Each month as part of StartHub Startups to Watch Program we connect with the winning company to learn more about them. Our March Startup to Watch is Involved, a micro-polling software for local government. Recently we had the pleasure of interviewing Jacob Dansey, Co-Founder and CEO of Involved. Here’s what we learned:
Tell us about your company. What is Involved?
Our mission at Involved is to increase civic engagement by finding a way to reach the average citizen. What we are is a micro-polling software for government, allowing representatives to send out single question surveys through their mailing list, social media, and our app. Residents can respond in one click, leave private comments and share with friends and neighbors.
A good example was a recent question from a Newton City Councilor about whether residents should be held responsible for shoveling their sidewalks. After sending the question to her mailing list and socials, the question took off and received over 500 responses and 50 comments in the first day. This is because the question was shared around, picked up by a couple news outlets, and had click rates that were through the roof. People are genuinely excited to have their voice heard on important issues.
What is your background?
The two other co-founders and I are recent graduates out of Boston University. John and I graduated with a computer engineering degree and Caleb with a business and marketing degree. I was randomly paired together as roommates with Caleb freshman year and we have been living together ever since. I switched over to computer engineering my sophomore year in order to learn the skills to start making an app. Through personal connections, Caleb and I met John, a fellow computer engineering student with a passion for history and politics.
How did you come up with the idea for Involved? Who is your target customer?
I originally had the idea for Involved six years ago when I was in high school. At the time, I was pretty discouraged by politics and how polarizing it was. I was fairly lazy and could not have told you who my representatives were or what issues were going on. However, I had a passion for solving problems and cared about my community. What I needed was a civic tool that would effectively engage myself: the lazy, average citizen.
In an ideal world, we felt that a representative could effectively reach the majority of people by going door-to-door asking people what they think. Unfortunately, that’s not realistic, but we felt we could reproduce this experience with technology. What we came up with is the micro-poll; a single question from your representative that you can respond to in one click and share with your friends and neighbors. Think of it as an ‘I Voted’ sticker, but for social media.
Interestingly enough, our target customer is not the typical citizen but the representatives in office who can use Involved to better engage their constituency. In order to solve our chicken-and-egg problem, we are working with representatives who have great use cases that they want to engage constituents on. Reaching the average citizen starts when representatives more effectively engage their current followers and questions are able to spread via word-of-mouth.
Up until now, we’ve been beta testing in Massachusetts with fifteen accounts ranging from town managers to state senators. We’ve just opened up to accept anyone in office or running for election at all levels of government across the country.
How do you think Involved is going to disrupt the market? What are the main differentiators between you and your competitors?
Our main competitors are the current methods in which representatives gather constituent sentiment. These methods include town events, phone calls, survey links to mailing lists, and social media polls. If you place these methods on a spectrum, none of them effectively bridge the gap between the politically active citizen and the vast majority of Americans. With an Involved poll, the ease of use and focus on a specific issue leads to a lot of organic growth. People want to voice their opinion on important issues in their community and empower others.
Who are your main investors?
When we announced what we were working on via social media, we received a lot of positive feedback and investment interest from our network. We were wondering how we could accept these smaller amounts of money and came across Netcapital, an equity crowdfunding portal. For us, equity crowdfunding was a great opportunity to raise money in a way that aligned with our mission of being ‘for the people.’ The round closed in November and we successfully raised $56,502 from 57 different investors.
Why did you decide to start your business in Boston? How long has your company been around?
There’s no place like Boston. The startup community, politically engaged citizens, and the intellectual capital make Boston really stand out. Our founding team also graduated from Boston University, and the University has graciously supported us with resources and mentorship. Our team first started working together on Involved in October of 2016. We officially incorporated in February of 2017.
What resources in the startup community have contributed to the success of Involved?
Boston University has been critical to our success as a startup, not only in finding co-founders but giving us the time to experiment with getting the product right. Boston University’s Summer Accelerator, Spark! Program, and new BUild Lab have been instrumental resources to us in providing workspaces, funding, and mentorship. Outside of BU, the Venture Cafe, Civic Tech Coffee, StartHub and Greenhorn Connect have connected us with mentors, clients, events, and press.
How do you use StartHub professionally?
We use the newsletter and Civic Innovation page as a great resource for upcoming events in the civic technology space, understanding city-wide civic initiatives, and for learning about other startups making social impacts in our city. We’re also particularly fond of StartHub’s partner, Venture Cafe, which we learned about from the StartHub website.
What are the next steps for Involved?
One of the problems we’ve been trying to overcome over the past year is getting elected officials to take initiative on this new tool. Unfortunately, what we have found is that many people in office love the idea but do not take action unless their constituents are calling for it. What we are doing now is working with campaigns as an effective way to enter the market and create an environment where micro-polling is the standard. We’ve also launched nationally so our biggest focus is growth and having a positive impact this election cycle.
What is the most important thing our readers should know about Involved?
People speaking up drives change. You play an important role in getting your representatives Involved. To connect with and invite your representatives, please visit our website.