Archive for category FreedomSpeaks

Do You Know the Way To Download Day?

I’m writing this post in the car while @KurtyD and I take the Great Californian Road Trip up highway 101 to San Jose for the public launch of San Jose 311 – “Mobile City Hall,” which was built by CitySourced.

The event is being dubbed “Download Day” and being sponsored by Councilmember Pete Constant of the first district of San Jose.  You may remember Councilmember Constant from TechCrunch who appeared on stage, a swift move that many have credited for our strong finalist showing at the competition.

Download Day, which is being held at the West Valley Community Center, will bring together a wide range of community leaders from civic, non profit, political, college, government, law enforcement and faith-based groups for a brief educational demonstration followed by a public send-off of teams to canvass neighborhoods and report blights in real time.  This is just great stuff.

The folks at the City of San Jose have been amazing to work with and I learned why San Jose’s motto is “The Capitol of Silicon Valley;” they really understand and want to work with startups. Getting to know all these city officials during this process has truly put me in awe of how cities operate.

This entire process has been an amazing learning experience.  One of the most important things that differentiates startups from their more well established counterparts is the ability to be lean and agile.  For us, that means driving from our Intergalactic Headquarters in Los Angeles to San Jose and either crashing on the floor with a friend or—gulp—paying for the Motel 6 Hotel.

So, we’re thrilled to be lighting up our first city, the San Jose Mercury News did a nice write up already and we’re expecting some additional press tomorrow.  Looking at the business development pipeline, we’re expecting a lot more cities in the next few months.

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Drinking from the Fire hose: Our TC50 Experience

CitySourced, a product of FreedomSpeaks, was honored this past week to present and then place third overall at the TechCrunch50 Conference.  This past weekend myself and our two co-founders agreed that the events that transpired were a game changer.  Not only was our product going to receive more hype, maybe even funding, but all of us were emotionally different; we had, as one adviser told us, just advanced ten levels in the video game.  So, what changed? And what are the three lessons we’d like to share with those who prepare for their first product demo at next year’s TC50?

First, you can never practice enough.  We worked until 2:00 am every night for a week prior to our presentation nailing all the details and continuing to refine and update our presentation and product.  When we heard that other companies were partying the night before while we were huddled in our crappy hotel room in Cupertino refining our pitch, we said to ourselves that we might have a fighting chance at winning.  So, plan on being completely exhausted, and maybe even getting diarrhea (as we did) from the combination of stress and exhaustion.

Concerning our pitch, there are a few industry leaders, like Steve Jobs, who excel at this very well. If you study their style you will realize that it isn’t an secret, the signs are everywhere.  First, do not ever go past your allotted time limit.  It’s rude to the judges and your audience of potential customers.  Second, make sure you are actually showing your product and how it works within the first 30 seconds.  Third, it’s helpful to make news by having third party validation during your presentation.  A few presenting companies showed signed contracts from customers.  For CitySourced, we actually brought the customer, Pete Constant, a city councilman from the City of San Jose, on stage.  I recall attending WWDC back in 2007 and Steve Jobs not only announced that Intel was going to be making chips for the Mac, but then he surprised everyone and actually brought Paul Otinelli on stage.  Finally, tell a story.  You aren’t just doing a product demo, you are telling a story.  Your audience may be very intelligent, but they are also like children in that their attention will wane if you drag on and don’t relate to how your product will change their life, or better yet, the world.
We received a lot of favorable feedback on our presentation, which can be found here:

The second lesson we can share is to be humble and calm.  It does help to believe in a power greater than oneself and acknowledge them for getting you this far and to ask for the ability to cope.  Despite practicing a lot, things will go wrong.  I guarantee it.  You may flub a word or fail to stay on message during the demo or Q&A.  That’s likely not the end of the world.  One of the lessons in Silicon Valley I learned over the past two years was that it’s ok to fail, but fail fast.  If you find one of your key team members unable to cope with the stress due to failure or a mistake made, take them out of the game until they can recover.  Despite their strong value add in getting to this point, if they are too emotional, they of no value to you at the present.  In addition, it’s important also to be humble.  Make sure you watch other presentations to get a feel of how others present and what the questions judges ask.  That was another form of practicing for us.  Be sure to visit your fellow peers at their booths.  Yes, it is a cutthroat competition, and we are all in it to win it, but we are also a community of entrepreneurs who ultimately need to have each others’ back.  In short, as one blog post noted, don’t drink your own Kool-Aide.

