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Brookhurst Street: Finding inspiration from my past

Brookhurst

The exit we took to get to our office.

It seems like ages ago when my business partners and I started our company. One of our first “real” offices (other offices included garages, homes, and wherever else the rent was cheap) was on Brookhurst Street – a spacious office in an old, 50’s era building, not too far from Disneyland. Our neighbors in the building ran very diverse businesses – from call centers to religious cults providing exorcisms; you could hear the screams down the hall. Those were tough days, but we were kept alive by all the enormous possibilities that the Internet promised. Recently, one of my business partners sent me an image of the Brookhurst Street exit. For years, the mere site of this exit gave me a sense of anxiety – a reminder of some very tough times. Now, however, it brings back a some great memories. What I remember most was the tremendous sense innovation, creativity and belief that anyone, even some scrappy entrepreneurs like us, could achieve something great in this new era of technology. So today, this photo of Brookhurst Street sits near my desk, and serves as a constant reminder of the progress we have made at iConstituent!  And a reminder that we can (and will) bring the same drive from our past – innovation and creativity – to improve citizen engagement.

 

 

Know Thy Customer

Great article from the Washington Post on the McDonald’s turnaround. “This is what happens when McDonald’s listens to its customers.” Boils down to last quote in the article which pretty much sums up everything all great company’s must do:

“I think listening to the customer is going to the most important rule McDonald’s has to follow,” said Tristano. “As long as they’re doing that, they should be fine, because the customer usually has the answer.”

What makes your company sizzle?

What makes your company sizzle? Is it the buzz? Spin? Maybe, it’s the price? Or, your company’s amazing support? This year, the company I founded, is totally focused on its core product and core competence – iConstituent CRM. Our goal is simple: make a product that people really want and LOVE. It’s a co-creative process; work hand in hand with your customers and stay focused on their needs.

circles-of-marketing-seth-godin

Conversation with Jason Putorti

I met and worked with Jason Putorti several years ago when he had co-founded Votizen. Since then, I have watched his career grow. As an executive at Brigade Media, Jason is one of the thought leaders in “citizen engagement.” I am honored to post his thoughts on Connected Government.

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Zain: As a former executive of Votizen and someone intimately involved with other companies, like Brigade, what trends do you see in this space? How do you see these companies evolving in 2016?

Jason: There’s certainly a lot of players that are getting into the campaign, civic, and government spaces and trying to tackle inefficiencies they see. Probably the best opportunities are in government given the dollars involved. The best example of this I think is OpenGov, as they’ve raised $47M so far. The trends they’re capitalizing are better outlined in this article in TechCrunch. The space I’m most interested in though are technologies that empower individuals: a space I call community action. I wrote an article on six problems I see in our democracy here in America and talk about the companies that are attacking different points of the experience. All these companies are going to need to figure out how to engage consumers and meet them where they are, which has been the problem with every political startup ever made. They aren’t breaking out of the small community, which I myself am I part, of political junkies and crazies. I call this Binetti’s Law after my friend David who started Votizen. We never broke through, much like Ruck.us, Popvox, and everyone else to date. Maybe it’s Brigade’s approach of social polls, maybe a crowd-funding or groups tool like Crowdpac is working on, or maybe its a new media property of some kind. Media, like cable news, Politico, etc., has been the most successful play to date in terms of audience and building a sustainable business of engaging citizens, but it’s still very small. Huffington Post built itself on the back of the 2008 election, so arguably did Youtube with the Tina Fey impression of Sarah Palin. Every four years entrepreneurs think, “this will be the year,” so I’m not confident 2016 will be it, unless someone really makes an exponential jump in growth / engagement between now and November

Zain: How will the upcoming elections impact these businesses and/or how will these businesses impact the elections?

Jason:  Interest in the election will drive news consumption, as it always has, but this year we’re seeing something different. I think the Donald Trump effect has been huge. This is a reality performer and showman who knows exactly how to manipulate the media, and he’s been masterful at it. It’s maddening to turn on the news and see the news media talk about Donald Trump while simultaneously lamenting that they’re talking about Donald Trump. It reminds me of Aaron Sorkin’s Newsroom where the fictional nightly news anchor Will McAvoy is forced to dissect the Casey Anthony case just to get the ratings high enough to host a political debate. Donald Trump, is in essence, meeting Americans where we are: watching the Kardashians on the E! channel, watching The Real Housewives on Bravo, and buying People magazine every week. The media is unfortunately propelling the Trump candidacy because we can’t stop watching it. It’s a cycle that pundits no longer know will be broken.

Top-down campaign technology, meaning tools that presidential campaigns and independent expenditure groups are using, continue to get more advanced every cycle. Persuasion has become much less important than it used to be in years past in the general election, now it’s about the precise targeting of your likely voters, and getting them to the polls. Text messaging will be huge this year and begin to supplant email, advertising will move increasingly online to Facebook, Youtube pre-roll ads, and television targeting will get even more precise to the point where individual households can be targeted.

I lament this narrowcasting as its all serving to drive us further apart as a society. The town square is dying in America. But no matter what side you’re on, you have little choice but to play the game and remind yourself that the ends, officials governing America that reflect your values, justify the means.

Zain: How can government (city/state/federal) potentially benefit from companies like Brigade (others)?

