Whether we like it or not, the 2020 campaign is underway.
Every four years, large presidential campaigns attract a lot of money and talent. But after the campaign is over, the people brought in to create innovative and cutting-edge technology usually disappear, and with them, the continued evolution of those tools. Instead of building on the innovation sparked by the previous electoral cycle, we lose momentum. Every four years, the work begins anew.
Both of our organizations are focused on changing the broken model of political innovation. Today’s political environment moves at a demanding pace and requires constant innovation, optimization, and flexibility. Progressives must abandon their narrow focus on presidential campaigns as their breeding ground for innovation and invest year-round, every year to ensure new ideas take hold and scale. In the past two years, we’ve invested in a generation of technology startups and new organizations helping progressive campaigns and causes work faster, cheaper, and smarter, with the understanding that innovation is a constant process, not a destination. Instead of being dependent on political cycles, we’re using them to build, test, learn, and scale innovative approaches.
Imagine if venture capitalists had only made one round of concerted investment into the largest social media platforms. We’d be staring at glitchy pictures of each other on Friends Reunited. Historically this has been the fate of progressive political technology: intermittently developed and continually rebooting. We need to do better.
What if, instead, we commit to funding innovation early and often? What if we tried to reach every activist and voter in America where they actually spend their time, relentlessly optimized for deeply persuasive messaging, and invested in new tools to help campaigns and organizations track their progress and shape their strategy?
We must use technology to empower people and groups to engage more fully in our democracy – both during election cycles and in between. But only if we prioritize continued investment in innovation – not just technology and tools, but also new ways to organize, mobilize volunteers, tell our stories, and change hearts and minds.
When investors like us supported startups like Swing Left, Pantsuit Nation, Hustle, MobilizeAmerica, and Swayable, many critics were skeptical about whether their work would translate into anything significant and impactful. But taking risks and moving money early has paid off in a big way.
Progressive innovation is stronger now but there are still significant gaps. We need smarter tools for campaigns to create and place more digital ads, ways to combat misinformation, more progressive media platforms, and seamless data integration – just to name a few. To keep progress moving forward, we need to double down on what works while continually investing in innovators with new ideas that are ready to test, iterate, and optimize over the next few years.
By moving new dollars – both for-profit and nonprofit – through funds like ours, we can stop reinventing the wheel every few years. We can harness our creativity and double down on the best ideas now, so we can get to the business of building for the future. Because innovation is a process, not a destination.