CP16: Podcast with Trace Anderson from CFB Strategies about Data Management for Political Campaigns
Welcome to the 16th episode of our podcast!
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Martin: Today we’re having a very interesting guest who is somehow involved in the presidential campaign of 2016. Hi Trace! Who are you and what type of company are you running?
Trace: Hi Martin! I’m doing great. Our company is called CFB Strategies and we are an ISP partner of Salesforce.com. And what ISP means: it stands for Independent Software Vendor and what we do is, I’ll explain in the most basic level, we have repurposed the Salesforce platform for political campaigns and for non-profits and we basically set up their data infrastructure and managed the data for those campaigns.
Martin: Okay, cool. What does your entrepreneurial journey look like? What did you do before you started this company? How did you come up with the business idea?
Trace: Well, I had a background in economics and law. I studied Economics in college and then made a detour to law school. And during that time I had done several internships in DC in the political world and sort of decided that during that period I wanted to work in politics.
After law school, I moved to Washington DC, I worked in several different positions: one as a legislative aid on capitol hill, and then as an attorney, and lobbyist. During that time, had worked on several political campaigns, that’s sort of the nature of working in politics. The campaign season comes up at minimum every two years and I had some opportunities to work on some campaigns during that time. And in 2006, I got the opportunity to run a campaign in New York City and after we ran that race, I came back here and I’ve been in New York ever since and out of that experience is what prompted our entrepreneurial vision and sort of a vision for the company to provide a data platform for campaigns.
Martin: So Trace, tell me, what is the difference between real politics and House of Cards?
Trace: That’s a great question. Well, there’s not quite as much – well, I shouldn’t say there’s not quite as much drama because there is just as much drama in real politics as there is House of Cards. It’s sort of the plotline for House of Cards where they’re killing people and getting rid of people that are in their way—that’s a little bit on the ridiculous side but all the rest of it, there’s some definite analogous story lines that go into, sort of, the everyday aspects of campaigning and building coalitions minus – not to say that it never happens anyway—but minus the criminal aspect of getting rid of people that are in your way.
Martin: So, when you came from Capitol Hill to New York, at want point in time did you think about: “Okay, I want to start this kind of company” and how did you go about starting it all up?
Trace: So this is back in 2006 and I was working on a state senate race that encompassed pretty much the entirety of Staten Island, which is one of the five burrows of New York City. And during that time, this was really before sort of technology had, kind of, immersed itself in the political world and so based on my experience during that campaign, we found ourselves constantly looking for different lists. I needed a voter list for this, or we needed a volunteer list for that or we needed a call list to track down and we needed to organize some volunteers to go out and do a block walk, sort of, all those things that are very basic components of the campaign. We felt like they’ve never been managed on Excel spreadsheets.
And there was an immediate recognition that this is not an efficient way to operate. There should be a way utilizing data, utilizing technology, and the internet to provide a sort of platform or cockpit, so to speak, to run all of your operations from one central place so that people can access it and work more efficiently and that’s really how the idea was born.
And back then, there wasn’t really anything like that that competed to / that worked in the political space. So that was sort of our idea and we recognized it. And shortly thereafter in 2007, we formed the company and we originally built out our own proprietary database that was based on Google Earth. So we had shaped files that would mimic the outline of the district and all the individual – in New York there’re called the election districts and you know, elsewhere around the country they’re commonly referred to as precincts. And so we sort of had a visual component that we could color-code based upon data results and then also you could drill down into those individual districts or the district as a whole and manage the data, target the voters, and work with the data that way. So, that’s how it started and then there’s been several products, redefinitions and different products built since then.
Martin: Cool and how did you acquire your first customer? I suppose this was in New York City.
Trace: It was. After the 2006 campaign, I had stayed on and I went to work as the Chief of Staff of the Senator that we got elected, his name is Andrew Lanza and I was his Chief of Staff. And my business partner, Bob Vaillancourt, he at that time was working for the local Congressman and that’s—the two of us—that’s how we got together. We had the idea and built the product out and then grew our work in New York in working with other campaigns and just general networking and meeting people in the same political space and then around campaigns in the New York area, that’s how we started and we got several races in the 2008 campaign cycle.
Martin: And what made you think that a) you are the right person and b) it’s the right time for working on such an idea?
