The Predictable Flood of Politics Oriented Web Startups

I received at least one email a day last week pitching a politics oriented web startup. The emails start off something like this.

Over $8 billion dollars will be spent on the upcoming 2012 election. The web and social media are critical tools for any candidate. Every candidate will need our stuff and since over $8 billion dollars will be spent, even if we capture a tiny part of that market, we will create a huge company. Did I say that over $8 billion dollars will be spent? Would you like to hear more about the amazing opportunity we have in front of us?

The polite version of my answer has been “Thanks for reaching out but we aren’t interested in investing in the politics vertical market.” But, echoing in the back of my head is “$8 billion dollars? You’ve got to fucking be kidding me.”

I could go on about a rant about spending $8 billion to elect people in one election. But I realize there are lots of different ways to look at this, including the common refrains of “it’s a stimulus for our economy” and “but it’s entertainment, just like football.” And I have no doubt that there are people out there whose immediate response is “but don’t you think your ad-tech related companies make a lot of money off of this?” And as I cycle through the next ten thoughts in my head, I realize that my personal thoughts about this will have no impact on what actually happens.

So instead I just vote with my own wallet and get on board the Howard Schultz Boycott Campaign Donations train. And while I have no doubt that some people can make money creating web services for helping candidates get elected, especially those that include mobile, real-time data, and geo-location, I have no real interest in investing in companies that have the singular goal of helping politicians get elected.

  • http://twitter.com/davidhhendricks Dave Hendricks

    Yep. How much is injecting politics into a board meeting that already probably has enough already…

  • http://www.twosides.co Jono Lee

    Agreed. For TwoSides (http://www.twosides.co), we just released a marketing campaign that lets you compare viewpoints with the candidates (http://www.twosides.co/election2012). Considering that the election will basically be on everyone’s mind for the next year, it makes sense to focus on politics but the product definitely needs to have more. Ultimately we hope to become the debate site for virtually any topic.

  • James Mitchell

    Assuming the $8 billion number is accurate, so what? 99.9999 percent of that money will not be spent on political websites. It will be spent on television, newspapers, radio, magazines, and other websites.

  • Anonymous

    James I wish people would do a little research before you post numbers that are bogus!!! Let’s just say that you know half of what you are saying, that means that they will spend .0002% on social networks???? Well let’s look at 2010 elections which was $4.98 billion spend on the elections. Please use the new invention called “GOOGLE” or Yahoo search. In 2010 the campaigns spent 20% of their money on social media. And yes next elections will be somewhere around $8 billion spent on elections but people that actually know what they are talking about like Carl rove say that it will be more like 36% spent on it and yes Facebook and twitter will get about 70% of it and tellmygov will get about 15% so you still have about 15% left over to grab. So let’s do some math James; $8 billion x 36%= $2,880,000,000 now x 15% = $428,000,000. Yes let me make it simple for you so you can read that number it is $428 million. So what did we learn here??? if you get 5%-10% from that number it will be $2.14 million to $4.28 million. It is not that bad but I agree why bother to do something that you don’t know nothing about! And most people don’t know what they are doing or how to do it. So stay alway from investing in webesites that you don’t understand anything in.

    • James Mitchell

      I think my posting was clear, namely that .0002 percent will be spent on political websites. Political websites are a very small percentage of social networking in general. So investing in a political website based on $8 billion spent on political advertising is rather silly.

      Of the money spent on the Internet, my guess would be that Facebook, AOL, Google and a few other major players capture most of the revenues. To think that a new political website will gain a meaningful share of Internet/web spending is at best wishful thinking.

      That’s assuming I ever know what a political website is. It seems like a term in need of a definition.

      • Anonymous

        If you really want to know what a Political social network looks like you are more than welcome to check out http://tellmygov.com/ and see that putting together a political social network has to be more than just friends and pictures on it, it has to have many tools that the American voters can use to be able to make an informative decision in the one of the most important election in history. I wanted to make a correction on the dollar amount that was spent on the 2010 elections to $3.98 billion. I type a little to fast and pressed 4 by accident. here is a link to that figure: http://www.savings.com/blog/post/2010-Election-Spending-Makes-It-the-Most-Expensive-Midterm-Election-Ever.html

        Please let me know if you agree or disagree about what TellMyGov will provide the American voters to make a difference in the next elections.  But many people will try and fail with cheap sites like ning.com and WordPress but I guess it is “The American way”. It is the greatest country in the history of human kind, and will stay that way for a long time.

        • James Mitchell

          According to compete.gov, tellmygov.com has 2000 monthly uniques. Quantcast does not list it at all. Major sites such as The New York Times or AOL have 2000 visitors every few minutes. I don’t think a site with 2000 monthly uniques is going to affect an election. If you’re running for office, mass media is realistically the best way to spend your advertising dollars.

          Running for office is a peculiar thing, you have to make your pitch to every conceivable voter, or at least every voter you have not completely written off. (Obama should not spend his advertising money advertising to Tea Party members.) It is not a long tail business. If you’re Mercedes trying to selling ridiculously high priced automobiles, then you should look for specific demographics and you can develop a very targeted advertising campaign. That is much less true for someone running for office.

