Political technology start ups face hurdles ranging from reluctant investors to stiff-armed government regulation but there’s a growing demand for their services, experts say.
“Tech and politics definitely need each other at the moment,” says Matt Mahan, CEO of Silicon Valley-funded Brigade Media, Inc.
The technology industry needs leadership on issues ranging from immigration to net neutrality, says Mahan, “and our political system needs tech to reimagine government.”
Speaking at C&E’s CampaignTech West in San Francisco, Mahan decried how “concentrated money is leveraging low interest and low turn out” to influence electoral outcomes.
“When citizens are only superficially engaged, money is a proxy for votes,” he says.
Michael McGeary, co-founder and chief political strategist of Engine Advocacy, says political entrepreneurs can help improve electoral engagement. But first they have to push through regulatory resistance.
“If we’re going to actually succeed in building a start-up economy in the United States beyond Silicon Valley, you cannot sit back and hope government won’t regulate you — you need to engage,” says McGeary. “When you’re in a position of gaining prominence as a new business, they will try to fit you into the regulatory molds they’ve created.”
Once start ups are off the ground, one of the best ways to foster engagement is through email outreach, according to GOP digital strategist Wesley Donehue. “There’s nothing more valuable than an email address. It’s the only place where you have [voters’] full, undivided attention.”
He made an unlikely tip of the hat to the DNC. “Their subject lines are really bad ass,” he says. “I’m getting really jealous about what they’re doing.”
Investors are starting to see polit-tech start ups such as Brigade as having growth potential, but there remains barriers to expansion within the industry. One hurdle is the intensity of time and labor involved in creating a digital campaign for a candidate or cause.
“A large digital campaign takes about the same amount of effort and time and manpower that a really small campaign does,” says Amanda Bloom, media director of BASK Digital Media. “The nights that our team stays at the office, it’s crazy.”