Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Interview with Jason Kiesel and Kurt Daradics, FreedomSpeaks
Ahead of this week's Fourth of July holiday, we thought it would be appropriate to run our interview is with Jason Kiesel and Kurt Daradics of FreedomSpeaks (www.freedomspeaks.com). FreedomSpeaks is a startup developing a business around connecting people with information about their political representatives, and also enabling organizations and others to do the same. We caught up with Jason and Kurt to hear more about the company.
What's the story behind the company and how it started?
Jason Kiesel: I always tell people that FreedomSpeaks was born out of my inherent laziness--in a good way. I am someone who likes to interact with my Representatives and Senators, by way of writing letters, emailing, and what not. I'm a big fan of talk radio, and they're always giving a "call to action" to contact your congressman. When I was listening, I made a point to try to do that, but when I did, I found I had to go to twenty sites to find the information I needed--whether that was to write a letter, send an email, or whatever. It was a pain. It really discouraged me, and frustrated me, and I thought--there has got to be a better way to do this--so I created FreedomSpeaks. The premise was, I want to be able to type in my address, find out who represents me at the Federal, State, and local level, all at once, and then be able to write them a letter. And, instead of retyping that letter 60 times, I wanted to be able to write a single letter, check a few boxes to say who to send that letter to, and have that letter sent out--which is what I we do in a nutshell.
I understand you're also offering an API and ways for others to get to this data, as well?
Jason Kiesel: Yes. The bare bones of FreedomSpeaks is online advocacy as a service. Our customers can sign up, and they can get full access to our API, where they can create campaigns to target public officials. They can target specific officials, or specific public officials based on their memberships' addresses or district. They can really tailor their campaigns to a really granular level, on who they want to target. For example, if your issue is healthcare--which is hot right now--you can target certain members of a subcommittee, or your memberships' individual Senators or Congressmen--or even the President or Vice President, if you want. What really differentiates us from our competition is the data set we have. We offer Federal, State, county, and city representatives. If you want to do a campaign to your local city council, we can do that. Our competition doesn't have that data. We currently have data on 3900 counties, 1900 cities, including emails, web forms, web sites, telephones, faxes, you name it. The other feature that sets us apparent, is our integration with social media. Kurt and I are pretty Web 2.0 savvy, we have every social networking credential there is, and we've integrated those sites into the API. For example, if you write a letter, you can post it to Facebook, or Myspace, or send a tweet about it--it's all integrated into the product itself. It's really helpful, particularly for companies who don't get social media. We've made it really, really easy to offer to their customers.
Jason--what's your experience, and Kurt, how did you get involved?
Jason Kiesel: I got my start doing consulting work for the past twelve years in the web space. I started designing web sites, at a rudimentary level, right out of college, in 1997. I worked my way up the totem pole as far as developers go, and became a senior level developer and consultant working for companies like MySpace, RazorGator, Move.com, and lots of the bigger companies here in Southern California. I got to FreedomSpeaks through my passion for politics, as well as my expertise in technology.
Kurt Daradics: I've just found myself at the nexus between technology, digital media, activism, and pop culture. I have always wanted to be part of a movement, and FreedomSpeaks really resonated with me. I saw an opportunity to achieve not only my personal goals, but to be part of something significant. The lightbulb went on at MOTM (Editor's note: Kurt's project to network technology executives in Southern California). We met first through Tyler Crowley at Mahalo, and I invited Jason to speak at MOTM. I was fascinated, and saw the light bulb go off. I visually remember the moment, when I approached Jason and asked to be involved in this. I told him I'd love to be involved in this, and we worked out a deal--if I could bring in some investors, and bring some wood to the bonfire, we could run with it.
You did find some angel funding, didn't you?
Kurt Daradics: Yes, we have some funding from Dale Okuno, who is the CEO of EzData. He is a friend of mine. We had a list of people who we thought not only had money to invest, but who could give us the smartest money and advice. When we put that list together, he was first on our list. He saw our vision, liked the product, and had gone through something similar. We spoke to him, and he had the sense that the market was right for us. We're excited to have his experience, since he's got a savvy SaaS background.
Jason Kiesel: Dale runs the number one CRM for financial services, built from the ground up. He's got a good, solid SaaS background.
Talk a little bit about your white label offering, The Proponent?
Jason Kiesel: We have a great technology, and decided that there is a market for organizations that perhaps want to lobby Congress, the Senate, or state governments. We were doing our market research, and found that there were existing competitors in the space, but their business models were outdated, they were very expensive, and there was no API for other people to access, which is a big issue for lots of businesses. People want to control the presentation and relaly fine tune their campaigns, so we build that into our API. Versus our competition, our feature set is much more robust and malleable. They can do what they want with it, because of both the API, and our cost structure--we can be up to 50 percent cheaper than what other people are doing.
Finally, what's next on your plate?
Jason Kiesel: We've got a couple more things down the line on our roadmap--legislative data, campaign finance data, and some more interesting governmental data. We'd like to allow you to do a search on a particular Congressman or Senator, and you can see who funds their campaign, what legislation they've authored and cosponsored, and potentially what they voted on. What we'd like our database become is a central repository where you can get information on anybody and everything, rather than having to go to five sites to get that data. We want to make it so you can subscribe to that via RSS, or an email digest, or see when a vote comes up. If you're following someone, you also should get an email that they voted X on Y issue. We think that kind of stuff is pretty cool.
Kurt Daradics: We're also doing a big outreach to build up our outside sales staff. We're hitting the market, and enrolling folks to resell the product. We have a whole go-to-market strategy around that. So it's sales, The Proponent, plus we're launching an effort called CitizenCamp and will be launching a media show that will be coming out in September, as a weekly podcast.