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Scaling a Political Tech Startup in an Election Year

Written by: Olivia Ellis (Program Manager) and Ali Talib (Program Operations Manager)

How political tech startups can prepare for scale and build resilience in a presidential election year.

As the calendar flips closer to another presidential election, the need for political tech startups to scale effectively is immense. The demands of a national campaign can stress even the most robust systems, pushing technology and teams to their limits. To explore how political tech infrastructure startups can not only survive but thrive in this high-stakes environment, Leah Bae, VP of Programs and Partnerships at Higher Ground Labs, interviewed several seasoned leaders who have successfully navigated these waters. Here, we relay the vital strategies and insights they shared, designed to prepare your startup for the task ahead.

Lessons in Scaling: Early Preparation is Key

“Meeting the moment means understanding it first,” Alex Niemczewski, Co-founder & CEO of BallotReady, began, reflecting on her journey through multiple election cycles. In 2020, her team’s efforts to pivot and scale their vote-by-mail tool amidst a pandemic highlighted the necessity of early and strategic preparation. “Preparing your systems for a spike isn’t just about adding more servers or bandwidth. It’s about anticipatory actions, rigorous stress tests, and ensuring you have the right people ready to handle unexpected challenges.”

Building a Resilient Team

“The human element is equally crucial”, Danielle Winterhalter, Co-founder of SpeakEasy Political, pointed out. “Scalability is as much about people as it is about technology,” she noted. Drawing from her experiences expanding SpeakEasy’s operations during major election years, she recommended, “Start planning your team expansion early in the year and aim to have folks onboarding and training at least 90 days before the real chaos hits. But it’s not just about filling seats—it’s about preparing every new hire to thrive in a high-stress environment through comprehensive onboarding and continuous training.”

Danielle also touched on learning the importance of solidifying support structures like PTO and comprehensive employee handbooks. “When your team knows the specific supports they have access to, they perform better. Clear, well-defined policies help teams navigate their roles and personal needs during intense periods.”

Navigating Tech Challenges with Expertise and Security

Technology’s role in scaling isn’t just about handling more data or traffic; it’s about maintaining security and integrity under pressure. Naseem Makiya, CEO of Impactive, emphasized the need for specialized hires, particularly in security. “Bringing on engineers who aren’t just talented but also have specific experience in building for and handling high-stress, high-volume environments is crucial. You don’t want to be patching a security vulnerability in the heat of an election.”

Gerard Niemira, HGL’s Managing Director of Fund IV and an HGL1 cohort alumnus, echoed Naseem’s sentiments highlighting the operational side of security. “Having a dedicated budget for security isn’t just advisable; it’s essential,” Gerard added. He recommends setting up comprehensive monitoring systems to keep an eye on data integrity and system performance continuously, such as participating in The Good Catch bug bounty program co-led by HGL, Zinc Labs, and Trestle Collaborative.

Final Thoughts

The collective wisdom of these founders boils down to a proactive rather than reactive strategy. Whether it’s staffing, systems testing, or security, the key to scaling successfully in a presidential year lies in anticipating the challenges ahead and preparing for them diligently.

As we gear up for another election, we hope these strategies will guide your strategic and operational planning for scale in 2024. By doing so, you not only ensure your technology and teams are ready, but also position your startup as a reliable partner in the democratic process, capable of supporting the important work of winning campaigns.

About the Experts:

Alex Niemczewski is Co-founder & CEO of BallotReady (HGL1), a civic engagement platform that makes it easy for voters to take part in our democracy, from registering to vote, contacting an officeholder, or running for office. They’re powered by the most comprehensive database to every level of government.

Danielle Winterhalter is Co-founder & Managing Partner of SpeakEasy Political (HGL3), a tech-enabled political communications firm founded to provide Democratic campaigns with access to effective, sophisticated media strategies. With leading data and authentic creative, they run cohesive cross-channel programs at the local, state, and national levels.

Gerard Niemira is HGL’s Managing Director of Fund IV and former Founder of GroundBase (HGL1). He has led HGL’s investments in emerging political tech startups and also built political tech infrastructure at multiple organizations, including the 2016 Hillary For America campaign as their Product Director. 

Naseem Makiya is the Founder & CEO of Impactive (HGL3), an all-in-one digital organizing platform providing a variety of voter contact tools to campaigns and causes. Thousands of organizations have leveraged Impactive’s peer-to-peer texting, broadcast texting, phone banking, relational organizing, voter registration, and other tools since 2017.