Trace: Well, there was just—at the time, in 2006 and 2008, there wasn’t anything that was really very good technologically in campaign politics. To be honest with you readers, we sort of, saw the market and knew that we can design a product – we felt at the time that we had designed a product that addressed all the needs that we were seeking to accomplish. And during that first cycle – 2008 cycle, we had quite a bit of a success but shortly after that, we recognized that the way that we had built our database, how we had structured it, how it was being sold to other potential clients – that to scale that was going to be really, really difficult to do. And that is how we stumbled upon Salesforce – not stumbled upon but we were introduced to Salesforce. And we quickly recognized that Salesforce, kind of, gave us the infrastructure and all the dynamic reporting capabilities and allowed us to develop and code on top of their platform and so that’s how we were able to partner with them and to be able to scale our business— to meet the demands of the marketplace.
BUSINESS MODEL OF CFB STRATEGIES
Martin: Cool. Trace, let’s talk briefly about the business model of CFB Strategies. What type of business model did you start out with? What made you change some of those elements and how does the business model look like now?
Trace: Well, I think there’s – we’re still –some aspects of our original business model that is currently built in into what we do. As I mentioned before, originally it was just our own proprietary database and we went out and sold it to people on a monthly basis and it was anywhere from like a six to eight month contract depending on the election cycle.
Now, although we still have those same cyclical events that we face in the political world whether it’s an off-year election and – what I mean by off-year election: is one held in an odd year so 2011, 2013, 2015 and those typically are city or municipal races. Some states have races on those years but the typical election cycle is the one we’re currently in in 2016 and that’s the even year election cycle. So we have those, sort of, built in cyclical effects and we still sell the database but there’s two out of three components now to our business model.
So, first, there’s the set-up and the architecture and actually capturing the data from our clients and there’s a set-up in architecting piece that in involved in setting up every client and loading and structuring the database according to their needs. Not every client is the same and they’re going to want to see different things. So there’s a little bit of tinkering at the outset to identify what those needs are and determine how we’re going to architect and set-up the database to begin with. And the point I will say in that is we’re data diagnostics so we talk to our clients and everybody kind of has a different data source that they may be familiar working with, we don’t really care what that is, we allow our clients to bring their data to us, and then we take that data and we structure it and tailor it to their needs.
The second component of the business model is, sort of, the product. So, the product consists of the user licenses, the data storage, the API calls, sort of, the all the nuts and bolts of what we are selling our client. So, now we sell things by user license. So large campaigns may have fifty to a hundred users, smaller campaigns may have four or five, it just depends on the complexity of the race. And then there’s data storage costs for hosting all these information in the cloud as well as API calls when different snap-on tools and we’re transferring data to different places depending on the clients’ needs. And then on top of that, we add-on things like phones or fund raising component, or maybe an email component or possibly like a GO spacial, and other applications. And all of those things are available on the Salesforce App Exchange. So that’s another great thing about being a partner of Salesforce is that: our application is listed on the App Exchange. And then we, in turn, we make a sale to a client, we can then offer them other products or applications that they can snap-in to their Salesforce systems, so in a way we kind of view ourselves as— think about it in terms of like the Apple store, right? And there’s the base component of everything that’s there and what their client wants and then with the Salesforce App Exchange that allows us to do is just go in and add other products that they might need during the course of the campaign, so all of those things are treated as add-ons.
And then the third part of the business model is, sort of, our consulting / implementation partner side. Where this comes in is that both, my business partner Bob and I have, we have a unique or imminent understanding of politics and how campaigns run, but then it’s our job to implement the data, hierarchy and structure and work with the different members of the campaign that we are working for to make sure that they’re getting the most out of that product. So whether it is running reports, building dashboards, or setting up different hierarchies or internal divisions of the campaign – it’s sort of that hands-on “Okay, how do I apply what I know of politics but also how to I apply what I know as a data manager and make these things work for the campaign.”
Martin: One thing that I’ve heard from one episode of John Oliver, the comedian, maybe you’ve heard of him. He said in one of his series that: most politicians are spending like 50-60% of their time on calling people just for raising money. And if this is true, is your service only focusing on helping politicians raise money or is there also another relationship management component involved?
Trace: Although there’s a portion of our business that’s focused on fund raising, we are really more of the data infrastructure of the campaign. So in any given campaign, there’s specialist vendors that may conduct fund raising phone calls. We as a company, personally don’t do that, but what we do, do is host that data when it comes back from that vendors that’s conducting those calls, all that data comes into us so then as a campaign, we can parse that data and then work with it going forward for possibly more fundraising calls, maybe that’s get up vote calls, maybe it’s just identifying who the supporters are.
