David Binetti saw a problem in the way voters, candidates and elected officials communicate—or don’t most of the time.
With partner, Jason Putorti, he created Votizen three years ago to address it.
Votizen ties social networks to voter registration and other data to validate voters and connect them to each other and their representatives.
Those are the initial steps in Binetti’s larger mission, backed by superstar investors like Sean Parker, and PayPal founders Peter Thiel and Ken Rabois, to create not only a more honest dialogue between voters and their candidates and elected officials but remove the need for money used for intermediaries like advertising.
Right now most elected officials and political candidates communicate with voters via the press, or by advertising, direct mail, robo-calls and other tele-marketing methods. Not exactly a conversation. Moreover, advocacy groups try to get their message out by generating thousands of letters, emails or calls to politicians’ offices in a practice called astro-turfing that attempts to mimic grass roots movements.
Unsurprisingly, officials don’t pay attention since they know it doesn’t really reflect the views of the voters in their districts. All voters can do is donate money and vote. But with technology and social media, Binetti is changing this pattern in a civically healthy way.
Besides facilitating voters’ communication with elected officials, Votizen helps users find others who are interested in the same issues or urge friends and colleagues to vote for what they believe in, a sort of a LinkedIn for the politically-minded.
As for a revenue model, Binetti is guided by LinkedIn as well. LinkedIn sells premium subscription options to businesses such as executive recruiters; Votizen could potentially sell similar options to electoral campaigns and advocacy groups. Campaigns spend $2.5 billion every election cycle on direct mail with increasingly weak results. In a test done in the San Francisco Mayoral elections last November, candidates went through Votizen to request that users ask contacts to vote for them.
Eighteen per cent replied to the invitation from the Votizen member, either yay or nay, almost 10 times the response or conversion rate of a good direct mail campaign. “We’re trying to create a new channel of communication that is more fundamentally predicated on the size of their network versus the size of their checkbook,” says Binetti.
How politicians will use it is still under development, but it’s a start. Traditional campaigns are terrified of social media because it destroys command and control messaging, In the social media world, messages evolve and morph as they interact with other people and their ideas or priorities—more like conversation.
Binetti says that one of the reasons he located the company in San Francisco, far away from the political power centre of Washington, DC, was to keep new thinking at the forefront.
The 40-two year old Binetti brings a wealth of experience to this endeavour. In 2005, he started Capitolix a company that created campaign election software. It failed, teaching him an important lesson in product development. He had worked hard and burned through his money to develop his ideal product but–it turned out–not one that customers wanted.
Now, he’s more in the “fail fast and often” camp where he tries to learn from customers and adjust to what they need. Prior to Capitolix, Binetti worked at Intuit and then in creating USA.gov, the government’s portal and the largest index of documents outsides of the Internet itself. Binetti’s success in such different milieu is a testament to his ability to understand the rules of the game in different environments and the motivations of the people he manages.
Investors and advisors like Thiel and Rabois have encouraged Binetti to stay true to his mission, even as nimbly tests and adjusts the company’s offerings and evolves a scalable business model. “The goal is to take that vision, that piece of the future that an entrepreneur can see and nobody else can and make it real and lasting and worthwhile,” says Binetti.
“So I spend most of my time trying to balance between those, so that we can make this vision manifest. That’s the goal of any entrepreneur and if it isn’t it should be.”
This post originally appeared on Blinkhorn’s Game Changers blog.
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