Jason: The most interesting company I’ve seen so far is called Conteneo. It’s a software product that’s designed to engage citizens and experts alike in deciding optimal budgets for cities. People are broken into manageable sized smaller groups of about 7-8 that can discuss budget tradeoffs, much like playing a game of SimCity. Human decisions are lumped in with data and other factors to come up with public policy. People seem to really enjoy engaging with their government in this way and the results have been great. San Jose, the nation’s 10th largest city, is set to experiment with this soon. Just about any platform where citizens are engaging with their local and state officials in some way is a good thing. Apathy and lack of engagement is a huge problem that allows money and advertising to dominate politics. Local and state government is where people can believe again because it’s reasonable to have a relationship with your officials, and the technology helps those relationships scale for the officials. The Mayor of San José, Sam Liccardo, sent a letter to residents with his cell phone number on it. I can literally call him whenever I want. He’s going to get my vote probably as long as he wants it because a personal relationship, and empathy, almost always beats ideology. Not every official is going to do this, but by engaging with citizens and being responsive on social platforms, we’ve solved a part of the problem: a responsive government. Now we need more citizens to get involved and feel empowered again.

About Jason Putorti

Jason is Bessemer’s resident designer and is available to advise portfolio companies on product and user experience design, having previously been the lead designer at Mint.com, Votizen, Causes, and Brigade from 2007 to 2015. “For me, design is the business. For any producJPt or service I will look at how research and design thinking is informing the entire business, from identifying user needs, aligning revenue with user goals, and ensuring companies have a feedback mechanism to inform iterations and know where the problems are. The most successful companies are those that leverage design in this way, not only the visual feel of the product and brand.” This is Jason’s second stint as Designer-in-Residence, having served BVP companies in 2010 including Cornerstone-on-Demand, LinkedIn, Reputation.com, Billguard, Knewton, Intacct, and others. He’s a regular speaker on the subject of design in startups having delivered over a dozen talks at conferences in the past five years in Silicon Valley, Austin, Las Vegas, Vienna; and for companies including Mindflash and Rapleaf. Jason’s design work helped Mint.com win several Webby awards, the TechCrunch 40, the World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer award and many others. He was a Forbes 30 Under 30 award winner in Social and Mobile in 2011.

Citizen Engagement Companies on the Rise: mySidewalk

mySidewalk

I am impressed by the fast growth of mySidewalk, formerly MindMixer. The demand on government to better service its customers (citizens) will only increase as technology improves. Companies like mySidewalk are at the forefront of citizen engagement and will make a difference. Congratulations to the team at mySidewalk!

FiscalNote and Congress – Why it’s a “Must Have.”

Well over a year ago, a friend of mine introduced me to the team at FiscalNote. Their business was just getting off the ground then. They introduced me to their product, Prophecy, and I was sold immediately. Essentially, FiscalNote has simplified, streamlined and reinvented bill research and tracking. It didn’t take me long to realize that every Congressional office should be using FiscalNote’s Prophecy. For many Adobe Photoshop PDFCongressional and government staff, bill research is a tedious task – and, made even more difficult due to a general lack of good research tools. Current tools on the market are expensive, so many offices forgo those tools due to tight budgets. FiscalNote changes the game and provides cutting-edge technology, instant access to information, analytical tools, for a fraction of the cost of other competing products. I am proud of iConstituent’s exclusive relationship with FiscalNote in the US Congress. I am highly confident that the FiscalNote team will continue to develop a compelling product that will eventually be used by hundreds of Congressional offices.

Why I Love Los Angeles!

I recently launched a new blog, “Why I Love LA” for former Mayor of Los Angeles, Richard Riordan. The blog provides the former Mayor with a means to easily reach the people of Los Angeles with a positive message about our city. “Why I Love LA” will also feature many guest writers who will share their views on Los Angeles. Our first guest writer is Dr. Ref Rodriguez, one of the founders of Partnerships To Uplift Communities (PUC).

RJR and the dogs

Former Mayor of Los Angeles Richard Riordan and his dogs.

I want my mojo back.

For presentationI meet with start-ups all the time. I am always inspired by them; their energy, enthusiasm and dedication to what they believe in is contagious. I call it the “collective mojo:” when a group of entrepreneurs band together and work endlessly, with the belief that they can create something amazing, powerful, disruptive and additive to humanity. According to Merriam-Webster’s, “mojo” means “a power that may seem magical and that allows someone to be very effective, successful, etc.” I want my mojo back.

But, the  question is: how do you maintain this drive and entrepreneurial spirit when you’re not a start-up any more? How do you keep your collective mojo?

iConstituent has been around for over ten years now. We have been through many ups and downs along the way. So, how do we get our collective mojo back? – the energy, enthusiasm, and passion to create something new, disruptive and amazing? How do we evolve beyond simple “profit and loss statements, balance sheets and statement of cash flows?”  Basic accounting is obviously important – but, how do we transcend simple dollars and cents, and focus on building great things that people will use and love? And, ultimately become wildly successful?

Regaining your collective mojo starts with the belief that your market (no mater what it is) WILL change. Someone is going to succeed. Why not YOU? Look at the hotel and taxi industry; I find myself using AirBnB and Uber these days – all the time. Twelve months ago, I was “old school,” and simply stayed at hotels or fought for cabs. The world is changing so quickly and so dramatically. These two companies have had such a profound impact on the world in such short periods of time. The government/public sector space will change, too. It has been slowly changing for years, and more rapidly so in recent months, thanks to forward thinking people like Vivek Kundra and many others.

So, how does a company get its collective mojo back? First, it starts with the belief that your  industry will rapidly change and that there remains an abundance of opportunity for those willing to take chances, think “out of the box.”  Who will be the next “Uber” in your space?  Next, you must invest in developing your staff and finding new talent. This is the most important step. By empowering and nurturing talent at iConstituent, and finding more talent to augment our already awesome team, our company will grow; the company’s collective mojo will only come through innovation, which is driven by talent.  Invest in talent, nurture talent, empower talent – and, you will get your mojo back. On this note, I am proud to announce that two of my staff  will take on more responsibility and be empowered to help drive growth at iConstituent: Greg Fickel was recently promoted to Chief Operating Officer and Derek Haller is our VP of Product.

 

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