Pre-seed pitch: American Politics Company

Pre-seed pitch: American Politics Company

We’re on a mission to fix American politics, starting with political contributions, by building a self-serve advertising technology company.
Last edited 2024-02-26



What we’re raising:

  • $200k-$500k for the next ~6-12 months
  • Optimizing for the best angels (from the tech world, mostly, but very open to the political world and the media world)
  • Terms are flexible based on whoever the first big angel is

Thesis / vibes

  • American politics is broken, largely because of the changes over the last 50 years to our communications and media.
  • We’re polarized because:
    • Back in ~1960, straight white rich men had three networks they liked, everyone else had to deal with it, and the two parties were very similar ideologically.
      • Hotelling’s law: They were like two lemonade vendors on a strip of beach: they both set up near the center.
    • Information technology (media and communications) progressed, moving from broadcasting to individualized, niche feeds:
      • Video
        • cable: CNN/Fox → YouTube, Facebook videos → ultimately, TikTok and Instagram Reels
        • Before the internet, local newspapers were a franchise: they could use a monopoly on distribution and local advertising to support public interest journalism.
          • The monopoly model led the San Jose Mercury News, Tampa Bay Times, et al to tack to the inoffensive mainstream.
        • Today, we see online forums, Reddit, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, online identity-focused journalism, Substack, and the death of the local newspaper and local news economic viability in most cities.
      • Generally, we went from mainstream media to niche media (there’s more here, think of the transition from radio to podcasts; you get the gist).
    • All the new niche media appeals to a specific audience, and with the information environment so disparate, it’s inevitable we lack consensus reality or trust in mainstream institutions.
    • Worse, social media (TikTok, Instagram, Twitter) ultimately always sorts by engagement, so it sorts by controversiality.
      • Many Americans have spent too much time since October 7th worrying about a conflict they don’t understand and will not impact.
  • To fix American politics, we need to fix the media.
  • To gain a foothold into the media, we need to sit somewhere near where media earns its revenues: advertising.
  • If we dramatically expand the market for political giving, from $4B USD/year closer to the $400B USD/year in charitable giving, many good things will happen.
    • ⚖️
      Market research
    • In this world, more upper-middle- and middle-income Americans would give to political causes they care about, not just the very rich.
    • More less-ideological folks would be giving to political causes, reducing the bipolar nature of political giving.
      • For example, current pro/anti abortion spending is huge relative to pro-housing spending.
    • Nonpolarized areas are more likely to be positive-sum and lead to growth and progress.
    • Ultimately, an average San Franciscan would give towards the causes of cleaning up our streets, building homes, and other common-sense causes, not polarizing ideological ones.
      • This would shift the political balance of power in a good way.
    • Local media of all kinds could receive far more (and richly diversified) funding. The mid-roll ad on a local Instagram Reels newscast would command a much higher CPM than it does today, because many more dollars would be fighting to win the (initially not automated) auction for the ad slot.
      • This would directly improve local governance. Citation needed, but local media is correlated with less corruption.

Hollup, what’s the plan?

