The words “Republican consulting firm” and “tech startup” aren’t exactly synonymous, particularly in Austin, the liberal bastion of Texas. Justin Gargiulo, a campaign veteran from Connecticut, hopes to change that.
VoterTrove, the firm Gargiulo founded in March 2012, recently joined the Capital Factory, Austin’s prestigious business incubator program, which even President Obama has taken note of. Gargiulo’s firm is the first political startup accepted into the program. Both sides noticed.
“Their only concern was, Why don’t you work with Democrats, too? They look at it as a market opportunity,” says Gargiulo, whose 20-odd clients for his data services are all Republicans.
“It’s kind of the way it’s done,” he recalls, explaining his one-party marketing strategy. “Certain campaigns want to work with folks who support their beliefs.”
The way it’s been done hasn’t been working recently for Republicans, at least when it comes to technology, and those Republicans desperate to catch up with Democratic technology firms are looking for an edge in the startup world.
In every major city around the country, business incubator programs like Capital Factory are expanding and looking for nascent firms with the potential for growth. Through programs like these, Republicans hope to find their answer to the likes of, say, NGP VAN.
Gargiulo says that he’s gotten access to mentors, venture capitalists and even office space through the program.
“We’re really excited about it. It’s a really cool place,” he says. “There are a lot of developers who go through the space. You get the horror stories from people and the successes. And it’s access to capital as well.”
Gargiulo’s firm provides what he calls a “central data source,” which integrates robocalls, auto polls and overall data management.
It’s the leveraging of technology that intrigued the decision makers at Capital Factory, says Joshua Baer, its executive director.
“I don’t think there’s anything different about them being political,” Baer says.
“We focus on technology, and technology affects everyone, so we don’t think of ourselves as limited to a vertical or space,” he adds. “We want to be involved with every great tech company in Austin.”
Just like any other tech startup, VoterTrove gets the same benefits of membership at the incubator.
“It’s important being around other people doing the same thing. [Gargiulo’s] going to learn just as much from them,” Baer says. “In addition to that, they get a ton of things for free from it. $100,000 of hosting services, office space. They get a ton of publicity and press. They get a lot of attention.”
But turning attention and connections into a successful business isn’t easy. Baer says that only about one in 10 of the organization’s members transform into “big” successes and about half “don’t work,” he says. “They die.”