What we're seeing in 2018
Higher Ground Labs launched our second open call for applications in December of 2017. The sustained surge of interest and applications exceeded our expectations: we were pleased to read through over 90 applications, more than we had received for our inaugural accelerator class last year. This was a strong pool of applicants! We moved almost half of the companies to first round interviews and dove in with the founders to really understand the problem they are solving, their proposed solution, and their team. We were able to dream with each great founding team for an hour. The conversations have been inspirational.
The companies we have seen address a broad range of challenges in politics, but there are a few areas where we have see outsized potential:
Polling solutions. The past few cycles have exposed shortcomings in traditional polling. The market is responding; Entrepreneurs are developing new approaches to quickly, cheaply, and accurately target and measure a representative audiences.
Psychographic mapping + persuasion testing. Progressive campaigns and advocacy organizations routinely invest millions of dollars to generate and share digital content that can move public opinion. Huge budgets are raised and spent without an ability to accurately predict what content will actually change minds. The content itself can also benefit from variations bespoke to the values and moral frameworks evident in a voter. There are some amazing new approaches to these problems popping up in the space right now. Make no mistake, these are similar approaches to Cambridge Analytica’s work. However overstated you think the effect, we believe it warrants further experimentation. This level of sophistication in messaging and targeting will allow Democrats to better run the relationship-based campaigns we need to win.
Messaging and response to Fake News. In these days of public discussion around disinformation, we are seeing new ways to identify sources of “fake news” and then combat that narrative. There is very little currently available to campaigns to be proactive in this space today. We are participating in the first wave on innovation from some amazing entrepreneurs right now.
Fundraising. Today, our candidates and campaign staffers spend too much time thinking about how to raise money. Whether calling donors to max out to campaigns or incessantly emailing lots of individuals to given in the double digits, this currently takes significant resources from even small campaigns - the most valuable of which is time. We are seeing a surge of energy in both high dollar and low dollar tech that makes this essential process more efficient and raises the ROI as a whole.
Each of these areas come with their own promise and their own challenges. As we make our final investment decisions for 2018, we want to offer up a few things that are making products and teams stand out:
- Diverse, passionate founding teams. This isn’t a checkbox thing. It is a quality thing. Diverse teams generally take a more nuanced approach to solving problems. We deeply appreciate diverse co-founders, who we believe positively impact product, company culture, and mindset. To the prospective female founders and entrepreneurs of color: if you are thinking about jumping into political tech - we need you now more than ever.
Connecting things that aren’t currently connected. The most compelling companies are making it possible to connect things within a campaign that were previously siloed. Connecting the field and digital program. Connecting data sources. Using existing targeting information to lower the cost of polling. These companies offer immediate value to our buyers.
User experience is everything. The users we are recruiting to use these platforms are users of Lyft, AirBnB, and ApplePay. These people are used to clean, intuitive user experience. Their expectations do not change when they are using tech for political engagement - so neither should ours. Products that focus on user experience lower the barrier to adoption and speak for themselves in terms of ease of use. Like any other industry, these products get a leg up every time.
Stay tuned for the announcement of our 2018 cohort!