The social network that elected Obama comes to Europe

This is a guest column by Monty Munford, who blogs here and tweets here.

Some people have all the luck. Alex Lofton is 26 years old, bright, handsome, has moved to London from the US and isn’t struggling to make a living in Zone 3 or 4 on the outskirts of the Tube network, he is living in a flat in Mayfair.

Oh, and he also works for a public social network that helped to elect a President and is building up and hiring a team from the Hub in King’s Cross as his company hopes to replicate in the UK its success in the US.

Lofton works for NationalField, a public social network formed by Aharon Wasserman, Justin Lewis and the UK’s very own Edward Saatchi, scion of Maurice Saatchi, the legendary ad man. The company was founded in the light of Barrack Obama’s campaign to be President, but let Lofton tell the story.

“In 2007 I was working in the field in Savannah, Georgia when the phone rang and it was an English guy (Saatchi) asking if he could help in the campaign. I asked him if he could drive, he said no and I put the phone down on him, no time to waste. The next day, however, he knocked on our door and we put him to work straight away.”

As the campaign gathered momentum and more people, like Saatchi, rushed to join, competition between the various fields became more convoluted so NationalField was set up to help to ease communication between them, and it was the non-driving Saatchi who kickstarted it.

Political campaigns in the US are fiercely competitive and with an interface very similar to that of Facebook, NationalField’s network managed to channel this competition and deal with huge amounts of data so that resources were pushed towards the apposite fields.

The resulting election of Obama may or may not have been down to NationalField, but the company’s public social network is expected to be used by the Democrat party for the Presidential re-election campaign for 2012 where it expects to connect 250,000 paid and unpaid volunteers. The Republican Party has much to do if it is has a chance of competing; at present it has no similar platform.

Since the 2008 Democratic campaign, NationalField has moved on to become a social network that can be used by large organisations to similarly control its data. It uses patent-pending technology that allows information to ‘be intelligently filtered vertically and laterally to the right people within companies’ and has a roster of clients including Big Pharma.

As for making deals, it didn’t hurt that many decision-makers at these companies were involved in the Obama campaign and, by default, were fanboy and fangirls for the company’s product. It’s almost as if these people were seeded into companies, like a network of benign spies.

Edward Saatchi, company co-founder and now CEO, uses a gaming analogy to explain how NationalField works.“There was a shift 10-15 years ago from turn-based games such as Civilization 2 to real-time games such as Starcraft 2. In the old turn-based strategy games the players took a turn, gave orders, waited patiently for other players to take theirs.

“Nowadays in real-time strategy, players are making decisions, seeing results and adjusting in realtime. Everyone is competing on instant global social leaderboards. The technology got faster, could present more data more intuitively and people found the old turn-based way of doing things encumbering and unexciting. That’s how we do things. On the Obama campaign and in the organisations that use us now – we’ve unlocked that innate human instinct to compete – to be on the leaderboard, to win, every day.”

Saatchi, like our man in Lofton, is also only 26, while his co-founders Wasserman is 24 and Lewis 25. The company has completed Series A funding and currently raising Series B to help with expansion, but more importantly what’s with the flat in Mayfair?

“I’ve given the flat to Alex while he’s in the UK and it’s not owned by my dad, much to his chagrin, it’s actually my own,” says Saatchi. As I said, some people have all the luck, they might not be a bad company to work for.