  • A self-serve advertising platform
  • Can be used to place political ads but is not limited to them; we’re happy to work with anyone, such as startups and local businesses
  • Starting with physical ads: mailers and billboards
    • Why start here? There’s a better moat once we develop relationships with Outfront, public metros (BART, Subway), and other key players within physical advertising, and we’ll obviously add digital media as a fast follow. Digital media is less relevant than it seems among the tech, media, and political elite.
      • What was the last ad you remember from online (Instagram/Twitter brand advertising excluded)? What was the last billboard you saw?
  • Where and when?
    • Starting with San Francisco in April; New York, LA, and DC soon after, and the country sometime in 2025.
  • Financial model
    • Currently, a BART billboard costs ~$10k/4 weeks, and a US 101 billboard costs ~$30k-$80k/4 weeks, and a transit bus shelter ad costs ~$1k/4 weeks.
    • Mailing a letter costs ~$1 end-to-end via PostGrid et al (we need better precise numbers on this)
    • We’re going to charge a high marginal rate and 0 fixed rate on ads. You give me $500, I’ll place $300 of billboard ads or mailers for you.
      • Note that we can conceive of sending … just one letter at a time, or fractionalising a billboard and giving you 1/10th of the area of the billboard for the entire 4 weeks (not a time-based rotation like is common today)
      • This allows startups, concert promoters, and community groups to easily get their message out for much less than they could previously afford—they’d pay $1000 not for one bus ad, but for 10 poster-sized sections on 10 bus shelters.
      • This part, fractionalizing billboards, is likely more of a gimmick than a core feature. It would overwhelm customers and the billboard landlords may not agree. That said, I still want to try it out.
  • Why will it work?
    • Currently, ad sales for billboards work like Yahoo display ads, in that they are manually negotiated over the phone.
    • Five years ago, it was nontrivial and expensive to generate good creative for billboards, mailers, and online ads—let alone for TV advertisements. Generative AI is changing this.
    • In a world in which your billboard costs $10k to design, print, put up, and take down, or in which your TV spot costs $100k to film, of course only big advertisers can bother, and the extra 15% of overhead in dealing with humans is an annoyance but no biggie.
    • We already have unlimited ~free ad copy (ChatGPT) and images (Midjourney, Dalle). Very soon, we’ll have unlimited ~free video. In this imminently real world, there’s no reason it shouldn’t take 1 hour and only $2000 to launch a billboard + mailer campaign for a new startup aiming to hire engineers in Hayes Valley.
    • So, in summary, once the fixed costs of ad creative (text, image, video) drop to $0, we should be able to have fully marginal-cost, self-serve physical ads.

Manifest the Future PAC

  • A SuperPAC is just a tax entity that has to follow certain rules (only US citizen, greencard, or certain noncitizen contributors), disclosures around ad spend, no direct, private coordination with campaigns.
  • We have one! It’s going to be the first PAC platform, where it is not advocating for any partisan side
    • Its only core values are the ones that benefit itself, and me: pro-America, pro-capitalism, pro-democracy, pro-growth. No hate against any protected group, no populist demagoguery that would ultimately make this product illegal or advertise hate speech.
  • Manifest the Future PAC will accept contributions and place political ads directly in proportion to the contribution, and use public, fair-use creative (uploaded by the contributor to the internet, on for the ad.
  • In conjunction with software services provided by the venture-backed company, Manifest the Future PAC will do thorough KYC and legal auditing of ad placements.
  • All ads will follow the letter and spirit of the current law.
  • We’ll fight unlimited dark money in politics with unlimited light money in politics: all political advertisers, for now, must be OK with their ad being public on the internet and searchable and attributable to them. Dean Preston ought to have nothing to hide about any of his advertisements, and the positive, wholesome campaigns and issue groups may have qualms about this approach, but ultimately if the platform is compelling enough, enough of them will sign on. ad platform / various ideas

  • Once you’ve gone through the self-serve flow to create your ad, before paying a dollar, it goes live on
  • This page would do exactly what you’d expect — be shareable publicly, allow users to ❤️ love the ad, 😡 hate the ad, comment on it, suggest additional creative, directly contribute dollars to this ad campaign “chip in $1 to send this to one more person”, and share it with their friends
  • We would lean into slightly uncomfortable mechanisms of showing you pro- and anti-abortion spending in Michigan and encourage both sides to spend more
  • Once the platform for political peer-to-peer spending is established, the sky’s the limit. I am one of the 100 people in San Francisco that earn more than $200k USD/year and contribute 50+ hours/year to YIMBY causes. There should be not just a YIMBY group to join, but a way to buy a coffee for a fellow YIMBY campaigner, crowdfund signs and other materials, etc.
    • All you need is the SuperPAC construct and some accounting and tax filing, and there’s no reason why this doesn’t yet exist today.

Sequencing / timeline / guerilla marketing / various vibes

  • Before March 5, 2024: 🔒 initial mailer
  • ASAP: launch self-serve platform
  • ASAP: stand up all necessary relationships to programmatically place mailers and billboards
  • Part of the shtick is to minimise outbound marketing. We’re not trying to convert any existing campaigns or politicians to our platform. We’re trying to expand the size of the market by 10x. We’re hoping our initial ad campaigns go viral and get us organic awareness (”what the fuck is this billboard” “who is the Agency / the American Politics Company”)
    • We’re willing to blow ~$50k on self-funding a few ads for data points and to see what works before taking external customers.
  • First external customers will likely be tech startups, although we really want community nonprofits like YIMBY and SF Guardians to work with us, too.