Last month marked a big milestone for Democracy Live, a technology firm based in Snoqualmie, Wash., which presented its voting technology to several United Nations countries in New York City. The company shared its insights as part of a broader conversation about reaching voters who find voting by traditional means difficult or impossible, for a variety of reasons.
Democracy Live’s LiveBallot web app is designed to target those voters. In the U.S., that means disabled citizens, military, and Americans overseas. Democracy Live developed its app in collaboration with the University of Washington and used Microsoft’s Azure Government Cloud. The service, which is partially funded by grants from the U.S. government, Microsoft, and Intel, has been used in hundreds of elections around the world.
“We have heard time and again how difficult it can be to vote in developing democracies,” Democracy Live CEO Bryan Finney told the U.N. last month. “Although we can’t alleviate the social, legal and infrastructural barriers to voting, we can certainly lower the technology barriers so everyone can vote, including those voters with disabilities.”
In addition to the online service, the startup is rolling out a mobile app (also called LiveBallot). The app allows voters to interact with their ballots and research issues and candidates before heading to the voting booth.
Democracy Live also developed a dedicated voting tablet, in partnership with Microsoft, for use by election administrators. Finney and his team presented the tablet at the U.N. meeting in New York.
GeekWire caught up with Finney for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “By using the LiveBallot app, every voter in the U.S. can access a mobile version of their ballot in every election so they can be fully informed about the candidates appearing on their ballot. Voters using LiveBallot can research, mark their ballot and even endorse and share their selections through their social media networks. We call it the ‘social ballot’.”
Inspiration hit us when: “I used to work on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. and was a political science major. I spent 15 years developing and selling voting technologies. Yet with all that political background, I realized I was still voting for many of the candidates on my ballot — such as judges, hospital district and school board candidates — based on yard signs or 30-second sound bites and not real information. I realized that a majority of the nearly 200 million eligible voters in the U.S. are voting for candidates based on biases and limited information. An easy-to-use balloting app to research, endorse and even share your virtual ballot could lead to a more informed and even ‘social’ balloting experience.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “Angel investors. The chairman and lead investor in Democracy Live is Joe Brotherton. The decision to stick with angel investment is to maintain focus and agility to make nimble and quick decisions in a rapidly growing and dynamic voting technology industry. A key strategic investor is Gordon Stephenson, founding board member of Zillow.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “The ability to leverage our success delivering an accurate ballot to any voter wherever they are in the world on behalf of the U.S. Department of Defense and state and local governments. We use that experience to create a balloting app that every voter can use in every election to be a more informed and impactful voter.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Price competitiveness to win market share and prove the technology works in a secure and profitable manner.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Our eyes can be at times bigger than our stomach. With so much opportunity to modernize voting and voter information in the U.S., it is critical to stay focused.”
Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “I would go with Jeff Gateserberg. The reason is, each brought revolutionary change to technologies that Democracy Live embraces. Gates put software on every desktop running Microsoft software. Zuckerberg introduced the social network. Bezos made technology amazingly simple for every consumer. Democracy Live aims to emulate all three by delivering our software to every voter in every home and polling place, creating the first ‘social balloting’ experience in an extremely easy and intuitive way — a la ‘Jeff Gateserberg.'”
Our favorite team-building activity is: “Delivering a successful voting experience in a high profile presidential election to voters in 96 countries and every continent in the world.”
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “A passion to participate in building a technology that can effect how we ‘do democracy’ in this country, while showing the ability to self-start and introduce new innovations to the company.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “There are 1,000 really good ideas every day in this country. But only a handful of those ideas actually get built and sell at a profit. Take your idea, build a beta version (even if it is with an intern looking for experience) and go find your first sale. If you can show that you can not just come up with an idea, but can get it built and prove there is a market for it, that is a sign of a good entrepreneur. And don’t be afraid to fail. Because you will at times.”