“Billion Dollar Startup Lays off all its People”
After eighteen months, with more than $1 Billion of revenue, 4600 employees, 5000 locations and a million volunteers, everyone loses their jobs while celebrating, if they win. Political campaigns have always been full of energy, young people and passion, and none more than the Chicago reelection campaign of President Obama. Friends from the 2008 election returned to form and run the campaign, and I had a chance to see our system, up and close.
Ohio is mythical in political circles for its impact on the national elections, and all the monte-carlo simulations showed that Ohio would be the state to get to 270 votes. An early decision by Jim Messina, the campaign manager, to invest in Ohio and build a huge field operation paid off as Ohio put Obama over the top.
The Obama team organized the most effective get out the vote program in our nations history. It begins with a file of registered voters from the state registrar, in computerized form, and a set of analytics give that voter a score. People who are likely to support the candidate but have intermittent voting history get a lot of attention, up to six personal visits, to encourage them to turn out on election day and what can only be described as carpet-bombing of their television sets with political ads. Social media was used heavily, both advertising and “awareness”, where its much more interactive nature allowed very targeted messages from friends and politicians alike.
The analytics use a few dozen features, from commercial databases as well as information volunteered by the voter in a visit in person or online. The analytics also give each state a shape of voters based on turnout, and a prediction of the outcome many months before the actual election. On election day, the senior team compared the model to the real time turnout, and dynamically reassigned resources (people and ads) to the areas in the swing states needed. Politlcal experts told me that this was the really new thing this year in US politics.
The campaign built a near perfect cloud-based system for fundraising, voter turnout, and organizing. The scale of the final day is impressive and impossible to fully test. Modern cloud based data and programs scaled with the load seamlessly, and the same software used in many of the other web services we all used raised and spent money, managed a very large phone bank of volunteers, and gave immediate updates for tracking turnout, organizers and the final push. Cloud computing has arrived in US politics.
When I think about the 2016 race, or the 2014 mid-terms, I imagine a next generation of all these tactics as part of our election process. The big news will certainly be the ubiquity of smart phones (more than 50% already in the US and climbing fast) and we should expect a huge mobile applications push to entertain, communicate and eventually get the citizen to register and vote.
Even by startup work standards, conditions were tough. Every person in the campaign signed on to a relatively low salary, and impossibly long hours without a break (thirteen hour days, seven days a week, for months by my count.) I’m sure that the Romney campaign was filled with equivalenty hard working and sincere personnel. Here’s a salute to both teams, who jointly make our country a better place and worked so very hard for so long. The people in both campaigns worked tirelessly for the principles each believe in, and we need more people like them. Thank you all.