The Download: After the inauguration, politically minded start-ups don’t stop


Ray Glendening and Nathan Daschle are pictured at their office in Washington. (Jeffrey MacMillan/JEFFREY MACMILLAN)
January 27, 2013

President Obama marked the end of a contentious election cycle when he took the oath of office during last week’s inauguration, but several of Washington’s politically driven upstarts hope a break from campaigns doesn’t mean a break for business.

Ruck.us, for example, predicts 2013 could be a bigger boon than the presidential election for its social network, which connects politically like-minded people. Without the natural outlet for political expression that campaigns provide, the civically engaged will be on the hunt for a new home, Chief Strategy Officer Ray Glendening said.

“It’s kind of been the inverse of what my hypothesis was,” Glendening said. “In an odd year like this year ... there’s more of a hole there for how you become engaged.”

What’s more, Glendening said some of the Web site’s most popular user groups, called Rucks, aren’t oriented around political parties or candidates. The Newtown shooting and subsequent debate about gun control has given rise to a half dozen Rucks, he said.

Much of the site’s traffic appears to be people “inspired by some overflow of political emotion on an issue,” Glendening said. “That said, in theory I would like it to be a place ... where people come every single day.”

In that vein, the company will unveil a redesign later this year aimed at improving the user experience and making more precise recommendations about groups to join and members to befriend.

New partnerships with public sector unions, advocacy groups and political organizations are also expected in the latter half of the year. A pilot program conducted last year found those groups were willing to pay for premium accounts that allowed them to connect with users, Glendening said.

The political minds behind NationalField don’t plan to let up on the gas pedal either. The company started as a platform to engage volunteers during Obama’s first presidential bid, and worked for the president and other Democrats during the last cycle as well.

But early last year, NationalField executives effectively split the business in two — a team dedicated to political and advocacy groups, and another to serve businesses.

“The main reason for that is we didn’t want to go completely insane as three politically obsessive founders and pause the enterprise business,” co-founder Edward Saatchi said.

That enterprise business brings balance and a steady stream of revenue to the company, which might otherwise find itself susceptible to the ebb and flow that often comes with working exclusively with political campaigns, Saatchi explained.

NationalField has found receptive clients in corporate sales and customer service departments, said co-founder Justin Lewis. The software provides a social network for employees to communicate and monitor their progress by tracking key metrics of success, such as sales completed.

“The place where we’ve always found our niche is getting data to everyone inside an organization,” said co-founder Aharon Wasserman. “That tends to be the most difficult part.”

But the founders said that attention won’t completely shift to the enterprise side of the company in 2013. An investment of $1.5 million last year allowed the young firm to begin work on a new version of the software that’s faster, sleeker and compatible with mobile devices, Saatchi said.

They expect it could have a big impact come 2014.

“In the past in politics, people took the off year off,” Saatchi said. “But technology is moving so quickly now that you can’t afford to do that.”

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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