The final lesson we can share is remember to market your product.  Beyond presentation, your booth serves as a constant reminder for those walking by to learn more.  I found several presenting companies not staffing their booth after their presentation.  Not good.  In addition, it’s important to have really good press relations.  I learned through a close source that most companies did not even take advantage of the registered press list given out to presenting companies.  Even fewer actually sent a personalized note to every reporter on the list to engage them.  We believe this was critical to the favorable press we received following our event.

We were also humbled when Robert Scoble discovered us and actually came by our offices the following day to conduct an on-camera interview.  Remember that time is money and if a member of the press spent their time reading about your product and writing to inform their audience, the least you can do is thank them with a personal note, as we did.

For many, presenting at TC50 was our first major product demo at a technology trade show conference and hopefully not our last.  We hope the above lessons shared from our experience will be helpful to future presenting companies and that you will look back 10-20 years recalling your first demo with many happy memories.  Just because you are a startup and may not have the presentation resources like a Cisco, Apple or Microsoft, doesn’t mean you can’t abide by these simple, free ways that we believe were critical to our success.

Thanks to the TC50 opportunity, our hard work is paying off with our phones ringing off the hook with new leads, plus notable interest from press and investors has been exciting, encouraging, and oh so worth the sprinting we endured leading up to the confernece. In fact, the sprinting is what prepped us to drink from the fire hose, and now that we’ve tasted it we wouldn’t want it any other way.

Thank you to everyone who helped make this dream of ours a reality.  We are very excited about our launch and look forward to sharing with you more exciting news about CitySourced as we aim to make your city a better place to live.  Remember: It’s Your City.

ABOUT CITY SOURCED
CitySourced is a real time mobile civic engagement tool. CitySourced provides a free, simple, and intuitive tool empowering citizens to identify civil issues (potholes, graffiti, trash, snow removal, etc.) and report them to city hall for quick resolution; an opportunity for government to use technology to save money and improve accountability to those they govern; and a positive, collaborative platform for real action. Our platform is called CitySourced, as it empowers everyday citizens to use their smart phones to make their cities a better place. CitySourced is powered by FreedomSpeaks, the leader in interactive civic engagement.

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The Proponent – FreedomSpeaks White Label API Released

We’re proud to announce the release of our flagship product The Proponent. In a nutshell, it’s the online solution for grassroots advocacy campaigns. Hats off to Ben Kuo at socalTECH.com for his recent coverage of our new product launch.

We’ve built it on a solid framework (cloud computing services, xml, json, rest, etc.), and our approach is a game changer is what our clients are telling us. Not only does our API allow our clients to control their presentation, but our data set drills down to the local level.  Plus, we’ve priced it to take market from competitors, plus we’ve filled it to the brim with Web 2.0 functionality and features.

We have an referral program too, so keep your eyes and ears peeled about our weekly webinars to show you how to use the product, as well as making some dough referring clients our way.

Check it out and let us know what you think. We’re always open to feedback – positive and critical.

How can you help us get the  product out there and wake up the neighborhood?

C’mon!

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TalkPAC Chooses FreedomSpeaks for Advocacy Solution

We’ve recently signed on TalkPAC, an organization dedicated to defeating the “Fairness Doctrine”, to our suite of advocacy solutions. By implementing our API, they’ve been able to send out over 100,000 letters (via email & fax) to their members’ representatives. Along with them, we’ve also signed on NoMoreTaxation, an organization intent on decreasing the tax burden on the American Citizen.

