Yesterday was Election Day. Did you know? It's ok if you missed it--it's an odd year with far less hoopla than 2016.
Before last year, most political campaigns didn't look a thing like startups. There was a tested formula. You had to raise a lot of money so you could hire a big staff and advertise on television. Okay. But what if that was a startup?
There's no way any startup would run that way. 2016 campaigns spent over $4 billion on television ads. Television is declining and the public's appetite for television ads where a candidate "approves this message" are near zero. Growing to the size of a large company in the less than a year? That seems reckless and inefficient.
The formula for creating a startup.
Startups from Uber to Airbnb to Facebook were created as a response to inefficiency somewhere. Most startups are. So why aren't campaigns on your radar? The best place to innovate, disrupt, create a startup is a space that has three things.
- A recession-proof market
- Lack of technological innovation
- Obvious pain points that need to be addressed.
Political campaigns fit all three. There are elections every year, big national elections every two. Campaigning has been as slow to evolve as any industry, creating opportunities for tech integration. People are even more frustrated with the campaign process than taxis, hotels or any other industry. And that is true regardless of political belief or party affiliation.
Fix one or any of the current issues that exist and you have a powerful startup. Where do you start? Dig in to the tech side, look at organizing inefficiencies, find better ways to connect candidates with voters.
Campaigns need to keep up with the times.
"We realized that the last big round of innovation in running campaigns was during the 2008 Obama campaign, nearly a decade ago. In Silicon Valley, a decade ago might as well be a century ago," said Miti Sathe, executive director at Square One Politics.
Sathe worked as the deputy marketing director for both Obama campaigns and was the associate director for the Office of Public Engagement at the White House.
"There is a big opportunity to innovate in the way campaigns are run, and to apply some logic from the startup, tech and media world to the political world," said Sathe. "It's about new tactics that we are bringing to the table and creating a spirit of innovation within campaigns--the same spirit that keeps startups, tech companies and major brands thriving.
She has been recruiting fresh candidates to run for Congress who might not have otherwise run--veterans, business leaders, community organizers--and give them the tools, resources and support to win.
Make politics exciting.
"If you think about this in terms of basic innovation terminology, it's about revolutionary versus iterative. Most startup companies that we write about and talk about with our friends were revolutionary ideas. Iterative startups typically look and smell really familiar and don't make people nervous at all. This can still be great for businesses, but they typically don't move the needle," said Brian Bordainick, Head of Innovative Ventures for Hudson's Bay Company. "If you pull this analogy into politics, most of politics is about iteration. There hasn't been a huge incentive to push into 'risky' territory."
Bordainick and Square One co-founder Will Levitt recognized, just like any good startup, that there was a void in campaigning that could be filled with new technology and approach.
"There are now new strategies in growth-hacking, PR and marketing strategy, social media, fundraising and more that the private sector and startups use all the time, but that campaigns have been slow to adopt. We're here to change that," said Bordainick.
Millennials don't carry checks.
And tech will drive this new wave of campaigning. Startups are popping up everywhere in the medical field because two things are true; there is always a need and the systems (payment, technology, etc) were outdated. Both are true in campaigning.
Sometimes creating a healthy startup is as simple as identifying similarities in industries and applying best practices in one to the other with new technology.
"Central to strong political campaigns -- just like strong startups -- is understanding how to fundraise, and to fundraise well. There's a lot of white space to improve fundraising for campaigns," said Will Levitt, Experiential Editor, Conde Nast. "Have you ever heard of a Millennial who carries checks? We're working on new technology that makes political fundraising as easy as, say, making a Venmo payment or allowing political giving to have more of a social element."
Next year and three years from now national attention will once again be on the first Tuesday in November. A select few startups will meet the obvious needs that exist. It could be you if you throw your hat in the ring.