What It's Like To Work For Harlem Startup PolicyMic


Photo: Duncan Wolfe

Just over one year ago, Chris Altchek was sitting at his desk at Goldman Sachs in Lower Manhattan. It was 2 a.m. when he got an email that eventually led him to quit his investment banking job and entirely focus on his startup, PolicyMic.com, a political news site.The email was from a PolicyMic writer in Tunisia, who was reporting from the ground as the uprising in Tunis escalated. This was the sort of original reporting PolicyMic needed to take off.

Click here to see a typical day at PolicyMic >
Now and his co-founder, Jake Horowitz, formerly a journalist in the Middle East, are in the midst of closing an angel round of financing. Since they officially launched the site this summer, it’s grown between 40 and 80% per month, and now has contributors from all 50 states and 72 countries.

What differentiates it from other political news sites is that it’s more of a debate forum. Commenters are given points (“Mics,” or a form of currency) by other readers, based on how smart their posts are. The more “Mics” you get, the more you can write on the site. This discourages angry commenters, and rewards people with intelligent, substantial posts.

They’ve gotten big names like Condoleezza Rice to write Op-Eds, and posted debates between The Nation and the Cato Institute. They’re also getting more coverage with the 2012 elections coming up.

We caught up with Chris since we last spoke with him in August, and he explained why his team chose Harlem over Silicon Alley: “We’re not influenced by what everyone else is doing. Harlem’s a place with lots of history and a place where we thought we could foster debate and get people involved in media. Plus, it’s a lot cheaper to rent a brownstone here.”

All photos were taken by Duncan Wolfe.

Jake wakes up before 6 a.m. to get a jump on the day's news and start publishing articles. He scans about 35 blogs (including RealClearPolitics, Informed Comment, The Atlantic, & BuzzFeed) and publishes 10 stories submitted by our writers overnight

Our three founders live together on the other two floors of the brownstone, but we've had over 25 different PolicyMic visitors from all over sleeping on the couch during their trips to New York. I'm cooking breakfast here, which routinely feeds 4-6

The daily commute is pretty easy when you live and work in the same place

At 8:30 a.m., the editing team — Jake, Jordan, and Chris Miles — plans for the day's stories. Jake sets the editorial agenda and writes the daily newsletter; Jordan manages our 40 college columnists; and Chris edits every story and controls the social media department

We all share a main table which keeps the workplace fun and casual. I'm reading over a story published with Vice Magazine on Kim Jong-il. On the day he died, we were hosting a discussion with a producer from Vice who had explored North Korean labour camps located in Siberia, Russia

In an open office like this, a private phone call means speaking in the other direction from the rest of the team

Jake and Chris M. walk to lunch up Lenox Ave. We'll take this time to brainstorm and problem solve issues that have come up throughout the day, from small things like tweaking the way comments thread to big issues like making PolicyMic more democratic

Keith, our graphic designer, travels to NYC from Philly about three days a week to work with Martin, our chief technology officer

The view from outside our window. We're hoping to see a lot of new start-ups join us in Harlem soon. The NYC Economic Development Corp. is planning to sponsor an incubator near 125th St.

Jordan gets on Skype with our team of American and Egyptian writers in Cairo. Today they're updating him on the recent protests against the Egyptian Military Council

This is our Wall of Fame, which is filled with success stories for when we need inspiration — like when the site crashes or a writer cancels on us. Today Chris M. added a note about a copy-cat site that emerged, which means we must be doing something right

After a few beers during the holiday party with friends, everyone poses for our Tim Tebow Christmas Card. The team currently includes 6 full-timers, several editorial interns, and more than 600 writers across the globe

Want to know what life would be like at MIT business school?

NOW WATCH: Ideas videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.