November 9th was a tough day. I’d blocked off the morning for “recovery,” but my anticipation was that meant hangover, not despondence. In NYC for Homebrew, I found a local barber shop and shaved off my facial hair (the rally beard) for a fresh start. While I’m still alternately confused, angry and sad about the state of politics in our country, we can’t just retreat from the arena. When I met Catherine Vaughan, cofounder of Flippable, I knew this was a group to support. It’s like our seed investing – great team, mission-driven, market need and clear milestones for the next few years. You back that again and again and again. Here’s a Five Question Interview with Catherine that I think will encourage you to support them as well.
Hunter Walk: Flippable kind of burst on the scene post-election as one of the new progressive groups that started to put voice to the frustration and surprise that many of us woke up with on Nov 9th. What’s your origin story?
Catherine Vaughan: My co-founders and I met while working on the Hillary Clinton campaign in Ohio. On the morning of November 9, as we shared a tearful goodbye, one of my teammates told us, “if you ever need anything – anything – I will be there. If you need me to fly across the country at a moment’s notice, call me and I’ll be on my way to the airport.”
It turns out my moment of need came sooner than expected – an hour later, after my colleagues were already on the road back to Columbus, I discovered that my car had been towed. I needed a ride from Cleveland to Columbus, and back again to Cleveland, to get the right papers to retrieve my car from the tow lot.
Over hours of car trips, and over a final team drink in Columbus, we talked about what had happened to our country and what we needed to do to change it. We focused on the three-step strategy the GOP had used to take over our country: 1) win state legislative majorities, 2) pass gerrymandering and voter suppression laws that disadvantaged democrats, and 3) reap the benefits of their built-in advantage to win elections up and down the ballot. To reverse this, we needed to build a grassroots movement focused on state government. Just as importantly, we needed to be rigorous and focused. Because Republicans consistently outspend Democrats, we need to use high-quality analytics to target the most “flippable” races.
Armed with a great name and our backgrounds in business, political strategy, and data science, we set forth to build flippable – and here we are today!
HW: Flippable has put an emphasis on data and analytics in understanding state legislature and governor races. How do you use this data and how would you like other progressive organizations to use this data?
CV: Our “flippability model” uses previous electoral history, at the precinct level, to understand and predict a district’s propensity to vote for Democrats. This gives us a list of priority districts that we publish for our users, peers, and organizations that share our agenda of electing Democrats to state legislative seats.
We’re building an API that helps the universe of progressive organizations identify key seats and direct funding and attention to the most important races, filtered by relevance to the organizations’ policy areas. Further down the line, our datasets could include more granular data and sophisticated analysis to inform voter targeting and messaging in addition to district targeting.
HW: What’s the role of the DNC vis a vis these new orgs? Do you work totally outside of the established structures?
CV: The DNC has been open and receptive to our work. They have invited us to conference calls and events, and they featured us in a video about Resistance Summer 2017. We also work with Democratic institutions to make sure our volunteers are plugged into the right in-state structures. That being said, we realize that we’re able to reach a new audience with a fresh voice, so do operate independently from the DNC.
HW: Some donors are waiting on sidelines, thinking they’ll put money behind candidate races in 2018 midterms. What’s the call to action that gets them donating to Flippable? Why would $100 or $1000 now make a difference?
CV: 2018 is important, and we need to do whatever we can to elect Democrats to the House. But let’s not fall into the trap of investing in the 2018 midterms without addressing the underlying causes of our Republican Congress – state-led gerrymandering and voter suppression. It’s like getting an expensive and painful root canal every two years when you could simply brush your teeth every day and prevent the root canal entirely.
Think about it this way: we have three years to win Democratic majorities in state chambers before the Census and redistricting in 2020/21. If we squander this opportunity, we have to wait until 2030 – that’s thirteen years.
HW: What role has social media played in Flippable’s growth. Which social tools or platforms have been most useful?
CV: We’re active on both Facebook and Twitter, but Twitter has been an especially useful platform. In our first week, Kristen Schaal and Rob Delaney retweeted us, which helped us gain thousands of followers. Since then, our commentary on state and national politics has helped us build relationships with influencers ranging from George Takei to Chris Sacca to Chelsea Clinton. Twitter is also a great platform for real-time updates – on special elections, primaries, and key votes – and for connecting what’s happening on the national stage with the state policies that got us there.
This broad reach has helped us drive impact – over $350,000 raised and thousands of volunteers deployed for worthy candidates across the country. Twitter and Facebook analytics have also helped us get smarter about what messages and tools drive user acquisition and engagement. It’s so fascinating to use platforms I once saw as procrastination devices for social and political good – to drive real social and political impact, and to help people be more civically engaged. Our recent explainer video, for example, is up to about 400,000 views and helps make a wonky concept like gerrymandering accessible.