We talked to Anatolij Gelimson of FastDemocracy about his legislative tracking and analytics platform, and he had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Dr.Anatolij Gelimson: We’re doing well, and we make sure to only meet friends and colleagues outdoors and wear masks.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded FastDemocracy.
Dr. Anatolij Gelimson: My background is in Theoretical Physics; I did my Ph.D. in Statistical Physics, more precisely on models for bacterial colonies. I got interested in the problem of legislative bill tracking through my wife. She was working for a legal non-profit and needed to keep track of hundreds of bills in the Missouri state capitol. The tool she had for that was antiquated, so she had to keep track of legislation using spreadsheets she was updating every few days. She initially asked me to create a self-updating spreadsheet for her, so she would always have the most recent information on the bills, but then we decided to take this project much further and make sure everyone can easily keep up with legislation and influence their government.
How does FastDemocracy innovate?
Dr. Anatolij Gelimson: FastDemocracy is a legislative tracking and analytics platform that helps everyone stay on top of what their government is doing and take action at the right time. We provide bill tracking, alerts on important developments, news and tweets, 50-state search capabilities, bill similarity detection, a mobile app, and more. Our customers are non-profits, lobbyists, government institutions, and trade associations, but we also provide a free version for anyone interested in politics, in US Congress, and in all 50 states.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Dr. Anatolij Gelimson: To some extent, the pandemic emphasized how important our product is for the time we live in. Due to COVID-19, many of our customers could no longer work in the state capitol building, and we’re providing them with a service that still keeps them up to date, so they don’t miss a beat and can advocate for their causes remotely and on the go. On the other hand, some organizations we’re catering to are cash-strapped this year, so it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Our sales saw a few slow months at the beginning of the pandemic, but then we picked up the pace again.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Dr. Anatolij Gelimson: We have recently expanded our team and brought on a new CEO as well as a Director of Sales to switch to a fully virtual sales and marketing strategy. On the plus side, this made it easier for us to develop a strategy for selling in states we don’t have a physical presence in (before the pandemic, lobbyists overwhelmingly preferred in-person meetings, and that would have been difficult for us to pull off in all 50 states). We believe we’re well-positioned to take on the competition in all 50 states, and we’re excited about the growth in the upcoming year.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and FastDemocracy in the future?
Dr. Anatolij Gelimson: It helps to be married to a co-founder, who, of course knows both the company and me very well. When I’m stressed, I try to spend more time with my wonderful wife Sara, for example, joining her for trips to the farm where we’re boarding a horse. Other than that, I mostly try to see if the problem the company has is solvable, e.g., by improving sales & marketing or by improving the product. It also helps that we’re always available for our customers, and their feedback helps guide future directions of the product. Our goal is to be the best, most easy to use platform for government information across all levels of government. So many people miss out on opportunities to make a change because they simply have no idea that a committee meeting is taking place or that an amendment has made it onto the bill. We want to change that and make sure everybody has the chance to make their voices heard.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Dr. Anatolij Gelimson: There are two kinds of competitors – state bill trackers and national ones. National ones tend to be user-friendly, but they’re often relatively unreliable when it comes to legislative information on a state level (they usually get Congress right but getting correct, timely info in all 50 states is difficult). The statewide competitors, of course, are accurate when it comes to tracking in their respective states. However, those systems are typically antiquated since some of them were built in the 90s or early 2000s, with relatively few updates since then. We’re focused on providing accurate information on a state level while delivering a product that’s easy to use, powerful and modern.
Your final thoughts?
Dr. Anatolij Gelimson: Many people often don’t realize how important state legislation in the US. US Congress has been gridlocked for most of the last decade, but state governments are really the places where changes are happening. Monitoring state governments is so important if you want to advocate for a good cause.
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