If knowledge is a door to information, data is the key. When you’re talking about politics and government, information is extremely important to those who are making decisions on who to vote for and what legislation to get behind or block. Today, a company called ElectNext has raised a seed round of $1.3M led by Brooklyn Bridge Ventures along with other strategic investors like Liberty City Ventures, Comcast Ventures, Digital News Ventures, Gabriel Investments, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Investor’s Circle.
When I spoke with ElectNext’s founder and CEO, Keya Dannenbaum, she explained ElectNext as something similar to our own CrunchBase, providing widgets full of data for publications to embed: “We have a comprehensive underlying database (on politicians on our case as opposed to companies in the CrunchBase analogy) from which we create data-driven content that lives inside, and gives relevant context to, political news.”
Dannenbaum knows politics, as she’s worked on 18 political campaigns, including Hillary Clinton’s. ElectNext’s product, which pulls together political data from multiple sources and packages them together for news sites to embed, is something that Dannenbaum thinks is important for both voters and journalists. Most political data is stored in formats that aren’t accessible online, so ElectNext is working with national and state open data sources like The Sunlight Foundation, GovTrack and Follow The Money as well as open data-friendly cities to convert all of it. One of the cities, my hometown of Philadelphia, is a close partner.
Embedded profiles will start appearing today on PBS NewsHour, The Philadelphia Inquirer, NBC Politics and a few others. The six launch partners represent 15M monthly unique visitors, Dannenbaum tell us. That’s not a bad start.
I talked to Dannenbaum about how her experience makes ElectNext unique and how important this information is to unlock for constituents:
Dannenbaum: Through my campaign experience, first in the 2008 Presidential and then at the hyper-local level, I got to observe firsthand how sharply levels of political knowledge and participation decline from the national to the neighborhood levels. Yet it’s our local representatives who make most of the decisions that affect our daily lives. So we’re all checking out precisely where it matters most, and I wanted to change that.
TC: How does data help shape political campaigns and inform voters?
Dannenbaum: In the 2012 presidential election, the Obama campaign most clearly demonstrated the power of big data. Their operation consolidated several previously disparate databases of consumer and citizen information (purchase history, tax records), social data (your facebook friends, likes), contact information (home, email and IP addresses), and internal campaign data (donor database, field notes), and mashed that up with the voter file (your political party, vote history) to build an unprecedented micro targeting machine that could deliver personalized marketing messages to the right people via the right mediums at precisely the right times.
ElectNext is looking to shift the paradigm and similarly harness the power of big data to empower citizens with relevant information on our politicians delivered in the precise moment we most need it. So what we do is consolidate several previously disparate databases, though in our case it is political data on them: campaign finance records, legislation, roll call votes, press releases/debates/other public speech, and we use that data to create simple profiles that describe who these guys and gals running our country really are. We know how they talk about issues vs. on what they actually spend their time legislating and how that compares to their sources of funding. And, best of all, we put those profiles directly in your news, do you can access it in the precise moment you’re already reading about a political person, or issue, you care about, when you need it most.
TC: How do these investors, who seem strategic, help you reach your goals as a company other than the funding?
Dannenbaum: We take a lot of care choosing who to work with and you’re right to notice that we have several media funds on board who absolutely bring more to the table than just funding. Our model hinges on publisher distribution, our backers can open those doors and advise from an insider’s perspective, and we’re so glad to roll up our sleeves together and work them as team members on the same side of the table.
ElectNext was a great resource during the last Presidential election, providing a wizard to match your political preferences to the right candidate. Matching up news articles with actual facts and historical data provides a really immersive experience for readers, who can then dig through the data to form their own opinions.
Information should be free, and with companies like ElectNext, those old files, surveys and census data won’t stay locked up for long. With former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush already interested in what the company is doing, I’d say that becoming the “CrunchBase for Politics” is pretty much a guarantee at this point. The company is currently accepting submissions for more publication partners.