"An entrepreneur must be able to adapt to changing circumstances. Inevitably challenges will arise and achieving the entrepreneur’s vision will become difficult at points."
Sean has a pretty interesting back story: a previous candidate for Congress he has learnt through his own experiences the importance of enabling direct communication lines between local communities and government officials. Now moving into a different arena he has built a platform allowing just that, BuildQuorum.com, something that is particularly pertinent at this time.
BuildQuorum.com is a platform that is focused in getting people involved in changing governments, they are also development means to connect these people with other relevant groups as they continue to build their community.
Q: Please tell us a little bit about your company – what is BuildQuorum all about?
BuildQuorum.com is about getting people involved in changing government. It’s about improving political representation through technology. We are creating a site where anyone can come, find others who share their political views, and directly communicate with their representatives on important issues. We believe that the more people communicate their views, the better representation they will receive.
I have learnt through my own political experiences the importance of hearing the voices of the people and just how difficult that can be. On top of overcoming various barriers to enable this communication we provide a way for officials to see if those individuals are constituents and what’s more allow them to express their thoughts exceeding the possibilities of a traditional petition.
We are working to empower communities, through matching those with shared views, creating groups and inspiring action.
Q: Please tell us a little bit about your background and how you started your company?
I ran two grass roots campaigns for Congress. I didn’t have strong party connections or a naturally large donor base so I worked hard to reach out to people directly, including through social media, to learn more about them and to find out how I could best serve them if elected. My experiences as a candidate taught me a lot about how distant people feel from government and how frustratated they are with the process. Simply voting every two years and hoping for the best isn’t enough; we need to leverage modern technology to keep people engaged with governments and make sure our representatives are listening to people and not just hearing from special interests.
Q: What are some of the projects you are working on right now?
On top of providing individuals wit an effective means to communicate with local governments. BuildQuorum also seeks to build political communities based around shared views.
As users interact with the site, create profiles, and take quizzes, the advanced algorithms we are building out will enable them to recommendations for groups, issues, and other individuals who hold views similar to their own.
We are currently running some beta quizzes to get a flavor of this and over the next few months we will see exciting developments through tying in quiz results with user profiles and social features.
Q: What are your plans for the future, how do you plan to grow this company?
We have two components to our businesses. www.oneclickpolitics.com is focused on providing non-profit organizations and other activist groups with tools enabling their supporters to easily get in contact with government officials. We plan to continue to grow this part of the business through sales outreach, referrals, and partnerships with companies such as NationBuilder.com and NEON CRM. We are also integrated with SalesForce, utilizing the cloud software to further develop our CRM base.
Our growth plans for the user-facing portion of the business, BuildQuorum.com, are much more dynamic. We are relying heavily on social media to promote the site and believe that our unique capabilities and user experience will drive organic growth through user referrals and sharing. Over time, as more investment capital becomes available we intend to begin paid user acquisition as well.
Q: How do you bring ideas to life?
We start by asking how our core capability can be applied to new problems, customers, and markets.
Initial exploration begins the same way each time, we ask ourselves: “does this new idea increase political communications and does it do so in accordance with our strengths?”
We provide a platform to enable the ideas of the public to come to life through facilitating the contact between the people and specific government officials.
Knowing that is our core competency and one that we have unique advantages in, we look for ways to expand the number of users for that capability or for specific features which might allow it to be applied more broadly or more effectively.
Q: What’s one trend that really excites you?
The increasing number of sites dedicated to making government data public is really exciting to see. The greater the transparency into government and representation, the better the outcomes we can expect to see. I hope more Americans take advantage of the many tools emerging to increase government transparency.
Q: What were the top mistakes you made starting your business and what did you learn from it?
Our number one mistake was assuming that other people were as interested in reaching elected officials as we are. What we learned is that although people care deeply about the decisions and actions of their representatives, they tend to be shy about contacting them. The result was that we shifted early on from a user-facing site, to a site focused on serving activist organizations, a more appropriate target. Our effort to return to a user-facing site via BuildQuorum.com is predicated on the idea that success will only be possible if we help match people to groups and issues of interest in order to suggest messages they can send, rather than expecting a large number of people to generate messages themselves.
Q: How do you go about marketing your business, and what has been the most successful form of marketing for you?
We have found that our proactive in our Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outreach has been key to the marketing success we’ve had. We have a powerful vision to share with active communities and it has been warmly received.
We also strongly believe that PR and media placements will be key to our future success, complementing the achievements made in our social marketing strategies.
Q: What would you say are the top 3 skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur – and why?
- First, a successful entrepreneur needs to be able to create a compelling vision for what his or her company will be, what problems it will solve, and what its products will look like.
- Second, a successful entrepreneur needs to be a compelling spokesperson for that vision. He or she must convince, investors, employees, customers, and even family members that the vision is desirable and possible.
- Third, an entrepreneur must be able to adapt to changing circumstances. Inevitably challenges will arise and achieving the entrepreneur’s vision will become difficult at points. Being able to adapt and overcome is the key to obtaining successful outcomes.
Q: What are the top 3 online tools and resources you’re currently using to grow your company?
- Google Analytics is critical for us in understanding what’s happening with our site, where the traffic is coming from, and how people are behaving once they enter the site.
- Optimizely allows us to a/b test our page layouts, increasing conversions and leading to more desirable usage patterns.
- Sun Light Labs provides us with readily accessible open-source data on government activity.
These three packages together enable us to constantly work to develop and improve our offering based on smart analytics and useful insights into not only user behavior but furthermore the societal and political content of today.
Q: What are three books you recommend entrepreneurs to read?
‘Primed to Perform’ is a great book focused on the mechanics and science behind building the ever-elusive, but all important high performing culture. In a start-up getting the most out of every team member is absolutely critical and building a culture that enables that is something that should be at the top of every entrepreneur’s list.
‘Who’ is another great book focused on the people aspects of building a highly successful company. Picking the right team members may be the single biggest input to the ultimate success of a business. EquityNet.com’s weekly newsletter, though not a book, is a great source of relevant content on all aspects of running a start-up. I highly recommend it.
Q: What is your favorite entrepreneurship quote?
One of the most inspiring quotes I know applies as much to entrepreneurship as it does to many other aspects of life:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat” -Teddy Roosevelt
Q: How is BuildQuorum.com distinct from the many petition sites that are currently in use?
Unlike petition sites, BuildQuorum actually sends a message from each person who fills out the message form, rather than just adding the information to a list. This is an extremely important distinction for a number of reasons.
First of all, Congress uses web forms which prevent them from receiving emails and petitions submitted via forms. That means that those well-intentioned individuals utilizing these methods will never be able to submit these petitions to our elected officials.
Second, elected officials care most about the views of their constituents. Petitions don’t provide them with any information about whether or not signers are constituents. BuildQuorum.com solves these problems by actually submitting each signed message via the appropriate web forms or a back-up fax system. This ensures that representatives receive every individual message and can tell whether the sender is a constituent, both of which dramatically increase the effectiveness of the tool.
Finally, unlike petition sites, BuildQuorum is seeking to build political communities based around shared views. As users interact with the site, create profiles, and take quizzes, they will receive recommendations for groups, issues, and other individuals who hold views similar to their own.
Q: How can our community get in touch with you?