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NationBuilder To Announce $6.25 Million In Silicon Valley Angel Funding

BY Nick Judd | Thursday, March 8 2012

NationBuilder founder Jim Gilliam, shown here at PdF 2011. Photo: Esty Stein / Personal Democracy Media

Silicon Valley venture capital is coming to political technology.

NationBuilder, which entered public beta almost exactly a year ago and was founded by Brave New Films organizer Jim Gilliam as a low-cost, web 2.0-style organizing platform for campaigns, will announce today that it is bringing Causes founder Joe Green on board as president and has secured $6.25 million in funding led by Andreessen Horowitz.

Also included in the list of NationBuilder's angel investors, per the company, are: Sean Parker, now on NationBuilder's board along with Green and Andreeson Horowitz's Ben Horowitz; as well as Dave Morin (formerly of Facebook, now starting Path), Dustin Moscovitz (formerly of Facebook), Scott Marlette (formerly of Facebook, now of GoodRx), Pejman Nozad (invested in Causes among many others), Mike Volpi (Index Ventures), SV Angel (backing Twilio and Pinterest among many others), Sam Lessin (Facebook, founded, Justin Shaffer (Facebook), Kevin Colleran (formerly of Facebook), Greg Waldorf (formerly of eHarmony), and Nihal Mehta.

Gilliam said these Silicon Valley players are investing in the idea that new networks might do to politics the same thing they're doing to business: Make the focus on people, not content, and open opportunities for outsiders, underdogs and long-shots to use technology to level the playing field. Votizen, a web application and social network intended to link your voting history with an online profile and make it easier to connect with candidates or elected officials, announced last month that it had raised $750,000 from a group including Parker, Ashton Kutcher, Guy Oseary, A-Grade Investments and Troy Carter. My colleague Sarah Stirland wrote earlier today about the politicization, if you will, of Silicon Valley.

Gilliam said that organizing principles have always put an emphasis on people, not content — thinking that goes back long before the birth of the Internet.

"I believe and our investors believe that this is the fundamental concept of how the Internet wants to work," Gilliam said.

It probably also doesn't hurt that Green was Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's roommate, and co-founded Causes with Sean Parker. Chris Hughes, another Facebook co-founder, led a $500,000 funding round for NationBuilder last year.

NationBuilder currently boasts about 500 paying accounts. The company plans to use the investment round to meet demand and expand its staff, hiring engineers and "organizers" who will work as part-salespeople, part-coaches for the company's largest target market: down-ballot candidates.

This book puts the number of elected officials in the U.S., circa 1992, at around 510,000, meaning nearly one in 500 Americans was an elected official at the time. Only 535 of those are members of Congress; only one is the president; only one is the vice president; and only 50 are governors.

The rest can't exactly afford to hire Blue State Digital. Green and Gilliam believes this leaves them with a long list of consultants with a mix of in-house-built or repurposed technology and a short list of affordable vendors with cred at the national campaign level and a codebase built for the post-Twitter world.

Gilliam started NationBuilder with a plan to build a political software suite the way a programmer would build it, rather than a political consultant. They're calling it a "community organizing system," intended to do everything from manage a website and social media profiles to manage voter and volunteer data. Green says it's supposed to cause a sea change in the "rinky-dink technology market in politics."

Gilliam launched the company around the same time he spoke at Personal Democracy Forum 2011, where he gave a talk called The Internet is My Religion. Green showed it to Horowitz, Gilliam said yesterday, and the video got Horowitz "amped."

In a blog post, Horowitz wrote today:

... it was not really the early results that compelled me to invest in NationBuilder and go on the board; it was Jim’s vision that people connected and focused on a goal create everything great in the world. As he described the vision, I thought of every musician that needed to organize her fans, every author that needed to reach readers, every pastor that needed to encourage his members, and every person who wanted to make a difference, but didn’t know how. And then I thought of Jim’s personal story and I was in.