costolo and Paul Graham are stepping up to help out communities during coronavirus.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg teamed up with other tech leaders to create a $6 million fund for the Second Harvest of Silicon Valley food bank.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

On March 13, Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger got a call from a panicked friend who was going to have to close their San Francisco restaurant as the city wrestled with the spread of coronavirus. Two days later, it had closed its doors. To try to stop other restaurants from meeting the same fate, Krieger and his wife, Kaitlyn, spent the weekend building SaveOurFaves.Org, a website that makes it easy to buy gift cards from local businesses.

"It's a seemingly small gesture, but it means that the business gets income today to stay afloat through the crisis," Krieger wrote in a Medium post about the website's launch. "You'll get repaid in burgers/lattes/negronis (and gratitude) when they're back on their feet."


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Tech companies are doing their part to make a lot of essential software free, but tech leaders and venture capitalists are also spending their spare time spinning up tech solutions. Startup founder Radu Spineanu created HelpWithCovid.com to connect people with coronavirus-related projects that need volunteers, which investor Sam Altman says was inspired by an idea from Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz.

Others are opening up their pocketbooks to help the community. On Friday, shipping startup Flexport announced that Paul Graham, the co-founder of Y Combinator (a Flexport backer), donated $1 million to its nonprofit arm, which is shipping medical supplies to the U.S. Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian bought out billboards in Times Square to tell people to stay home. Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg and her fiancé teamed up with other tech leaders like Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, WorkDay co-founder Aneel Bhusri, Intuit's Scott Cook, Nike CEO John Donahoe and Benchmark's Bill Gurley to create a $6 million fund for the Second Harvest of Silicon Valley food bank, she announced Monday. Billionaire investor Chris Sacca said he and his wife are matching $250,000 of donations for teachers in high-need communities who are transitioning their lessons online.

Like Krieger, many tech leaders are focusing their efforts on helping the local small businesses in their community — and restaurants in particular, which are in turmoil. Former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said he is donating $2,000 a night to support 40 family dinners at San Francisco's Che Fico restaurant, which calls him a longtime supporter. Since the announcement on Monday, other people have donated and tripled it to 120 dinners a night, according to an Instagram post by Che Fico's chef and co-owner David Nayfield.


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On Tuesday, a group of venture capitalists, founders and executives (including Redpoint Venture's Ryan Sarver and Art.com's Frank Barbieri) started a new push to help donate restaurant meals to ER and ICU staff at some San Francisco hospitals. Right now, they're asking people to donate $1,000, which is the cost to sponsor a night's meal for about 50 essential hospital workers. They have also made a plea to the tech community to help them work out fractional donations so people can donate less and still support hospital workers. They raised over $200,000 since going public with their simple Google Form three days ago. On Friday, they open-sourced the project so other cities could follow suit.

"Health care workers are in such a tough spot, but the restaurants are fucked unless they get a bailout," said Sarver, who is also an investor in a restaurant group. "If big companies are interested [in sponsoring], we'd be happy to chat with them, too."

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Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

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Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic and founder of WordPress, poses for Protocol at his home in Houston, Texas.
Photo: Arturo Olmos for Protocol

In the early days of the pandemic, Matt Mullenweg didn't move to a compound in Hawaii, bug out to a bunker in New Zealand or head to Miami and start shilling for crypto. No, in the early days of the pandemic, Mullenweg bought an RV. He drove it all over the country, bouncing between Houston and San Francisco and Jackson Hole with plenty of stops in national parks. In between, he started doing some tinkering.

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Image: Peloton; Protocol

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