Fresh off their official launch at SXSW, where they were a showcased startup at our #StartupLife Celebration and competed in the SXSW Accelerator as 1 of 48 startups, Votifi is poised to have a very busy year. Launching during a roller coaster of a campaign season that is preceding a presidential election in the fall, the mobile polling and analytics company wants to disrupt politics thru peer-to-peer political exploration and interaction.
I had a chance to talk to founder and CEO Lou Aronson about why he jumped into the chaotic mess known as U.S. politics, just how the company will change political discourse now and in the future, and a surprising way Votifi is being used.
Tech Cocktail: Why did you decide to jump into the messy world of politics and try to create a solution to the problem of connecting constituents and politicians?
Lou Aronson: After coming up with the idea back in Sept 2008, I just honestly couldn’t shake the prospect of starting a mobile-focused polling company that answered the challenges of an increasingly mobile society. With a more diverse and mobile electorate we found a potential solution in the “disconnect” by using “peer to peer” issue-based connections as a tremendously powerful avenue to bring people together and enable them to form their own political connections. It is exciting to see people engage across socio-economic, gender and party lines on the issues that matter most to them. Once the people connect, the politicians will follow.
Tech Cocktail: How do you think Votifi will most disrupt political discourse in this country?
Aronson: In the short term by providing our user community with a broader voice that is supported by quantifiable data. By using news from both sides of the issue together with actual user poll responses, we provide a very accurate and “real time” picture of the sentiment of the electorate. In the long run, I humbly hope we can improve voter turnout, as the poor voter turnout figures continue to be a problem for us as a nation.
Tech Cocktail: Have you gotten traction with polling companies?
Aronson: Some. I would like to boast and say we have caught on like wildfire, but it’s a process. Any time you bring a new technology to an old industry it takes time to catch on. The good news for us, though, is that polling is primarily dependent upon landline phones, and the problem of landline abandonment is not going away.
Tech Cocktail: Is Votifi being used in any ways that surprise you?
Aronson: Funny you should ask. And, yes! We have discovered that our “sentiment hub” has a unique application in the association and non-profit world. For the past 20 years or so, all of these organizations have spent tremendous resources building out massive email lists without any core understanding of the demographics, psycho graphics and issues that matter to these members. We now run a “Community Insights” product for these groups that allows us to analyze and segment their population in a way they have never been able to before. And, more good news…it’s been working with tangible progress in the short term.
Tech Cocktail: What do you consider your biggest success with Votifi to be so far? What is your ultimate goal with Votifi?
Aronson: Getting “launched” at SXSW. In the startup world, it’s easy to talk and very difficult to do. We, as a team, have been benefited from a tremendous group of friends and family investors, as well as co-founders, consultants, interns and collaborators – all of whom have enabled us to get up and running (which is never to be dismissed as a milestone), enable SMS polling, launch our app in the iTunes marketplace and actually use the “sentiment hub” for polling. Having a random pedicab driver at SXSW tell me she had just downloaded the app but not had a chance to enter a discussion, well, to be honest, that one of the coolest experiences of my life.
The ultimate goal? We are building the central connection point for the mobile political relationship for people to each other and politicians to their constituents. We will be the destination for civil political exploration and interaction. That is the goal – to provide the platform. What happens with that platform that depends upon how the folks from all across America elect to implement the tool.