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What Can Campaigns Learn From Startups

“Hi, Ecanvasser is the name and we are a startup”

Our thousands (one day) of readers gasp at that admission, most likely due to the stat of death that is : 9 out of 10 startups fail. *Checks pulse, we’re still breathing, thankfully.

Not only do we embrace the startup title and all the risks that come along with it, we also happily coexist within the cut -throat world of political campaigning.

Therefore, with a foot in both worlds, we feel we have the authority to shed some light on the similarities between the two without sounding like total idiots ( this, of course, is entirely subjective).

Both could learn a lot from each other in terms of use of scarce resources and scaling operations quickly, so hear us out.

Move fast or die...lean startup

via GIPHY

The obvious similarity is the speed with which startups and campaigns both appear and disappear. As we mentioned above, the oft-quoted statistic of just 1 in 10 startups surviving the initial stages could easily be applied to political campaigns too. Not everyone can win and the key differentiator is often the speed with which the entrepreneur or campaign manager is able to adapt to their environment and tailor their offering to the market.

Lean startup is the creed for so many nascent businesses and it’s principles of testing ideas quickly, learning from each iteration and adapting to failure is one that should certainly be applied better in political campaigns. Too often we see campaign messaging not being dynamic enough to match the voting public. Learning which campaign tactics are working based on data feedback is critical. Are your negative TV ads having the desired impact and how do you know? Is ground game your best use of volunteer resources and how do you know? Lean startup is being applied by campaign managers to great effect now in making well-informed, timely decisions about what is working for a campaign.

So the challenge is to carry out this work within a short space of time, but it isn’t enough to just get the work done, it has to be done to a high enough standard that you stand out from your competition. The obvious thing to help you get this done is to surround yourself with a good team and keep communication channels open. It is amazing how much great work can get done when things are constantly being reviewed and dissected.

Momentum Grab

via GIPHY

Campaigns and startups both crave momentum. Every startup entrepreneur looks at their revenue graph and wills it to the hockey-stick upturn. Campaigns seek to capitalize on momentum gained through debate performances, competitor slip-ups and so on. What does this momentum bring? In the case of startups, it brings customers and, consequently, investors. Companies like Hustle, are a good example of a startup with a lot of momentum based around a particularly high-profile candidate, Bernie Sanders. We saw also in the Republican primary race the huge benefit of gaining momentum (Trump) and not (Jeb Bush).

As we can see, momentum can be gained on a coin flip but equally lost if not followed up. Ted Cruz cruised to victory in Iowa with his voter targeting fuelled ground game but then suddenly it was almost like his team took a break. Never ever get comfortable.

How do I get outta here?

Startups are often criticized for seeking out an ‘exit’ before they even exist. The extreme rarity of a startup going to IPO with the original team testifies to how often startups sell up, pivot into a different business or, simply fail. Campaigns are no different, over 1000 candidates began the race for the US Presidency last year, only for, give or take….997, to pivot into other races or pull out. Winning a primary election, on the other hand, is similar to being acquired when you are a startup. Resources are washed into your organization but decision making can become slower and have more contingencies as a result. A run-off candidate is much more of a public figure and subject to the opinions of supporters and detractors alike. Startups that become public companies or take on a large investment, similarly, must work with stakeholders now and lose their startup flexibility.

So how can campaigns avoid the stagnation that sometimes comes with the long election road?

We think setting lots of little targets is the best bet. People say aim for the stars but that’s a fool's game in the world of politics because there is no shortcut, you must go the long way, granted you can go quickly but it’s still the same route.

Look where others have failed, that’s the beauty of elections, you nearly always have predecessors, do your research and you may put yourself in an advantageous position.

Sick of listening to us yet? Well, that’s fine anyway because we are done for the time being. If, on the other hand, you want to hear more from us, go check out the rest of our blog.

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