7 Questions with Deepak Puri Co-Founder of Democracy Labs on the Intersection of Campaigning and Technology
Deepak Puri previously worked at Oracle, Netscape and VMware, and is now the co-founder of the San Francisco, non-profit Democracy Labs. By deploying technology and creative innovation, Democracy Labs offers affordable business solutions for progressive groups and candidates across the country. We asked Deepak 7 questions focused on the intersection of campaigning and technology. Read his insights here!
1. What was your inspiration for co-founding Democracy Labs?
I'm a first-generation immigrant and have worked my whole career in Silicon Valley. I've been volunteering with many non-profits to show how they could make a bigger impact with less funds using software. I was never involved in politics but that changed after the 2016 Presidential election. I felt that it was a wake-up call for all of us to make sure that our elected leaders represented the majority of the public and not just vested interests. This was the inspiration for launching DemLabs, an SF based non-profit group under the Advocacy Fund.
2. What were the biggest challenges Democracy Labs faced in its first year?
DemLabs is based in San Francisco (the heart of blue country) and we needed to determine how a small group could remotely help progressive groups and candidates in other parts of the country. The biggest challenge was understanding the political ecosystem, motivations and funding streams. Donnie Fowler who is a DemLabs co-founder and has extensive experience in the political realm was invaluable in determining where we could be most effective.
DemLabs has been self-funded so we have to be strategic in how we used the limited time, energy and funds we had. We look for approaches that are scalable (ie. can help large numbers of campaigns quickly), affordable and effective. We don't develop new software but try to first understand the needs that are in common across campaigns, and then find existing software solutions that meet those needs. Applying existing software solutions to progressive campaigns, helps us lower costs and the training required. Plus the commercial vendors keep improving their software in order to stay competitive, whether there is an election or not.
We've found that the product distribution channels from software developer to the customer (campaign) do not exist in the progressive political domain. We address this challenge by working with established political groups, PACs, political consultants, training and activist groups so that they can help distribute new skills to the candidates and campaigns that they're supporting.
3. Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs or those wanting to found a non-profit?
The political market is small, seasonal (around election cycles) and cost sensitive. There's often little awareness of how new technology could help them. Purchasing decisions are often made based on prior relationships and experiences, rather than the merits of a new technology. It is also very time and effort intensive to connect with purchasing decision makers.
4. What are the advantages and disadvantages of technology?
Technology can help campaigns reach more voters and collect donations with less time, money and effort. But it does require a commitment and time to understand and apply the new tools and be open to change.
5. How has technology simplified the campaigning process? How has it complicated it?
Technology makes it easier to understand the mood of your electorate, tailor your message to their concerns, reach more people for less. It has increased the need for someone on the campaign to get trained and comfortable with technology.
6. What CRM would you recommend to those running a campaign on a limited budget? Why?
ActionNetwork. It's a proven tool developed by and for progressive groups.
7. What blogs or influencers do you follow to stay up to date with the latest technology?
I subscribe to ePolitics, Campaigns & Elections.
Bonus: What is your take on artificial intelligence? Do you think technology will eventually eliminate the need to have people/volunteers on, for example, progressive campaigns?
Never. Political campaigns are all about people. I don't see that changing. Bots can fool people online, but there's no substitute for a personal, authentic, compelling message from a live, human being.
Thank you, Deepak Puri and Democracy Labs for all do for the progressive movement. Want to reach out to Deepak Puri and Democracy Labs? Connect with them at the above link!
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