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After a Lackluster Election Year, Votizen Acquired by Causes.com

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Friday, January 11 2013

Left to right: Now on the same team: David Binetti, Matt Mahan and Jason Putorti. Photo: Causes.com

Votizen made a splash in 2011 when it debuted as part of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee's election campaign. The tool was one of the first platforms to explore social voting — asking supporters of a candidate or cause to reach out to eligible voters from among their friends on social networks. But while major political parties and issue campaigns picked up some of Votizen's competitors, their platform's growth chart looks kind of flat: A modest 100,000 users and 200 paying customers as of shortly after election day.

So maybe it should be no surprise that Votizen will no longer be flying solo. On Thursday, the social activism and online petitioning website Causes.com announced it would acquire the company under undisclosed terms. All user activity from 2012 will be wiped from the platform — but Causes.com will pick up all eight of the company's staff in the deal.

Causes.com CEO Matt Mahan said he hadn't decided on details about how to utilize Votizen's technology or staff, but had a few ideas.

"A lot of these e-signature, e-petition tools don't have a very robust verification standards, so you don't really know if the signer is a real person," Mahan said in an interview. "Because everyone on Causes is verified on Facebook, it's pretty high-quality e-mail. Now if you think about what Votizen brings to the table, there's an extra level on top of that. They've united the Facebook entity with voter file records. We'll be able to say that this is a real serious person in the world who lives in this location and is a verified person, but they're also a verified voter with a voting history and this party registration."

At another point in the conversation, he implied that Votizen data on 1.7 million voters would be used to help voters reach nonprofits or campaigns, not the other way around.

"It's not that we're gathering a bunch of voter files and selling them to a non-profit or campaign," Mahan said. "Instead, we'll be using [the files] with the user in mind and asking them what action they want to have an influence on."

The Votizen team was less clear on what the acquisition by Causes.com brings them, aside from a home and, presumably, the resources of a larger company. One possibility is greater reach. While there are 200 million eligible voters in the United States, Votizen was able to only reach 1.7 million of them at the time of the acquisition through social media. Votizen co-founders Jason Putorti and David Binetti are hoping to connect to more of those voters through Causes' membership. Of the almost 200 million Causes members, half are located in the United States, said Mahan.

Both startups have been going through big transitions in the past year as they reach for a sustainable business model. Mahan became Causes.com's CEO last March, and moved the service to the broader web from its origins as a Facebook-only application. The site now has around 650,000 causes and 10 million visitors a month. It gives individuals and organizations the ability to build petition drives and raise money. At the same time, it offers a sponsored service that helps nonprofits and corporations working with philanthropies to boost traffic through advertising and placement in email newsletters.

For its part, Votizen brings its verified voter file database, and a database of elected officials, to Causes.com. The company had been selling access to its services to political candidates up and down the ballot during the 2012 election. The idea was that candidates would gain access to verified voters through Facebook, and those supporters would endorse the candidates on Facebook and amplify support through their own social networks. But as techPresident documented last year, that effort met with mixed results.