How One Tech Company is Changing Grassroots Campaigns
MobilizeAmerica is becoming the go-to platform for Democrats mobilizing grassroots activists and volunteers. Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, and other 2020 presidential hopefuls are using it. WSJ's Jason Bellini sat down with the company's founders. Photos: AP and Getty
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- [Narrator] From a loft space in Manhattan, the tech startup MobilizeAmerica, this is one of its co-founders, Alfred Johnson, is hoping to help the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates optimize people power, with a Silicon Valley-slick platform that organizes volunteers and helps get supporters to show up for events. - Working with Cory Booker's campaign, Kamala Harris' campaign, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Pete Buttigieg. That number we expect to grow pretty substantially. - [Narrator] In a crowded field of presidential candidates, the problem it's solving, Johnson says, is the challenge of grassroots gardening. - The whole dynamic around individual grassroots donors, individual volunteers, being able to power campaigns, I think is something that we're increasingly seeing as something that's table stakes important. - [Narrator] Johnson, before starting MobilizeAmerica two years ago, worked in the tech industry. He also cut his political teeth on President Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. His co-founder, Allen Kramer, who used to work at Bain & Company, worked on Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in Virginia. - We automate a sequence of both emails and text messages to make sure that I actually show up. - It's kinda hard to get people who sign up for things to show up for them, and they come at much higher numbers through the system. - You know that? - We know that. We have observed the flake rates, which is a technical term. - Flake rates? - Flake rates. Number of people who sign up that flake on the shifts that they've signed up for, and it's much less through Mobilize than through other systems. - We just launched this ability for volunteers to create their own events to support a campaign, doing things like hosting their own canvas kickoffs or phone banks. - But what if volunteers for Kamala decide they wanted to host an event where they're gonna throw eggs at Cory Booker's house? - (laughs) So, we've built in an admin layer. So if I submit an event, it goes to the administrators of the campaign to review and make sure that there aren't any typos, the event is in line with their branding. - [Narrator] It's part of what they're paying for with the service. MobilizeAmerica charges between $30 and $2,000 per month. Nonprofits with fewer than 5,000 members can use it for free. The company says, ahead of last year's midterm elections, 370,000 volunteers and almost 1,000 local state and federal campaigns and progressive groups used the platform. Those volunteers signed up to knock on more than nine million doors and made almost 10 million calls. MobilizeAmerica was used by candidates in some of the most high-profile contests. - I am so proud of you. - [Alfred] With Beto O'Rourke's campaign, with Stacey Abrams' campaign, with Mike Espy's special election in Mississippi. - The ones you've just mentioned, they all lost. - That's true, but we worked with a tremendous number that won. In the House of Representatives, we worked with 35 of the 40 members who ended up flipping seats. - Do you have to be a Democrat? - Do you have to be a Democrat? Currently, yes. - So, Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, if he came to you wanting to use your service? - Our current plan is to only work with Democrats. - [Narrator] Republicans don't appear to have a rival platform just yet, though other companies, including one called NationBuilder, which is nonpartisan, offer tools for volunteer organizing. - Could the other side galvanize quickly and do something that's the equivalent, do you think? - I think it would be very hard to do it quickly. The level of data that we were able to observe in the 2018 midterms, I think is a great advantage that we'll have, looking at 2020, and thinking about what the right product ought to be.