          • Anonymous

            My very good friend James, Let’s start with couple of
            facts!!!! First of all TellMygov.com went live on 4th of July 2011 and yes we
            do love our birthday 3 months tomorrow! Wait who else has that birthday wait,
            for wait for it oh yea United States of America was established on 4th of
            July!!! Well let’s get back to more facts which is we do have a little more
            than 2000 visitors per month. Let’s say that you have been looking at
            statistics sadly to say, you either don’t know or left it out on purpose. Well
            here is one source that you did not mention which is
            http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/tellmygov.com# . Now before I go over it a little
            in more detail, Alexa is a ranking website which has about 99% of the numbers
            right yes they are a profit website but it kind of gives you the full picture.
            They use a three month and a one month ranking system. They take into effect:
            how many visitors, unique pages viewed and length per visit average and
            calculate with the ranking of the world and countries of visit. Now that we understand
            a little about Alexa let’s get to the numbers. After 3 months tomorrow
            TellMyGov is rated 227,772 in the world and 109,222 for the last month, now
            remember, you might forgot already that it was only 3 months since it went
            live!!! OK well let’s look at the rating for the US wait for it wait for it, oh
            yea its 20,293 for the last 3 and yes let me write it for you “three”
            months ranking. There are 2 other sites as competition they are: RTR.org, politics4all.com,
            which has been online for years. RTR is ranked for 3 months 114,088 in the
            world but the last month they are 167,038 in the world. Wait wasn’t TellMyGov
            109,000 in the world oh wait one more thing they are ranked in the US 34,398,
            yea I know TellMyGov.com is killing them on that at what was it?? Oh yea 20,293.
            Well let’s look at another cool statistics, Unique pages viewed per visit for
            the last month for RTR was A full 4.7000 per visit, Now let’s look at TellMyGov
            it was 21.000 per visit yes let me spell it out for you so you will not make
            any mistakes “Twenty One” per visit. Why would anyone click on 21
            unique pages per visit average?  Even
            YouTube has only 13.24000 per visit. Ebay comes close with 18.73000 per visit
            and Facebook is only 13.52000 per visit. Craigslist is the best with 24.23000
            per visit. politics4all is a whole 3.90000 with 80% of the site’s visitors are
            in China. Well I guess china will own us soon anyway :-). Well let’s look at one
            last important statistic; this one is minutes users spend on line. So RTR has 10.06667
            minutes per visit average which is not that bad, but TellMyGov has 29.51000
            minutes per visit average. So TellMyGov is 3 times better, I know you can do research
            now, so please look at other sites for those numbers. Now that you have a
            little more information (how ironic that’s what the website does, provide information
            to the American voters). The good news is that we already know that we are a
            great product but tomorrow our TV commercials will air in south Texas and
            hopefully nationwide by November so I think we will be OK!

            It is great to inform the voters, which I am sure you are
            one of them! After you login and see what TellMyGov.com has to offer, than you
            come back and let me know if the definition has been provided for what is a
            real Social Network for Politics.

    • Jared

      Tellmygov, your posts are argumentative and condescending.  Why are you arguing with people on Brad’s blog?  I was hoping to find some useful information in the comments but instead I’ve stumbled upon a flame war.

      Debating your total addressable market, the number of monthly unique’s and other semantics is a waste of time and energy.  And it’s pathetic.

      We can tell you are passionate, that’s great, you’ve got to be passionate about your startup.  However, I don’t think you should be vehemently arguing with people who are offering constructive criticism. Instead, spend your time improving your product (your site UI needs improvement and your videos are cheesy), figure out how to add value and not just be “another social network” aimed at politics.

      Even if your product was quality and actually added value to our political system, I would still not use it because of your ugly online etiquette.  The “no ass hole rule” also applies to tech startups.

      Good luck acquiring users with such behavior.

  • dan f.

    I agree about the waste of money on the machine of politics.  That said, start-ups should be looking at how politicians on every level (local,state, federal) can connect with their constituents and actually represent the interests of the people, giving us a voice that seems to have been lost.  It seems very plausible that systems can be built to identify one’s actual constituents and then poll them, provide a 2 way method of communication and so on.   

    • Anonymous

      I am happy to let you know that it is already done but it offers way more than that. See for your self and let me know if I am wrong! http://tellmygov.com  this is the next generation of social networking. I would to hear your thoughts about that

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_XUSIAFVEIZBFQVVOHTZLB7NC2I Ana

        And a broader version to encourage community communication between gov, between neighbors, between people – http://www.LocalByUs.com

  • http://twitter.com/cmicon Craig Micon

    Great post, Brad.  Very exciting to hear a VC interested in allocating money to ventures aimed at generating ROI AND actually creating value!

  • http://www.wac6.typepad.com William Carleton

    Agree that startups looking to cash in on the same old exploitative, politics-as-marketing, money-as-speech idea of politics is boring, reactionary . . . and undemocratic, to boot. The real radical opportunity with technology in politics is to subvert the hold money has over policy and governance.  

  • http://twitter.com/nist Scott Banister

    We spend more than that in one month fighting to influence the governance of Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t find it surprising that American citizens are willing to spend that much to influence one election of their own government. What is it worth to prevent bad government policy?

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