Husband-wife partners Naeim Khanjani and Soraya Bagheri launched a civic tech startup to keep voters easily and accurately informed — and they’re raising their first-ever funding now, amid a heated presidential race, to help grow their venture.

The minds behind Electo, a nonpartisan app with direct updates from elected officials and candidates, just kicked off a $1 million seed round to grow both their employee and customer bases. The co-founders have bootstrapped the business since mid-2019, before taking the product live this past September.

The partners left their jobs last year to focus on Electo full-time. Bagheri, an attorney, was working in international arbitration at Shearman & Sterling LLP and, before that, Linklaters LLP, one of the United Kingdom's "magic circle," or top, law firms. Khanjani, the startup’s CEO, was a strategy consultant at The Establishment Consulting, working with both U.S. and international clients at the boutique D.C. public relations, business consulting and digital media firm. He had arrived in the U.S. as a refugee from Iran about eight years ago

“We were thinking together critically about the way we get informed, because it’s [Naeim’s] first time that he’s eligible to vote this year,” said Bagheri, Electo's chief operating officer. That, on top of the need for information during the Covid-19 pandemic, drove them to bring the app to the market, they said.

The Electo app offers a general news feed that users can customize, while sourcing information from sites like Congress.gov and Data.gov — as an alternative to social media where individuals’ news feeds tend to be “one-sided” and “incredibly biased,” she said. “We wanted to create a product that brings the information straight from the source.”

The pair has since also built into the app a person's ability to donate small-dollar amounts in grassroots fundraising to campaigns. It’s currently mapping polling locations for users to drop completed ballots or plan to cast their votes on Election Day. And well beyond this presidential election, it will continue aggregating records of Congress members, they said.

“It’s often very difficult to find the information we need quickly on social media. There’s a lot of media bias as well,” Bagheri said, adding it can sometimes be a “toxic environment” as well. “So we wanted to, just for ourselves, create a product that was nonpartisan that gave access to a lot of information and, in doing this, realized that we’ve built already an infrastructure with data points where we’d be able to have individuals subscribe for the analytical layer.”

Specifically, the new capital would do a few things:

  • Get the word out: The company’s public-facing mobile app doesn’t directly generate revenue, as it’s free to “everyday Americans,” Bagheri said. But marketing the app is the first step in being able to grow that user base.
  • Add a premium product: Electo is now building a subscription model, slated to become available by mid-2021 starting at roughly $250 per month. Whereas its existing free app targets the younger generation, including first-time voters, Electo Premium will provide political tracking and analysis to corporations, nonprofits, elected officials, congressional offices, state legislators and organizations. The goal is to cut down on the time it takes to comb through press releases, Tweets and Facebook posts, and bring that information to one place. The team is developing this version after the co-founders realized, “we have this incredible infrastructure that we’ve built, but there’s more that we can do with it,” Bagheri said.
  • Hire: The company is looking to further build up its 10-person staff. That includes expanding its marketing and user experience teams, as well adding more tech personnel “depending on how fast we are growing,” Bagheri said. The goal is to initially bring its employee count to 15 people this year and, from there, continue doubling its size each year for the next five years.

With its premium product, Electo is entering a space that offers some competition, specifically in data analytics firms that do similar work such as D.C.-based FiscalNote, CBRE’s Chicago-based Forum Analytics and the District-based Bloomberg Government, Bagheri acknowledged. And with its free app, the startup doesn’t really see social media as its competition, she said, but it’s competing for eyes that otherwise might venture to sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Link to article: https://www.bizjournals.com/washington/news/2020/10/26/these-husband-wife-founders-wanted-to-keep-voters.html