Q&A with Alex Wirth, Cofounder of Quorum Analytics

As part of our on­go­ing re­search at Na­tion­al Journ­al Lead­er­ship Coun­cil in­to how or­gan­iz­a­tions are us­ing Con­gres­sion­al Ana­lyt­ics tools, I sat down with Alex Wirth, Cofounder of Quor­um Ana­lyt­ics. Quor­um is an on­line plat­form that en­ables ad­voc­ates to track le­gis­la­tion and dia­logue in Wash­ing­ton and all 50 states, tar­get po­ten­tial cham­pi­ons, and stream­line com­mu­nic­a­tions with le­gis­lat­ors and staff. In our con­ver­sa­tion, Alex talked about Quor­um’s start and evol­u­tion, the most com­mon uses of the plat­form, and where it is headed next. - Aaron Young

How did you get the idea for Quorum?

I spent the sum­mer after my fresh­men year on the Hill try­ing to cre­ate a coun­cil of young Amer­ic­ans to ad­vise the Pres­id­ent. I spent a lot of time knock­ing on doors, meet­ing with staff. It was hard to fig­ure out who was most act­ive on the is­sues we cared about and who worked most fre­quently with the Mem­bers sup­port­ing us. It was a really haphaz­ard pro­cess, and we ended up with one long Word doc­u­ment with all our con­tacts and con­ver­sa­tions.

I was air­ing my frus­tra­tions with my room­mate at that time, and now co-founder, Jonath­an Marks. As a com­pu­ta­tion­al bio­chem­istry ma­jor, he real­ized the same code that was used to map out pro­tein net­works can be used to map out re­la­tion­ships between Mem­bers of Con­gress. This was the big “a-ha” mo­ment for us – that we could fig­ure out quant­it­at­ively who was in these le­gis­lat­ors’ in­flu­ence circles. The sum­mer after our ju­ni­or year, we came back to DC with a rough net­work of the re­la­tion­ships on the Hill along with some stats to back it up. That’s when we got the ball rolling.

What problem does Quorum solve?

The first thing is simply ac­cess­ing the massive amount of in­form­a­tion that is out there. There are 535 Mem­bers of Con­gress and 7,400 state le­gis­lat­ors, and every day, they are draft­ing new le­gis­la­tion, put­ting out press re­leases, state­ments, tweets, and Face­book posts. All of these little events present op­por­tun­it­ies for an ad­voc­ate to act. In the past, you would have to check mul­tiple web­sites a day, mon­it­or things reg­u­larly and cross your fin­gers you caught something. We’ve brought all these things to­geth­er in one data­base. Quor­um har­nesses that in­form­a­tion.

The second chal­lenge is, now that you have all this in­form­a­tion to­geth­er, how do you bring it to­geth­er to make sense of it? It is really pain­ful to come up with ac­tion­able in­form­a­tion when you are flip­ping through all these bills on vari­ous pages. We solve that by con­dens­ing all the data and help­ing you pull the key pieces of in­sight from it.

What are the most common ways your clients are using Quorum?

The first is the track­ing. Most com­pan­ies, as­so­ci­ations, ad­vocacy groups, and non-profits want to know when their top is­sues or their brand are be­ing men­tioned. The first thing we do with every new cli­ent is set up an alert that helps him or her an­swer ba­sic ques­tions like “who is talk­ing about us?” or “what happened today with my is­sue?”

The second part of it is around the ac­tu­al tar­get­ing – I need to ex­pand this co­ali­tion, I need to get more sup­port for le­gis­la­tion. I want the data to tell me who is most act­ive on this is­sue, who has spoken about it in the past so that I know where to fo­cus my at­ten­tion. Our tool helps identi­fy open­ings that might oth­er­wise be hard to see.

The third is all about out­reach. We’re able to dir­ectly con­nect people to Cap­it­ol Hill via email. People use Quor­um as an email tool – to send in­vit­a­tions to the Hill, to stay in touch with staff, to send PD­Fs be­fore an ad­vocacy day.

The last thing is the CRM cap­ab­il­ity. Many people are now ex­pec­ted to track their meet­ings, and Quor­um makes it easi­er to do this, wheth­er that is to more ef­fect­ively com­mu­nic­ate to cor­por­ate ex­ec­ut­ives that the lob­by­ing team is meet­ing with the right people, or to im­prove in­tern­al co­ordin­a­tion. Do­ing this by hand or in Ex­cel is really pain­ful.

Where do you get the most resistance from prospective clients?

When we first got to DC, we were all about the data and tar­get­ing. Not sur­pris­ingly, many es­tab­lished of­fices told us they already knew everything that our tool might tell them, es­pe­cially who their cham­pi­ons might be. That’s partly true, cer­tainly. But there is so much go­ing on today that our tool can cap­ture and com­mu­nic­ate, in­form­a­tion that even the most act­ive lob­by­ist will prob­ably miss. With a tool like Quor­um, you’re less likely to be caught off guard.

We also get res­ist­ance around meet­ing track­ing. There are two camps: those who think this is the best thing that ever happened to them, or “no way am I ever track­ing my meet­ings.” For­tu­nately Quor­um has enough to cater to both camps. The key is em­phas­iz­ing the oth­er things Quor­um can do and find­ing the fea­tures most rel­ev­ant to their work.

How does Quorum change the day-to-day experience of a lobbyist?

We be­lieve gov­ern­ment af­fairs pro­fes­sion­als should spend their time do­ing what they’re best at—talk­ing and strategiz­ing—and min­im­ize the amount of time needed for re­search. That’s what Quor­um al­lows people to do. So much time in Wash­ing­ton is spent do­ing very ba­sic re­search tasks—pulling in­form­a­tion to­geth­er, look­ing up com­mit­tee as­sign­ments. We auto­mate the most painstak­ing re­search tasks so that ad­voc­ates can spend more time ad­van­cing their is­sues or in­nov­at­ing.

What is next for Quorum?

We just launched a mo­bile app, which is a huge leap for­ward for us. So much of the world is on mo­bile, es­pe­cially in ad­vocacy where people are con­stantly trav­el­ing from meet­ing to meet­ing, on the go. Lob­by­ists can now pull all the dif­fer­ent data in our sys­tem—le­gis­lat­or spe­cif­ic data, census data, the move­ments of bills—from their phones.

The oth­er big area we are ex­pand­ing in­to is grass­roots ad­vocacy. A For­tune 100 cli­ent came to us last year be­cause they were dis­sat­is­fied with their op­tions and wanted to build a grass­roots sys­tem that in­teg­rated in­to our ana­lyt­ics plat­form. We’ve now built an ac­tion cen­ter that con­nects to our fed­er­al and state ana­lyt­ics tools and helps cli­ents share in­form­a­tion with sup­port­ers and en­cour­age them to take ac­tion.

Our goal at the end of the day is to be the plat­form that all DC pro­fes­sion­als log in­to when they get to work in the morn­ing. We will con­tin­ue to design new solu­tions around the prob­lems they share.

If you’re in­ter­ested in learn­ing more about how or­gan­iz­a­tions are ex­per­i­ment­ing with Con­gres­sion­al ana­lyt­ics tools like Quor­um, we en­cour­age you to RS­VP to our Best Prac­tice Roundtable on June 9th, 2016.

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