We’ve also begun working on an offline solution to the problem of citizen apathy disengagement called CitizenCamp. Think of this as an offline (think “real world”) tool to get the citizenry educated and involved in the political process. Such items as how to create an election initiative or proposition, best practices in effecting political change, and a slew of others will be on the agenda. We’ll also be looking to you, the citizens of this fine country, for ideas on making government more transparent and accessible. FreedomSpeaks, along with some other socially conscious partners, will be sponsoring events to achieve this goal. So be on the lookout for a CitizenCamp near you. Oh, there will also be food and drink served at all CitizenCamps – good times abound!

A revolution has begun America. It’s time to wake up the neighborhood!

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FreedomSpeaks Presents @ MOTM (Meeting of the Minds)

My friend Kurt Daradics & Baron Miller are having their monthly MOTM tonight. They’ve asked me to present my site, FREEDOMSPEAKS.COM and I’m honored by their invitation. The night will start off with drinks and networking, followed by my presentation, some Q&A, and finally some more networking. I hope to see everyone there. It should be a great night. More info follows:

When: Tonight, October 28th @ 8:00 PM
Where: Suki 7 in Westlake Village, CA
Who’s Going? Everyone who’s cool…

Be sure to bring a stack of your business cards!

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FreedomSpeaks’ API, Platform & Widgets are Finally Live!

Yep, the announcement came over the wire today (click here for the formal release). I was finally able to get FreedomSpeaks' API out the door. I'm really excited about this launch, I've been working hard on it for a few months now, and it's nice to see the fruition of my work. I still have quite a bit more work ahead of me, but the API will be driving pretty much everything. Here's a list of what you can do with the API (so far):

  1. Get your officials based on your address
  2. Get official data based on id/screen name. 
  3. Get a letter based on id 
  4. Write your own letter (and send it to your officials)
  5. Forward a letter already written to your officials 
  6. Search our database of officials 

We also have a widget (with a couple more due out soon) that members can embed in their blog, website or MySpace profile. This widget performs the "Get Officials" action and allows visitors to their site to lookup their officials. Pretty cool if you're into getting your friends politically involved.

I don't have a forum right now for the API, so if you want to leave comments about it, or have questions, just add a comment to my post. I'll try to answer every one in a timely manner. :)

Spread the word – Our API is Finally Here!

Below's a sample of our "Get Officials" Widget – Get Your Widget Code Now!

Screenshot of FreedomSpeaks' Widget - Get Officials

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Our API is Coming Soon!

I just wanted to give everyone a quick heads up. I have some exciting news about Freedom Speaks. I’ll be launching our API very soon! The API will have some barebones features to start, but I hope to make almost all the data on our site available through the API. Here are a couple of the features we’ll be launching with:

  1. Who Represents You?
    (Enter: Your Address; Get: Your Districts + Officials)
  2. Forward A Letter…
    (Enter: Any LetterId + Address; Get: Your Districts + Officials + Your Letter Sent)
  3. Get A Letter
    (Enter: Any LetterId; Get: Letter + Comments)
  4. Get An Official
    (Enter: Any OfficialId; Get Official + Comments)
  5. Search Officials
    (Enter: Search Terms; Get Officials)

The results sets will be pretty verbose and returned as Xml. You’ll be able to pick and choose what data you’d like to display within your application.

We’re also making available a few widgets that consume our API services. Embed any one of these widgets on your own profile, and you’ll instantly enable your visitors to take action on any issue you’d like! That’s pretty powerful stuff.

Stay Tuned!

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Senator Larry Craig now has some internet friends!

An interesting event happened last night around 6 PM. I saw an unusual amount of activity on FREEDOMSPEAKS.COM and thought I may have a potential spammer on my hands. I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only was it not a spammer, buy my site had become the target of a quite intriguing blog post by WONKETTE.COM. The story poked fun at the Senator, making light of the fact that he didn’t have any friends on my site. If you follow the comments on WONKETTE.COM, I think you’ll find (as I did) the comments are pretty amusing. Some might say that it isn’t right that we add fodder to the fire of a political scandal, but politicians are fair game in my books. More often than not, they tout themselves as pillars of society. We all know that that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

So, I’d like to give a shout out to the WONKETTE.COM. One final thought. Now that Senator Larry Craig has over 20 friends, what do we do about Senators Obama, Clinton and McCain? They don’t even come close! Maybe Senator Craig should be running for president.

