Understanding DC Politics-One piece of data at a time
11.30.16

Understanding DC Politics-One piece of data at a time

Wendy Matney

Carr Workplaces recently spent time with Emma Thomas of Quorum to learn about how this DC-based start-up is helping shape DC politics.

Let’s start from the beginning. How did Quorum come to be?
While still a college student at Harvard, Quorum cofounder Alex Wirth spent a summer in D.C. meeting with members of Congress and trying to get support for a youth advisory council to advise the President. He became frustrated when he started running into the same problems that advocates trying to influence the legislative process face-- identifying what issues members are working on, which members would be receptive to working across the aisle, and how to expand support beyond existing champions. When Alex returned to Harvard in the fall he explained these challenges to his roommate and Quorum cofounder Jonathan Marks. Wirth and Marks realized there was a need for a congressional database. And it wasn’t just data about bills - they wanted to understand relationships on Capitol Hill – they wanted to understand which members of Congress knew each other and worked together and to what degree of success. They wanted to see if data and computer software could help provide these answers as a starting point. So here we are today and it appears the answer is Yes: Technology can help to solve these issues.
So what happened? What is Quorum and how does it work? Quorum’s technology scrapes websites, pulling thousands of data points related to Congress. This includes everything from every congressional and state legislative bill to vote records to legislators’ tweets. The Quorum platform makes this comprehensive database completely searchable and manageable and, importantly, actionable. Despite being the world’s largest legislative database, what makes Quorum truly unique is the data analytics their developers have built to layer on top of the data. These analytics allow influencers to measure the relationships and interactions between legislators to better identify which Members work most closely together.

How do people use it?
The important thing is that the platform helps make this huge dataset usable and actionable. Once the data is there, users can customize it to the topics and causes they want to track. They can build profiles about legislators or causes. And we have what we call “congressional relationship management” platform which allows tracking of conversations in real time. And then, once you understand all this, you can actually email the legislators and their staffers directly from the system, sending them a personal, customizable email directly from the platform. This transactional ability makes it so helpful to lobbyists, companies and other outside interest groups who are looking to sway legislators.

Your platform has been called the “Moneyball” of politics. Explain. Yes, we give people the ability to take a rigorous statistical, evidence-based approach to politics and political influence. And importantly, they can do it easily, with just a few clicks.

Who are your competitors? CQ Roll Call and Bloomberg Government have been around a while. But really our key to success is using meta data and being able to sum up the enormous amount of data that is in there – to gather, refine and parcel the data that makes it immediately actionable.

Who are among your clients?
Our clients range from top lobbying firms to trade associations to non-profits to fortune 500 companies. Podesta Group, General Motors, Etsy, Lyft, and Glover Park are among a few.

You’ve gotten some good press and have been recognized a number of times recently. Tell us about it. Yes, we were thrilled to be the winners of the Harvard Innovation Challenge, Harvard’s Premier Student Start-up Competition; the GW University Pitch Competition and semi-finalists for MIT’s 100K, an Entrepreneur-based competition. Recently the Washingtonian did a large profile piece on our team and company’s culture. The Hill, Washington Post, and Cyberscoop have all written stories recently using Quorum’s politics data.

Where do you see the product heading?
We’re very excited to have just added legislators’ Instagram, Youtube, Medium, and Twitter and Facebook campaign accounts to the platform. Down the road we intend to continue to add more datasets to the platform.

It seems like an exciting time. What is the culture like for this young, growing company? We work hard but we love it and have a really great group. The majority of our team lives together between three different homes in Friendship Heights. We work together, eat dinner together every night, and enjoy hanging out on the weekend. We recently went apple picking and to Escape Room DC. Over the summer when our new hires first moved to DC we rented a double decker tour bus and drove around downtown stopping at various monuments and hot spots in the city.

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