Our platform is the infrastructure / data infrastructure for the campaigns we work with. So, one vendor may be doing fundraising phone calls, another may be doing email soliciting— fundraising solicitations, another may be doing voter outreach directly based on certain issues so there’s a myriad of things and issues both in fundraising and in policy that the campaign conducts and we are the place where that data comes to live.
Martin: So, when I look at the political industry, let’s call it like that, I see that the political elections on a local, on a regional and on a national level. And there’s some type of seasonality involved because on the national level, maybe only every four or five years or so there’s an election. How do you manage this kind of seasonality and can you give us some kind of hints or glimpse on how big the market for such a product is?
Trace: Yes, so the seasonality can be a tricky thing. For smaller campaigns they don’t have the same data needs at a larger campaign does. So for a lot of clients, they may come on for 8-9 months and work with us during their election cycle and, sort of, going into hibernation mode for the next year and then come back.
So what we try to do in such relations like that is – we’re working very intensely with them during the election cycles so that may be anywhere from 8-10 months. And then the off-year, there isn’t as much work required so, instead of completely shutting down their data organization; we will offer them reduced rate to sort of keep that data in the cloud and in that storage and in that, we call each campaign’s data organization their “org”, we’ll keep their org live, alive in the cloud so that when they want to turn it back on in the next year, it’s ready to go. And of course, during that hibernation mode there’s not as much cost involved on either side so it’s at a reduced rate for that off-season year and then once it comes back on the grid, those rates are adjusted accordingly.
The larger organizations and, you know, any state-wide campaign or even the national campaign, there’s a lot of work obviously goes in to building that data and these kinds of organizations have ongoing demand regardless of what year it is. So clearly there’s a lot of activity on the campaign year but even on the off-season year, fundraising is always an ongoing demand and, reaching out to voters, finding out what people are thinking and how they feel about certain issues – those sort of data needs to constantly go on for larger organizations.
So we find ourselves we have a mixture of both types of clients and it’s a matter of adjusting to what that particular client needs.
Martin: Great, and can you give us some insights on how big is the market for such kind of product?
Trace: The market is – it keeps growing, and growing, and growing every year. In a typical campaign election cycle, in 2012, the Obama campaign spent over a billion dollars. So you know that’s one campaign spending over a billion dollars and then of that billions dollars approximately 10% was set aside for technological infrastructure and innovation.
So if you’re thinking that the Obama campaign in 2012, about a hundred million dollars was set aside for technology and all of that hundred million anywhere from 10-15% was set aside for infrastructure and data needs, and that’s just one campaign.
So the other unique thing about this market space is that it’s a relatively new market space in politics. I don’t even think that the cap on it is potentially, possibly realized yet because there’s a lot of innovation going on, there’s a lot of things that are in campaigns that are doing otherwise now that they haven’t done before. And as you know technology constantly changes.
So what I have found is that: the political world typically is about 6-7 years technology wise behind the business world. And although we seen that sort of catch up lately I think there’s a tremendous amount of potential in where data in going and how campaigns utilize and manage their data and that’s largerly why we got into the business that we did.
Martin: Great. Trace, when I’m thinking about businesses and really how to manage and control them, I’m looking at business matrix. For me the interesting things is what type of business matrix are you looking at in order to manage your business and can you give us some kind of insights on how those matrix look currently?
Trace: Sure, so from a hard call stand point, as I mentioned earlier we’re an ISP partner of Salesforce. So every license we sell and every bit of data storage that we sell, we have a bottom line and we have a cost that goes along with that. And then on top of that is just how much time management and involvement is going to take to work through, managing that client and making sure that their implementation needs are met. So a lot of what we do we found that comes in on the consulting and implementation partner side because from a product standpoint, we have a set cost and as long as we meet those costs we’re fine from a product standpoint.
Where the harder analysis and time analysis comes in is sort of on that consulting and implementation side. And a large part of our business is working with our client and managing their expectations, and most importantly finding out what they need and what they want, and then estimating accordingly: “Okay, how much involvement is this going to take from our end form the human capital standpoint? And what’s a fair amount to charge for these consulting services?” Because the truth is a lot of the clients we work with may never have worked with data before. So it’s a large learning curve for them so it’s, kind of, a unique dance of the client on definitely understanding that they need it, but shepherding them into, sort of, the data ecosystem and how to most efficiently get the most out of the services we’re providing.
Martin: And Trace, is your revenue coming mainly from the consulting side or from the product side?
Trace: From both, I say it’s about close to 50-50 maybe 60-40.
PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN 2016
Martin: Okay, cool. So now I’ve very interested on learning from you because this year, in the U.S, we will have the presidential campaign. How did you help Ted Cruz with your products in terms of fundraising and winning votes?
