Political campaign professionals have encountered a host of new issues this cycle brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to shift away from some more traditional modes of campaign outreach.
Some have responded by pivoting their platforms and rolling out new services. For instance, Numero, a company founded by former California Congressional candidate Brian Forde and two technologists from his campaign team, recently launched a new fundraising platform in response to client complaints about how labor-intensive Zoom fundraising was for them.
The company's new virtual, one-click platform is now being used by 40 Democratic campaigns from a Senate race to a city council contest, according to Forde.
But for technologists waiting for the lull of late November to start building solutions, the next development window is short. The Democratic tech incubator Higher Ground Labs (HGL) will announce its open call for funding applications in early 2021 and it’s looking for platforms or products that will have already undergone some battle testing once the 2020 cycle wraps.
“I would recommend that you think about the nearest election cycle as a learning opportunity,” Shomik Dutta, a partner at HGL, said during a panel hosted for potential founders last week by the tech incubator. “The challenge is to ensure that you don’t roll out a product in a way that jeopardizes your reputation.”
HGL leaders say they favor applicants who've tested their product either in a federal cycle or, at the minimum, a local or state election. So without some real testing or data from the field in 2020, it might be worth waiting until the next round to apply.
Now, if a product does gain adoption down-ballot, Dutta warned that it should have a significant moat to protect it from upstart competitors.
“If you’re building something for the down-ballot, make sure there’s a big barrier to entry," he said. “While there’s much more volume in the down-ballot [market], finding them is very tough, they have the lowest budgets and they are the most likely to fail, statistically.”
Dutta added: “The super-down ballot, low-barrier technology, should probably not be for-profit.”
Competition for funding will likely be stiff in 2021. To wit, New Media Ventures, a progressive technology incubator similar to HGL, received some 1,200 applications for its COVID-funding round. NMV recently unveiled a list of companies and groups to watch and plans to announce the final recipients of its funding later this year.