Kuorum.org is the social network with the mission of improving communication between politicians and citizens. The network provides individuals and small organizations a lobbying voice through enabling a closer proximity of being heard by political representatives and a greater influence by organizing together. Currently focused within Spain, the eventual plan is to take Kuorum global.
KITE Invest: Please shed some light on the origins of Kuorum.
Chema García: Kuorum was founded in March 2013 with the purpose of providing professional lobbying services for citizens and organizations. Our CEO had worked for five years in the electricity sector, occasionally giving technical assessment to the Regulation Department of a big utility company in Spain. This experience together with his social science studies at the London School of Economics brought him to the idea that both, politicians and citizens, could benefit from having better and more structured means of communication; like the ones already existing between multinational companies and public institutions.
During these two years we have been in permanent contact with state level politicians, political communication consultants, grassroots experts, civil society organisations, NGOs, and professional lobbyists in order to better identify their needs and demands. After testing a first pilot website that ran for six months with more than 1,000 users, we finally launched our Minimum Viable Product (MVP) last summer. Currently, more than 3,000 users, 10 parliamentarians from five different parties, several organisations and city councillors debate about the most relevant bills on our platform.
KITE: Kuroum eventually plans to expand outside of Spain, how will the different political contexts and systems affect Kuorum’s platform methods? Where is Kuorum planning on going to next?
CG: Scalability has been a major concern all along the development process. After holding brainstorming sessions with potential clients and users, we always had the same question in mind: How do we translate this or that demand into a scalable product? Maybe this is why the concept of Kuorum is so simple: political representatives launch their ‘projects’ they are currently working on and users (either citizens or organisations) can vote on those projects and make ‘proposals’ to improve them. This reduction of the activity to two major items (projects and proposals) makes our product perfectly adaptable to any public institution or legislative process in the world.
There is then only one limitation factor for the international expansion: political will. The trend is very favourable though. Many countries are strengthening the standards of their transparency regulations, which will ease electoral advantage to those politicians who know how to benefit from citizens’ collective knowledge to develop their policies. Currently, many of those countries are in Latin America; therefore, and due to the obvious idiomatic advantage, this continent is the first one in our scope.
KITE: One of the main components to Kuorum is the idea of ‘getting the word out’. Please explain the measures by which Kuorum uses to communicate.
CG: Communication is the cornerstone of our organisation. What in the beginning was one of the biggest challenges has now become our main competitive advantage.
From the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008 many countries carried out saving policies, which turned into social rights’ cuts. This roused people’s disaffection for formal politics. Kuorum was born precisely to regenerate this increasing lack of communication between citizens and what they now call ‘the political class’. But we asked ourselves, how do you convince two apparently irreconcilable parts to work together in the search of new solutions with one unique message?
We knew it was a tricky question, so we asked for professional advice from Scrum & Sons, a young, but experienced advertising company in Madrid. We came together to the conclusion that Kuorum should stand for the brand of those politicians that still want to hear what society would want to say. And so we did. We contacted State Parliamentarians in every party that had stood for the most open minded among their colleagues and we convinced them to participate in the platform. Not surprisingly, most of them already knew about us. And they were willing not only to participate in the website but to collaborate with their feedback in the lean process for the improvement of the tool.
KITE: In a world that is increasingly connected, what are some of the remaining challenges Kuorum faces in terms of communications?
CG: Kuorum is a social company, which means it aims to improve the society by applying a for-profit revenue model. Social companies, that are a well-known kind of organisation in the US and the rest of Europe, are still relatively new in Spain and Latin America. Nonetheless, we recently won the GameChangers Contest 2014, a prize for social entrepreneurs awarded by UnLtd Spain. This distinguishing reward will help us to communicate the fact that we are a social company more easily.
On the other hand, when it comes to technical challenges, like any other social network, our revenue model is strongly related to the size of the community we are able to generate. Customer and user acquisition costs reduction are key for the economic sustainability of the project. Therefore, we have carried out tests using different strategies that involve SEM, SEO, social networks, press releases and offline events. The unitary costs we have achieved are lower than the average of the sector and we expect to reach cuts of up to 40% following a normal learning curve.
KITE: The concept of providing individuals a means of collectively lobbying is also the mission of several other networks. How does Kuorum differentiate itself from its competitors?
CG: The so-called cyber-activism platforms have demonstrated to be both an effective lobbying tool for their users and a profitable business for their clients (mainly NGOs) and investors. However, they usually follow a strategy of confrontation with formal politics, which has caused their credibility to suffer amongst public institutions and for-profit organisations. Kuorum aims to empower their users by the hand of their political representatives, a democratic formula that works already in the US or Switzerland through websites like Democracy.com or Politnetz.ch.
By contrast with other Spanish online voting websites, Kuorum does not stand up for an institutionalisation of direct democracy, but for the fostering of a more participative system. This is conceived by the majority of the society as a far less disruptive change, and so easier to embrace.
KITE: Although Kuorum is a social network, it is providing a specific service to its users: the ability to organize and lobby. Please shed light on Kuorum’s business plan. What are the ways in which Kuorum generates income and what are future sale and growth projections?
CG: Politicians pay a monthly fee for their accounts. Kuorum.org is the LinkedIn of political leaders. We like to think of politicians as a kind of serial activists, and Kuorum is the tool that allows them to lead social change. We are currently closing deals with our first big clients. With a market share lower than 1% and only in Spain, we will be able to cover costs, and thereby, make the growth of the platform sustainable.
Once we reach that point, we plan to boost revenues either through internationalisation or offering additional premium services for organisations.
KITE: Kuorum is currently seeking investment of 150k€. What is Kuorum’s investment history and why is Kuorum seeking investment at this time?
CG: We are a bootstrapper and so far we gathered 24k€ Triple F and 5k€ from JPMorgan Chase. This money was invested in the website platform and communication KPI tests. Kuorum is now seeking a first round to invest in sales and user acquisition efforts. The exit is foreseen in a second round needed for the internationalization.
KITE: Why is Kuorum such an attractive opportunity for investors?
CG: Kuorum is a high potential investment with a robust position in a growing market, but its most valuable asset is its team. We combine international expertise in different sectors with passion for what we are doing. On the top of that the sector offers high probabilities of industrial takeover by electronic voting and political services companies.