Kendall Tucker thought she wanted a career in politics after managing a 2012 state Senate race in Massachusetts. But soon her frustration with the existing tools and technology for campaigns built to the point where she left the industry.
Now, she’s back with a new app that’s designed to make organizing and canvassing as easy as navigating city streets with Waze or Google Maps.
“If you were going to compare us to anyone else in this space, it would either be NationBuilder, and we are partners with them, or MiniVAN or Organizer,” said Tucker of her poli-tech startup Polis.
“The biggest thing that our app is doing, which is different from other people, is really targeting voters. As you send out hundreds of canvassers into the field and they’re knocking on doors, you’re going to have to significantly different results.”
The startup, which includes co-founder Steven Liss and data scientist Emad Taliep, recently had beta trials with seven campaigns, according to Tucker. A wide-scale launch is coming before the end of the year.
C&E: What’s unique about Polis?
Tucker: It allows campaigns to input their own data, and it’ll show those data points on a map. Then what canvassers can do is look for groups of points to go to. Instead of cutting turf, our app just generates optimized walking routes mostly based on proximity. We’re really thinking about which houses make sense to route and then how do we route them in the most efficient way possible.
C&E: Why’d you leave politics?
Tucker: I just felt like it wasn’t a great use of anyone’s time to be importing data for five hours a day. So I left and I was in management consulting.
C&E: Now you’re back. Why create an organizing app?
Tucker: We did a campaign survey this fall of 810 campaign workers. Over 50 percent of campaigns still use paper and clipboards — solely. That means you’re painstakingly putting that into a system or an Excel document. It’s an absolute waste of everyone’s time.
C&E: How does Polis generate the walk map?
Tucker: We built an algorithm to optimize [map generation] for political campaigns because they’re quite different than what you do using Google Maps or Waze. We try to identity clusters of voters - where you’re going to get the most bang for your buck. Then we optimize a walking map so you’re not crossing major streets, and we also end you where you started because presumably you left a car there. We’ve been doing a lot of work with our campaigns and asking them how the routes are going and updating it because what you need in Boston is a little different than what you need in Alaska.
C&E: How did you come up with the name?
Tucker: It means citizenship in ancient Greek. We were both classics nerds when we were young. We really liked populus, which means the people in Latin, but there were trademark issues.
C&E: Are you going to work with Ds and Rs?
Tucker: Yeah, we are.
C&E: What’s the pricing model?
Tucker: It has to do with the size of your voter universe. It’s super cheap if you’re at the local level. It’s [billed] on a monthly basis. It gets more expensive if you’re a larger campaign. We’re talking to a presidential race right now.
C&E: Where does the voter data come from?
Tucker: We always start with campaigns’ own data and then we go from there. We’re using voter-file data and consumer data, too. But it’s more about working with what they have, then optimizing it from there.
C&E: Did your early funding come from investors?
Tucker: We did a round of friends of family, and that was great and we’re super appreciative. We’re currently talking to a lot of investors [about a seed round].
C&E: What’s the reaction been?
Tucker: It was tough at first because obviously politics just isn’t a space people are comfortable with from an investing standpoint. I think political tech is still a burgeoning industry. The best course of action for other startups is find investors who are interested and then introduce them to political experts who can explain it a lot better and be kind of a third party.