As Americans, we are all living in a democracy. However, very few us are able to participate and engage with government as a citizen at a local or even a national level. Being active in the political process has traditionally been an arduous process that took an unreasonable amount of dedication and time; time that busy Americans just didn’t have. This is why Advocate was created. The platform allows you to easily engage with politicians, movements, and affect change, serving as as your one stop platform to participate in democracy by seamlessly keeping you in the know for issues that matter to you. Leveraging technology into politics, the platform is fueling the next evolution of democracy – a democracy where the people are represented and heard.
AlleyWatch spoke with cofounders Chris Bystrom and Jason Andrews about the Startup and how it all started.
Tell us about the product or service.
A new generation of citizens is excited and passionate about connecting with democracy. Unfortunately, there are few modern tools that exist for citizens and for politicians to actively engage each other. We’re building a political network that’s a mix between LinkedIn on the logged in side and Yelp on the logged out side, that allows politicians to enlist ardent supporters to serves as their advocates, empowering and amplifying their voice. We allow these supporters to quickly become informed and act, and most importantly, we track those actions (and their impact) across the platform and provide unique insights to both the citizens and the politicians about their engagement.
How is it different?
While most established political tech is focused simply on enabling politicians and campaigns, Advocate is built and designed to empower individuals to engage with their democracy. We are hyper-focused on helping citizens discover who represents them from top to bottom and understanding exactly what actions are needed to help their favorite politicians win elections and stay elected. Our Key Races feature is a perfect example of how we make it easy for citizens to sign up and receive important and timely updates on critical races across the country. We are also just beginning to explore the ability to allow organizations to endorse politicians on the platform enabling greater flexibility in how citizens discover and support their favorite politicians.
What market are you attacking and how big is it?
Our market will be created through the interactions between groups and individuals in the political sector. Currently in the US there are more than 2 million campaigns, 500 thousand elected officials, 1.5M organizations and 219 million voting age citizens. And the spend is increasing year over year as the sector tries to catch up to consumer standards and decade old business infrastructure. We believe this is a multi-billion dollar market with the amount of money that flows freely although largely in back office and private ways. The way the political sector works is being up ended by a generation that has grown up online and we intend to capture that.
What is the business model?
We operate around exchanges of value and Advocate will always be free for citizens. We will eventually make money through monetizing valuable interactions from campaigns, organizations and governing elected officials with citizen supporters or constituents.
What inspired the business?
Most people assume that Advocate was conceived during the chaos surrounding the fallout from the 2016 election, however, our team has actually been working on Advocate since 2015. A few years back, we saw numerous similarities between the way slow moving enterprise corporations struggled to adapt social and digital media and the current situation where political campaigns were struggling to adopt to changing technology and demographics. We were also extremely disturbed by the lack of modern citizen-focused tools and vowed to utilize our extensive product, digital, and design backgrounds to solve the challenges of politics.
Why are you the right team to do this given that this has been tried before?
Most teams who have taken on this massively important feat consist of political insiders who were passionate about disruption but struggled to build well-designed products to match their passion. Our team is fully product focused and believes that great design and UX along with understanding how products and markets are built and function can help disrupt any industry, even politics. It doesn’t hurt that we have surrounded ourselves with some of the best and the brightest political advisors in the business to ensure we stay grounded in the needs of our customers.
What are the milestones that you plan to achieve within six months?
Over the next six months we intend to expand the network into new markets through data. We are working on launching our native mobile apps and in a continuous feedback loop with our early users to build a network for a new decade of political engagement. From a targets perspective our goal is to have 25K political pages listed on the platform. With 1M unique visitors a month and 250K citizens who have signed up and created their democracy profile to be better represented.
What is the one piece of startup advice that you never got?
When we set off to build Advocate, a lot of people in the space warned us just how tough a journey we were up against. The climate was very different during those times to say the least. Then the 2016 elections happened and everything turned upside down. It’s funny because a lot of the time we’ve seen people have a great idea, execute it perfectly and for whatever reason the timing just doesn’t match up. Right now we feel we have the right product and the timing couldn’t be better but we definitely have to capitalize on this moment. No one really advised us how to seize the moment when all the stars align. We are accelerating everything; building product, fundraising, marketing, to ensure we’re ready for the onslaught of new users but we’re trying to remain core to our original principles and not overextend ourselves into features that may not fit our long-term strategy. It’s a delicate balancing act for sure.
If you could be put in touch with anyone in the New York community who would it be and why?
This one is easy, Mike Bloomberg. As he’s a self made entrepreneur that went into politics and believes in the power of technology and media. We align very much with his worldview of independence and how to improve society through data and transparency. It doesn’t hurt that he could make a statement investing in us and accelerating our trajectory tenfold. Some of us used to work on branding for Bloomberg LP in a past life and the ethos of his company are something we take to heart at Advocate.
Why did you launch in New York?
There are many layers of local government to play with. New York really is the home of what we call hyper-local politics. The idea that government in New York City is structured all the way down to the neighborhood level provides us with an awesome area to test Advocate at all levels of Democracy. The proximity to DC doesn’t hurt either.
What’s your favorite restaurant in the city?
Make Sandwich is a frequent for the team. Great sandwiches but also a great full brand expression and thoughtful experience design system for everything they do. Which is so rare for any business, let alone a restaurant or a sandwich shop. Great food, great design and a favorite of the Advocate team.