Startup aims to increase civic impact in politics
In today’s political climate, people of all ideologies have been reaching out to their congressional members more, whether it be by phone, email, or social media. We are experiencing a level of citizen involvement in political affairs.
Data from the Constituent Management System is not required to be released; however, we see a vast uptick recently by the numbers that congressional members have shared. An article in The New Yorker, “What Calling Congress Achieves” by Kathryn Schulz, explained that contacting your congressional representatives doesn’t always work, but it can be very successful when it does. She wrote that activism succeeds when hidden groups of voices become heard and reelection becomes an imminent threat in the correspondence. Schulz depicted the floods of calls and emails to Congress following the inauguration of President Donald Trump in January 2017.
A group of GW students were on the bandwagon with constituent communication before the last presidential election, however.
In October 2015, Joseph Nelson was working for Facebook when he attended the Second Annual Congressional Hackathon. That sparked his initial idea for the creation of Represently. Nelson, CEO, combined his extensive experience in politics, campaigns, journalism and digital strategy to create this start-up. He’s been working for Represently upon graduating from GW in 2016.
Represently is an online platform to mobilize citizens to contact their congressional representatives. The company overview is as follows:
“Represently is a software company building products for anyone to multiply their civic impact. Advocacy organizations, nonprofits, and businesses empower their supporters (and their supporters’ supporters) to share their stories and advocate directly to their lawmakers. Individuals are given the power to create a movement to cause civic change.”
The original business model was legislative-focused, but recently has switched to constituent-focused. Meaning, at first the goal of the company was to sell this service to Congress to better manage their constituent communication, but there are many barriers with that. Instead now Represently works to increase engagement on the general public side. Despite the fact that the model has changed over the years, the “overarching problem has not,” according to Nelson. This problem is the ability of lawmakers to hear from their constituents in an effective manner.
In 2016, Represently won third place in the GW New Venture Competition.
Nelson's business associates are Lucas Baier (lead developer) and Michael Gasparovic (lead full stack developer). John Tomczak (GW) and Jacob Witt (Georgetown) also help out with Represently.
In a recent interview, Nelson reflected that the point of having a representative democracy is that all voices can he heard. Transparency and ability to be heard are so important; these are bipartisan notions. Represently connects influential people and organizations together to communicate their concerns to Congress. Someone who is influential can launch their own campaign based on what they’re passionate about. New for October 2017 is that individuals can start campaigns, whether or not they're affiliated with an organization.
“People want to communicate in ways that are first nature to them,” said Nelson, in reference to new media platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram. This bottom-up approach “turns slacktivism into real activism.”
Going forward, Nelson hopes to continue to find dedicated individuals to increase the use of Represently and take their audience from 50 to 5,000. Represently is a B2B (business to business) and B2C (business to consumer) company. The goal is to become a universal platform that provides enough value, so everyone--regardless of political ideology--needs it. He emphasized the importance of debate in a democracy.
“People want to communicate in ways that are first nature to them"
Represently is currently an LLC, but is in the process of becoming a benefits corporation, so it can ensure that it conducts business in the public interest. Nelson believes this is how they will avoid the issues of big money in politics.
Gasparovic, the lead developer, who is currently a senior at GW, spoke about how Represently helps people convince their friends to contact Congress. The “Eventbrite” like model provides a direct link for users to call, write, or share a photo with their Congress representative. In an interview Gasparovic stated the startup is working to convince people their calls matter. “Societal norms need to break,” he said.
Interested in improving democracy? Represently seeks developers and passionate account managers alike. Email email@example.com for more information.
Originally published by Courtney Buble at gw.therival.news on 11.5.17
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