For those of us excited about the potential for technology to really impact civic life, politics, and democracy, today is a big day. No, it's not the "iPad for Politics" announcement. It's something more boring in the short run, and more impactful in the long run: we're announcing the launch of New Media Ventures, the first national network of angel investors focused on creating political change. New Media Ventures is a new effort to improve the flow of capital to new media and tech startups with a political twist.
It's fair to say that no one -- even those of us steeped in technology and media -- finds themselves unimpressed by the disruptive force of networked technologies and cheap computing power. Whether it's the latest statistic on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, or simply the number of text messages our kids send each day, the impact is nothing short of astounding. We saw the power of technology-enabled organizing in the Obama campaign -- and I believe that was only the beginning.
I'm a techie by training and spent the 1990s at Microsoft building Office and MSN.com. But my first-hand experience with the power of new media in politics came just after the 2008 election. Obama had made a campaign promise to appoint the nation's first Chief Technology Officer and my team at Front Seat spent about 90 minutes to build a site called ObamaCTO.org where people could suggest what the CTO's priorities should be. It went viral and we got hundreds of suggestions and tens of thousands of votes in just a few days. A few months later, at the Inauguration, I ran into a guy on the technology transition team. He said "You were the ObamaCTO guy? I've got to tell you, we were very understaffed and it was incredibly helpful to have all of the tech industry issues in one place, with the arguments for and against." Not bad for a day's work. Total cost? About $150.
Now imagine what you could do with $150,000. Or more.
Over the last three years I've incubated a number of projects in this space (ObamaCTO.org, CountMore.org, WalkScore.com, PredatoryLendingAssociation.com), and I have learned that real impact comes from backing passionate entrepreneurs and helping them build well-functioning organizations around their mission, not just creating innovative web sites.
It's this insight, and the belief that more political change can come from more innovation, that led me, a group of experienced entrepreneurs, and some savvy early stage investors to launch New Media Ventures (NMV), under the auspices of the Democracy Alliance -- a network of changemakers and one of the largest drivers of progressive activist funding in the country.
NMV is a new angel investing group that provides seed stage funding to new media and tech startups with strong potential impact for the progressive community. We're looking for the ActBlues, the Catalists, the Huffington Posts of the future. Things we can't even dream of today. And we're looking to provide them with money, strategic advice, and a powerful network of contacts to help them create successful ventures.
World-class entrepreneurs, check out NewMediaVentures.org and tell us about your plan. Progressive angels, we're looking for new members, and we've got deals in the pipeline. NewMediaVentures.org has info on how to join.
And now is the time to act.
For those who wring their hands over the conservative echo chamber, take heart. MoveOn took only 6 weeks to reach 500,000 activists. ActBlue went from a college dorm to $150 million raised in small dollar donations in half a dozen years. And heck, the Huffington Post built an audience from zero to something approaching the largest online news sites in only 5 years. New media technologies and innovative communication platforms have the ability to aggregate and amplify a diversity of citizen voices with unprecedented new power that disproportionately advantages progressives. But only if we take what has been an ad hoc process, and turn it into a robust, structured system. That's what New Media Ventures is about and why I'm excited about its potential. After all, this new media revolution is only getting started.
Follow Mike Mathieu on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mikemathieu