Value Voting launches from YC to supercharge the work of political advocates

The ascendance of the so-called “hard right” in the US and the Trump administration’s work to protect its power means it’s unlikely the movement will be beaten by Democrats or left leaning parties at this point. The power of the hard right in red-states has become
institutionalized. So perhaps the answer is, instead, empowering traditional Conservatives who are passionate about public education and the environment to take power back in Republican party primaries? That could tilt the balance in a more centrist direction.

Value Voting, which is graduating as part of the Y Combinator programme, develops political targeting software for advocacy groups. They show leaders which of their members are voters, how many votes they need to flip an election, and help them form alliances to get the votes they need to win.

Here’s their thinking:

Turnout for party primaries in midterm years is extremely low (10-14% of registered voters). Using Value Voting, advocacy group leaders share anonymized voter data with allies to know which elections they can influence, find candidates to run in those elections, and coordinate messaging across alliances.

The startup is in part borne out of the experience of cofounder James Vaughan, who worked in Congress in 2009. At that point Democrats were getting roasted on Obamacare. Republicans were unwilling to compromise because to do so had become a political liability in the primaries. This loss of compromise between parties is clearly damaging pragmatic politics and thus its ability to deal with the complex problems the country faces.

In terms of traction, groups with a total of 530,000 voters are using the platform. Three alliances have been formed – with 290,000 anonymized voter profiles shared.

How does it work?

Well, the “user”, an advocacy group leader, receives an e-mail invite from an ally. After signup, the user joins the alliance and uploads their member data. Value Voting then matches the member data with the voter file – assigning each member a “voter type.” Then they anonymize this voter data and add it to the alliance totals. For example, the user will now know that across the alliance, they have 4,000 unique Republican primary voters in a district and it will take 7,000 votes to win the next election.

The “competitors”, if you will, in this case are traditional political consultants. In theory Nationbuilder could become a competitor, but, says Vaughan, they are focused on campaign software. “We think of them as a potential partner – the candidates our users surface will probably use Nationbuilder’s campaign software,” he says.

The key difference with Value Voting is that is allows allies to share anonymized voter data; includes elections results and turnout predictions so that users know their potential influence over a politician (voters/turnout needed to win); and its helps users influence ‘down ballot’ races – State Senate, State House, and Board of Education.

The plans are to later include county officials, city officials, and school boards. In these down-ballot races strategic collaboration goes a long way.

Most political activity focuses on calls, texts, dollars donated etc. Instead, Value Voting focuses on candidate discovery and helping its users coordinate for the primaries. That’s how their users will create a credible electoral threat and achieve legislative success. As Vaughan says: “Calling 100 times is ineffective if you have no one to vote for except the incumbent.”

Crucially they don’t make things complicated by replacing long-used CRMs. Instead they have a simple interface most people pickup quickly.

The business model is to charge advocacy groups a monthly fee to use the platform and in future to charge campaigns a fee for chatting with voters through the platform.

The market is good. In Texas, with current product for advocacy groups, the obtainable market is $7M. With a product for individuals that gives strategic primary voters access to candidates, this is worth $143M. Strategic primary voters are the most valuable voters in politics. Candidates will pay $2-$5, depending on the race, per conversation with a verified primary voter, according to Vaughan.

“We are going to prove the product in Texas before expanding. The key to capturing the market is electoral success. Geographic dispersion lowers the odds of being successful. We will scale as soon as our users have won a few political victories,” says Vaughan.

So far it’s raised $620,000 in Seed funding from Y-Combinator and Vaughan himself, and is looking to raise more.

The team consists of Can Sar, who previously started Apture (multimedia integration for news publishers), which was sold to Google in 2011. At Google he worked on Inbox. Previously he was a Stanford CS PhD student. After graduating from Stanford, Vaughan worked in Congress, noticed complete gridlock and left for the private sector in Peru. There, he took a hotel to number one on TripAdvisor, and founded a real-estate investment company.