POLCO was inspired by the book “Wisdom of Crowds” and the idea of crowdsourcing. Being military veterans, our team is conscious of and passionate about public service and public policy.
Location: Madison WI
Product / Service Offering: SaaS Civic Engagement and Polling Platform
Co-founder Interviewed: Nick Mastronardi
Other Key Management Team Members: Alex Pedersen
This article is part of our Business Startup Spotlight series featuring entrepreneurs and their companies. We hope that these founders’ interviews will inspire and motivate you as you undertake your own entrepreneurial journey.
Tell us a little about yourself with a focus on what motivates you.
I am a trained economist. I want to produce and contribute value to society by working on what is needed but not being adequately provided. Higher value opportunities are more motivating. I look at the economy and see two sectors. Private sector market forces help drive innovation that efficiently fills need gaps, but there is an entirely separate public sector that has been lacking an engine for finding efficient and innovative solutions. The internet and crowdsourcing communications technologies now allow that.
Our entire team is former military. We are just as excited about the positive impact of POLCO as our prior military missions. Helping connect citizens with their policymakers on public policy issues through an innovative communications platform promises to leave a meaningful impact on our communities. It is not easy, but that is not daunting to us. We love difficult but important missions that others have shied away from and that will deliver huge value.
When did you establish your company and where did the idea originate?
We established the company in the Seed Sumo Accelerator in Texas in May 2015. POLCO was inspired by the book “Wisdom of Crowds” and the idea of crowdsourcing. Being military veterans, our team is conscious of and passionate about public service and public policy. Our first thought was “Can the wisdom in crowds be leveraged for public policy?”
What need or needs does your company seek to fill for its customers?
Our SaaS platform connects a multi-sided policy market. We help cities and local governments post and collect verified policy polls of their constituents. We help citizens learn what’s going on, vote, comment, and share with others.
< see related: Startup Accelerator Spotlight: Seed Sumo >
What is the one thing that sets your company apart from its competitors?
Compared to our few competitors, POLCO’s biggest advantages are that we verify the residency of our users for more reliable data and more informative analysis. Also, we make a concerted effort to get broad, informed, and organized input for city staff. While we accept input from all respondents, we also provide city officials verified results broken down by city district.
The way we foster participation by citizens is that we make all our polls third party embeddable to really meet citizens wherever they are digitally. We protect their privacy by never sharing individual level results and we provide a world class user experience.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while getting your company up and running, and how did you overcome it?
Starting any company is difficult, and starting a SaaS multi-sided platform requires an extra level of attention to detail and balance with the involved parties. Finally, the CivTech/GovTech space is an amazingly large and well connected opportunity. Learning how to interface with the public sector efficiently, in the right language, and with an appropriately mature product took time and effort.
Are there resources you have utilized that other founders might find compelling or useful?
Accelerators have been extremely helpful coaches to us. Our founding team has great educational backgrounds and experiences, but there is still a ton to learn and do. Accelerators help you cover all your blind spots during the seed stage.
What steps have you taken to secure funding for your company and what, if anything, would you do differently if you had to start over?
We have just finished our $500,000 seed round and are about to open a small over-subscribe to accommodate additional interest. In addition, we have raised another $125,000 in public grants, awards, and forgivable loans. We are really excited about the opportunity to keep charging forward as a company. We have found that during the crucial angel stage, talking with funds has been less useful (unless they are supportive of their member angels investing individually), and talking with public organizations and individual angels has been more helpful compared to initial expectations.
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Have there been any questions you have had as an entrepreneur of a fledgling startup that you had a particularly hard time finding the answers to?
Although a lot of funds call themselves angel funds, they are really looking to invest in companies ready to pour gas on the fire. The truth is that oftentimes angel funding is needed for the seed stage to experiment to find the most efficient go to market strategy, at least in our subtle GovTech space.
What challenges, if any, are you grappling with?
Every go to market experiment we run, good and bad, informs and adjusts how we plan to execute subsequent customer acquisition activity and our tech development, as well as our fundraising strategy (timing, amount, and blend of equity/debt/strategic). Executing, learning, and updating is critical.
What is the most helpful tip or “hack” you’ve ever learned, stumbled across, or been given?
The Seed Sumo Accelerator team left us with a great company workflow tech stack combination of sprint/scrum cycles, kan boards, and daily company communication coordination fundamentals. Individually many of us had seen these elements from various books and previous job experiences, but tailoring them for an early stage tech company was helpful.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your company?
It isn’t every day you get to work on something you love and believe in that at the same time comprises an amazingly large and executable market opportunity. We are very fortunate. To all our investors to date, we thank you and are excited to deliver you excellent returns! For anyone out there who wants to join us, feel free to reach out anytime to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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