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5,000 Letters and Counting…

Chalk up another exciting couple of weeks here at FREEDOMSPEAKS.COM. We continue to grow and
we’ve far surpassed the 5,000 letter mark sending out a total of 5,531 letters!
We’ve also been sent our first offer for financing. I won’t say any more than
that, but it’s great to be validated with a funding proposal. Be sure to tell
everyone you know about FREEDOMSPEAKS.COM – familiy, friends,
radio talk show hosts, local news, everyone. The more letters we can flood our
politicians with, the less they can ignore us.

For everyone living in the Los Angeles area, I
wanted to point out two things:

  • Tonight, our
    founder, Jason A. Kiesel, will be getting interviewed by TechZulu at Makai in Santa Monica. The
    event is hosted by DigitalLA and starts at 6PM.
  • A very special issue has come up due to the
    recent tragedy of Jamiel Shaw. I’ve set up a special letter that goes directly to the
    LA Mayor and City Council Members regarding the passage of Jamiel’s Law. Please take a look at it and
    forward it along. Most important, be sure to click "Send This Letter Now!".

Keep spreading the word – we can
make a difference in Washington (and our respective States)!

NEW ANNOUNCEMENTS!

  • We’ll be adding petititions to the site within the next few weeks. Our petitions
    will be similar to a letter, but will be sent all at once when a threshold level
    is reached (a certain date or number of signatures). Any suggestions should be
    sent via our feedback form.
  • We created a new
    type of letter on the site – a letter that targets a specific official or group
    of officials (We used this for the Jamiel’s Law letter). We will be rolling this
    out within the next couple weeks. Stay tuned!
  • We’re also
    planning on rolling out more content on the site. We’ll be presenting commentary
    that represents both (or multiple) sides of an issue and then getting discussion
    on those points of view by all of you.
  • We’ll be starting a live show once every other week starting
    next week. We’ll stream it live online and we’ll take your calls and questions
    on air. Our founder, Jason Kiesel, will have a guest or two and they’ll discuss
    the top letters/issues from the site. Be sure to check it out!

TOP NEW LETTERS!

  1. Speak English Please!
  2. A Revised Approach to the War on Terror
  3. America Desperately Needs a High-Skilled Labor
    Force!
  4. Illegals
  5. RIGHT To VOTE
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We’re growing and growing and growing…

I just wanted to thank everyone for continuing to visit FREEDOMSPEAKS.COM and contributing great letters and comments. There have been some really great letters written by some of our memebers since my last email went out (see below), and I’ve added some great new features. Everyone on the site has been giving some great feedback – in fact, most of the new features come from member suggestions! Keep up the good work, and I look forward to reading your next letter!

Here are some of the new features we’ve added:

  • Sending letters to other officials, even if they don’t represent you, just got easier!
    (just go to your account home, click "Send Letter", do a search for the officals you want and add them to your list)
  • Letters can now be written as private – no one on the site will ever see it.
  • Not happy with your screen name? You can now change it!
  • State Official data is slowly trickling in. Members in CA now have their executive and legislative officials in their profile (if we’re able to correctly geocode your address). We’re working on the other states, so stay tuned!
  • Improved Search now includes ALL State officials as well as Federal.
  • You can now subscribe to a letter and get email alerts whenever anyone comments on it.
    (simply comment on a letter and be sure to check the "Subscribe" checkbox)
  • Get a list of the most recent letters (not just most active letters)
  • Check out our list of RSS Feeds – You can now stay on top of your favorite issue / topic!

Check out some of these great letters…

  1. Medical Marijuana: in defense of a voter approved measure.
  2. Reduce the Gas Tax and Provide Relief to All Americans!
  3. Its Time to Balance the Budget!
  4. Reinstate Proposition 36 – "Treatment Rather Than Incarceration"
  5. Same-Sex Marriages – Protect the Rights of Homosexuals
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