Jason Van Anden

Jason Van Anden, Founder and CEO of Quadrant 2

“With art, I viewed it as a gift from one person to another in a passive way. So I pursued art to contribute to that ecosystem.”

Pronouns: He, Him, His

Meet Jason. Jason is an artist, inventor, social entrepreneur, software developer, and a pioneering “apptivist.” He is the founder and CEO of Quadrant 2, which at 22 years old, is one of the world’s oldest tech companies. While the company began with a commercial focus — creating software for brands such as Tiffany and AmericanExpress across mobile, consumer electronics, robotics, enterprise, and machine vision — with “I’m Getting Arrested” Jason created the world’s first mobile Panic Button. Subsequently, he and Quadrant 2 have worked with a range of social justice organizations to help empower citizens and activists, including non-unionized workers, victims of police misconduct, as well as immigrants facing down ICE agents. Jason also teaches a class on social entrepreneurship at Queens College and occasionally at CUNY with Doug Rushkoff. You can reach Jason via email and follow him on the Twitter machine.

How Did He Get Into This Work?

“With art, I viewed it as a gift from one person to another in a passive way. So I pursued art to contribute to that ecosystem.”

Jason chose art over political science while in college. After graduation, he consistently showed work in galleries – exploring emotion and touch through art – and had modest success but was unable to make a sustainable living. With the launch of Quadrant 2 in 1996, his commercial clients provided him with financial security and stability.

In 2011, Jason was home co-parenting a two-year-old, frustrated by his limited participation in Occupy Wall Street. After a friend alerted him that his girlfriend was in danger of being arrested while protesting, in four hours Jason hacked together “I’m Getting Arrested!” – which alerts friends and family that you’re in the process of being carted away. Jason was stunned by the viral adoption when it was released: “The impact and contribution felt more valuable than anything I had done before. It was closer to a calling in a way than what I did with my art. People felt so happy to have this tool; It served as a symbol for what was happening. It became the first mobile Panic Button.”

It was a game-changer, representing the beginning of a pivot for Quadrant 2. When the New York Civic Liberties Union (NYCLU) asked Jason for an app to hold police accountable for Stop and Frisk, Jason considered that an African-American reaching into their pockets for a cell phone might be dangerous for their health, and instead created the first of many “bystander apps” — where onlookers could capture video testimony and share it with the world. After the success of Stop and Frisk Watch, Jason knew that Quadrant 2 could specialize in this work: “It seemed there was a way to make the social good sustainable.“

Throughout the last 5 years, these “Mobile Justice” apps have been downloaded half a million times. In addition to I’m Getting Arrested and Stop & Frisk Watch, Quadrant 2 has pushed out the following:

  • WorkIt! was created for Civic Hall member OUR Walmart to support a network for 1.3 million non-unionized Walmart employees. Acting as a “virtual union rep,” Workit! makes use of IBM’s Watson AI Engine and a group of human experts to get quick answers to complicated questions — including dictum’s from Walmart’s employee manual — using natural language.
  • MigraCam enables immigrant communities to record encounters with ICE Officers. This was released in 2017 for the ACLU’s Center for Border Rights.
  • Jotto is Quadrant 2’s most recent release. It’s a platform-agnostic video documentation app which enables activists to instantly record and send videos to a secure private channel using their Android or Apple devices. Here’s an archive of a presentation Jason and his team offered at Civic Hall earlier this year.

Quadrant 2 still works with blue chip commercial clients. “While we’d prefer if all our work was in the social good space, we’d like to think that this work helps with the production quality.”

How Did He Come To Civic Hall?

“Everyone I met in the social justice realm suggested I meet Micah and Andrew, Civic Hall’s co-founders. But for a long, while it seemed that no one that I knew had an actual connection to either of them.”

Meanwhile… Jason was LinkedIn stalking Douglas Rushkoff. With 36 friends in common, Jason punted and reached out to his idol. Doug’s response was beyond generous: “I know who you are. I’ve been following you since Occupy. Why don’t I interview you on my podcast?” (Stunned to be asked for an interview by a hero, Jason admits to listening to all of Doug’s books on Audible for a full two weeks before sitting down with him.)

Soon after this TeamHuman podcast, Jason heard from Doug: “I’m going to hook you up with a bunch of people.” Micah was one of the four who was cc’ed.

“I met Micah at Civic Hall and was bedazzled by what they had built, and soon moved Q2 to CH from Brooklyn. Moving here is probably one of the best ideas we’ve ever had.”

“What’s also great about Civic Hall is the mutual elevator pitches. Twelve floors are kind of perfect; enough time for people to swap.” Jason met Radical Health founder Ivelyse Andino during a ride, and now they’re in the midst of collaborating!

What Projects Is He Working On?

Last year Jason was asked by media theorist and Civic Hall member, Douglas Rushkoff, to team-teach a course on Social Justice Entrepreneurship at Queens College (CUNY). This fall, he’s teaching a studio course, Digital Hacktivism, where students bring concepts from the idea stage to full proposals and prototypes. “We’re applying lean product methodology and startup jargon creating something for social good.” The best projects will be invited to participate in Quadrant 2’s new QC technology incubator.

What is He Reading?

Like many of us, Jason’s picked up a copy of Bob Woodward’s Fear, but he’s also recently read the acclaimed children’s book, Knuffle Bunny Free, by Mo Willems, and deems it inspiring.

What Is His Ask of Civic Hall?

In a sense, just as Micah Sifry has described the fight for Resistance donor dollars as a “Hunger Games”; a theater of war climate threatens to invade the apptivist space. While Quadrant 2 is a pioneer and understands that competition fosters innovation, Jason has noticed that some social justice orgs are paying 7 figures for copycats of I’m Getting Arrested and retaining advertising agencies as developers. “It’s inefficient and incentivizing the wrong figures. We need to support the developers in the space.”

Jason is committed to scheduling office hours for members to describe their challenges and discuss what sorts of technology solutions could be deployed: “If you figure out what your limits are, you can figure out your boundaries. We can take a hacktivist approach to try to sort out your MVP. Just as WorkIt! started within Facebook Groups, Groupon began as an email list, and Airbnb was initially a listing on Craigslist. One of our strategies – which has evolved organically – is that when we come up with an idea we look for an appropriate partner. I have all of this stuff on the shelf — since the election — already made. We’re ready to help everyone.”