This start-up has promising marketing technology … but it’s only for Democrats

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(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)

Hustle is a San Francisco-based start-up that wants to change the way companies and organizations market to their communities … through mass text messages.

“People don’t pick up the phone as much any more,” says the company’s co-founder Roddy Lindsay in this TechCrunch article. “Having a one-on-one conversation on text is the best way to get people to participate.”

The company, which just raised $8 million from a group of venture capitalists, offers a platform that lets users send personalized text messages to self-created lists of targeted customers and prospects. The software then enables a continuing one-on-one text conversation, via customized scripts, to nurture the relationship, gather data (including payment if desired) and connect further.

But there is one small catch. If you want to sign up for the service it’ll help if you’re a Democrat.

“We’re focused on building a strong business supporting clients in the Democratic Party and Progressive movement, and expanding into markets like higher ed and relationship-driven enterprises,” Lindsay said in the TechCrunch article. Does this mean that the company would refuse a right-leaning prospective client? Actually … maybe. Lindsay said “if a potential client would violate our core values of authenticity, empowerment, impact, and respect, or erode the trust that our existing clients put in us, we would politely turn them away.”

Consumers aren’t crazy nowadays about receiving mass emails and many will likely be less than thrilled to get additional solicitations via text messages. So the founders of Hustle will certainly have their hands full dealing with the many challenges they’ll face selling a marketing technology that many will consider to be invasive, annoying and “spammy.” So why add yet another hurdle by refusing to sell to someone that doesn’t meet their “core values”?

The founders want to revolutionize grass roots activism to support organizations and companies that further the causes they believe in.  So far the strategy has been working. Their technology was used heavily by Bernie Sanders during his presidential campaign and other like-minded candidates and organizations have jumped on the train. Hustle, founded in 2014, has now grown to 40 people with a $3 million recurring revenue base made up primarily of left-leaning political candidates, nonprofits, fundraising groups and educational organizations.

Given today’s highly polarized climate maybe choosing sides and sticking to your beliefs, regardless of whether it results in lost opportunities, may not be such a bad strategy after all.

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