Indy Startup PoliticalBank Aims to Unite Voters and Candidates Online
The founders of Indianapolis startup PoliticalBank believe they’ve found a way to make the democratic process a bit more democratic.
Billing itself as the first online community of its kind to bring candidates and voters together, PoliticalBank.com is a free, nonpartisan website. It allows the roughly 810,000 Americans who run for office in a two-year period to raise money, recruit volunteers, and make it clear where they stand on important issues—including those suggested by voters who can use the site to find like-minded candidates.
CEO Adam Berry said the interactive platform levels the playing field for the vast majority of political contenders who don’t have the resources or know-how to conduct slick, sophisticated campaigns.
“You’re left with passionate candidates—who we would be honored to have represent us—with nowhere to go,” said Berry, 35, who last year left his job as a policy director for Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to launch PoliticalBank. “We have to create a system where every candidate has an equal opportunity to run, get elected, and hold office.”
PoliticalBank.com is the one-stop shop that fits the bill, he said. The software that powers the site allows any candidate—running for anything from school board to president—to create a custom campaign page capable of accepting donations in less than 15 minutes. Voters, meanwhile, can search the site for candidates who share their beliefs.
Berry’s co-founders are chief political officer Frank Short and chief operating officer Scott Carr.
Friends and family funded some of the startup’s expenses, and PoliticalBank just started raising a Series A financing round as it begins to scale up. One early challenge has been building the user base on a limited budget. So far about 50,000 candidates from across the country are listed on the site, Berry said, and more than 600 have claimed their pages. The most basic listings were compiled using public information.
Indianapolis City-County Councillor Colleen Fanning was an early adopter, using her PoliticalBank.com page to connect with voters during her inaugural campaign last fall. For her, it was a way to augment her social media efforts and steer voters to her personal website. That she also landed donations and communicated with constituents was gravy, she said.
“PoliticalBank helped me reach people I wouldn’t have been able to reach otherwise,” Fanning said. “I’ll definitely use it again for my next campaign.”
The site is free for voters and candidates to use to share information, but the company collects a 5.4 percent processing fee on donations. It also makes money on “sponsored content,” producing and hosting 30- to 90-second advocacy videos for candidates or organizations and then sharing them with target audiences.
Company leaders have identified a total of 16 potential revenue streams, Berry said. Next up: the “Campaign in a Cloud” service, where PoliticalBank will serve as a digital campaign manager for local, state, and national candidates. The firm is still fine-tuning the scope of such engagements.
Politics is big business in the United States, with an average of $10.5 billion contributed to campaigns each year. But Berry and Carr said it’s the free service that differentiates PoliticalBank from competitors such as Los Angeles software firm NationBuilder.
“We do it for free, for everyone,” said Carr, 32. “And even if you have a $10,000 campaign website, you still need to connect with voters. We’re another arrow in your quiver.”
For now, PoliticalBank’s priority is to build the base of candidates who use the site—and who promote it to voters as a source of information. The company’s executives think the site could realistically engage about two-thirds of candidates seeking office, and they hope to keep both winners and losers active in between elections.
“They also need a mechanism to continue raising money, to do constituent outreach, to maybe justify why they voted a certain way on a particular bill,” Berry said. “It’s not over when the votes are counted.”
Although Web and social technology is still a relatively new addition to most politicians’ toolkit, Berry said it will become more important after the last of 90 million tech-obsessed millennials reach legal voting age in 2020. That’s why he left a job he loved to take a chance on something he believes in.
“This was going to exist in the world, and I could either do it or I could sit back and wait for something else to come along,” he said. “It’s a risk, but the idea is we’ll all benefit in the end, and society will benefit as well.”