Decision MediaWorks

Political Startups: Part II

So you want to launch a political tech startup? Well, there are a few things you should know about what companies in the political sector need to be successful.

Before we talk about those items however, we need to discuss one quick item. You need a clear problem that your company solves and it needs to be a problem that consultants, party staff, political committees or candidates see as a major issue.

Let me restate, your company must be solving one of the major problems people who control political money want solved. How do you find out what these problems are? Simple, you go and interview everyone you think could be a customer and learn every darn thing you can about their business.

Only after you have done several dozen of these interviews and determined what problems people will pay to solve are you ready to start thinking about product.

Once you’ve got a demo ready and have some pilots in place, here are the three items that make a political tech startup successful. By successful, I mean you have something that scales and not a traditional consulting model business (See this post).

1. Customer Base – Every business needs customers but the insestuious nature of political circles makes penetrating the market exceedingly difficult. You must be known and trusted before anyone will buy from you. This is the reason why there are so few consultants or products in Florida politics from outside the state.

2. Data – Campaigns are essentially marketing operations and marketing operations are fueled by data. Your company can win with data by providing more/unique data, making the data easier for customers to use/collect or providing better insights into data.

3. Platform – The great thing your company provides should be available for “self-service” by your customers. Your platform is the vehicle by which customers use your service like a website, application or ebook.

If you find a way to solve a big problem and have customers, data and a platform you are off to the races in the tech world. Even if you only have a customer base among Florida politicos (a solid niche) you’ve likely got enough of a foothold to start growing into other states through distribution channels (people with connections in other states who sell your wares).

Alternatively, you could attempt to build a “vertical” in the Florida niche. A vertical is when you find ways to sell your customers services or products outside of your core business. For example, if you sell phone bank software for campaigns you may start a robo call service to sell on top of the phone bank software.

If you have ambitions of getting your company acquired or growing larger, you will need to hit the road again and start talking to non-political potential customers. You will want to find areas of the private sector that have similar problems to the one you solved for your political clients. Getting your company into the larger private sector market is the major challenge for political tech companies and so far only NationalField has been successful.

In the next post on political startups, I will take a look at Florida’s three major political tech companies (WebElect, Lobby Tools and ContributionLink) and lay out some potential business scenarios we may see play out in the next few cycles.

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