Trace: Well, we’re still helping Ted Cruz in fact today is New York Primary Day and we have been fortunate enough to work for the Senator back since 2012 before he was elected to Senate. And we worked with them for over 4 years. Back then it was originally in his race of 2012 Senate race in Texas, we set up his database and managed his grass-roots efforts and get up the vote efforts and targeting voters and all that stuff.
During the presidential cycle this time, we were tasked with setting up the infrastructure for his finance needs and his grass-roots needs. As anybody will tell you that the presidential campaign is such a large, mammoth organization, the best analogy I can give to it it’s like building up and tearing down a Fortune 500 company by 18 months. There’s a tremendous amount of money that goes in to building the infrastructure and the organization. So, we were tasked with setting up a data infrastructure for his financial team and— by his financial team I mean the fundraising team on the campaign that works with him – calling donors, raising money from last dollar checks and small dollar checks. So what goes into that is what we call bundlers where typically bundlers raise large dollar donations. So typically $2700 is the current federal limit in this election cycle. So any one individual can get $2700 for the primary and $2700 for the general elections, for a total of $5400.
So. we built a system whereby the finance team and go out and work with those large donors and then in turns the donors can work with their network of friends, for people that might be supporting the senator. In addition to that, all of the online and the fundraising solicitations as I mentioned early, you may have an email, there’s a vendor that’s specifically focused on soliciting email contributions and that’s the portion of the campaign they handle. So, they go out and does that task and the day later or the same day or the next day, the data comes back to us, the same thing with phone calls.
And then one other component that we provided this year is as I mentioned that we had the bundling application. I had thought all along that this has an applicability towards not just large contributions but small contributions as well and why not open this up to, sort of, the grass-roots arm of the campaign and let any individual, if they want to raise money, sign up and solicit or – not solicit but go to their network of friends and encourage them to join the campaign whether as a volunteer or as a fundraiser. And we launched a product called CruzCrowd in October and its, sort of, like a crowd funding application for politics and we’re the first ones to do it that I’m aware of and then it’s entirely built on the Salesforce application.
So, what it does is allows people to go in an sign up for CruzCrowd and from that they get a unique URL and then can go and share that unique URL on Facebook or Twitter and encourage their friends to sign up and join the campaign. They don’t have to make a contribution, a lot of it is just spreading the word and make use for the people are hearing about the campaign and signing up for volunteer, or they want to donate money. A lot of it comes in the form of small contributions. in fact the average contribution that’s been raised on CruzCrowd has been under $21.
And then on the final point on the CruzCrowd is sort of the grass-roots infrastructure, all of the volunteers and the coalitions and the people that sign up online. So when a person goes and signs up on tedcruz.org, the website and they want to volunteer, they enter that information and what state they live in and then that data flows into our database. Then in turn, we can allow the campaign staff to reach out to them in certain states or counties when the campaign has something going on and they need to mobilize the grass-roots.
ENTREPRENEURIAL ADVICE FROM TRACE ANDERSON
Martin: Cool. Trace, let’s talk about your learning from your entrepreneur journey. So what type of tips can you give other people who are starting their first company?
Trace: The best advice I can give is if you really believe in what you’re doing— and you have to as an entrepreneur, just go for it. If you see the potential for whatever you’re doing, you got to make the decision to go for it 100% and just dive in. There’s going to be a lot of people saying: “You can’t do this, you can’t do that.” You can’t listen to those people, you just got to dedicate yourself to it and jump in feet first. And every day is an adventure as I’m sure every a lot of entrepreneurs has told you, you’re not sure what’s going to pop up but it’s all about attitude in my experience. There are going to be hardships and there’s going to be good times but you got to be unwavering in your dedication to it.
Martin: And what is the most valuable thing for you personally in terms of being an entrepreneur?
Trace: The most valuable for me as an entrepreneur is:
one: I enjoy working for myself and to see a problem and to not be constrained by, sort of, bureaucracy or red tape. To be able to see a problem and to be able to work with others for my team and approach it and find a solution for it. And that’s what we try to constantly do for our clients. We try to solve problems and utilize data to solve those problems. We found that we might not have a solution immediately that’s going to fix those need or issues that arise but if you got a good mix of creativity and approach it with a group mindset and everybody has an idea and just working together to solve that, that to me is the most rewarding thing.
Martin: Cool. Trace, thank you so much for your time and for sharing your knowledge!
Trace: Thanks, Martin!
THANKS FOR LISTENING!
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Special thanks to Trace for joining me this week. Until next time!
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