What’s Working in Washington is a show about highlighting the people and products that are helping the region, and even the country, keep moving. In possibly our most literal example yet, we spoke with Libby Wuller, director of external engagement at Quorum, a company that works to make legislative action and deliberation easier for the staffers and agencies who wade through legal documents every day.
ABERMAN: Tell everybody: What does Quorum do?
WULLER: Quorum is a software company based here in Washington, D.C., and we build public affairs software. Now, what is public affairs software? Our co-founders actually came up with this idea when they were still in school at Harvard. One of them grew up in the advocacy community, and was trying to get a bipartisan resolution passed through Congress. Had a lot of Democrats sign on to the bill, but couldn’t scrounge up any Republicans to co-sponsor. He went back to Harvard, complaining to his roommate, and said there had to be a better way to garner support for legislation. Now, our other co-founder was a computational biochemistry major in college, and he was building an algorithm that matched protein networks in the human body. And he said, well, if I can map proteins, I can probably map members of Congress. And thus, the idea for Quorum was born. Today, we’re a full suite of tools, that enable anyone doing government affairs, or Community Development and Community Affairs, to have access to the information they need about what’s moving in the public policy arena, and then have built tools that save them time and energy, so they can spend more time building those relationships.
ABERMAN: I just love stories like this, because first of all, it just brings home what I’ve often observed, which is that entrepreneurs start businesses where something bothers them. Sounds like your founders. And secondarily, it’s just the idea of solving this particular problem, it almost sounds like a buddy system. You know, you’re helping legislatures figure out who’s their buddy. Give me an example of how this technology has worked, maybe to pass a law that some of us might be familiar with.
WULLER: Sure. So, our clients range from small nonprofits, to trade associations, to really large corporations. Anyone that’s engaged in government at any level. In fact, our technology aids across local, state, federal, and even at the international level, in that government affairs space. The example I like to give is, before Quorum, we found many of our clients printing out two different versions of a piece of legislation, and going through by hand with a highlighter to find the differences. That’s something that technology can easily automate, so that that staffer can very quickly pick up the phone and know exactly where the legislation is different, and where they want to see changes made. We’ve saved them hours of time doing something really manually that technology can automate.
ABERMAN: That’s funny, I recently had an experience where I wish I’d known about your technology, where I’m involved in something, and I was handed three different pieces of legislation, all well-meaning, all seeking to do the same thing, and fundamentally different. And boy, it was a form of brain damage to figure it out. And then, once I figured out the differences, trying to figure out who the right people were to go and talk to the bill at constituency, so…
WULLER: And that’s the other piece that Quorum aids with. So, we have clients that are able to find unlikely bedfellows for legislation, legislators that may have co-sponsored the same bill in the past, and maybe the members didn’t even know it. Or, another example is clients taking the locations of their manufacturing plants, where their employees are located, and being able to map that to congressional districts for the first time, so when they walk in to tell the story of a factory worker for their company, they can tell that legislator exactly what economic impact they have in that district. And that’s something that we’re automating for our clients.
ABERMAN: As an investor, and being part of the community, I’ve seen many startups focus on greater transparency in government. A lot of the issues around how do we make government better. But a lot of them just seem to fail, because there’s no customer for that. My impression is there is a customer for your service. Who are your customers?
WULLER: Everyone from public affairs or government relations specialists, they’re tasked with building relationships with staffers, and members of Congress, or state legislators, to be able to report back to their organizations when policy might impact their bottom line, or impact their mission statement. And so, our clients are looking to be able to influence that legislative process, in a way that’s meaningful to their organization. And Quorum is built specifically for that role, and to help them spend less time doing the knucklehead things by hand. Because at the end of the day, you can’t send a computer to Capitol Hill. It’s our clients that are able to tell powerful stories. It’s our clients that are able to bring constituents up to the Hill to share how a policy has impacted them, where our technology can handle the automated work. The manual work.
ABERMAN: Yeah, I just gotta say, the image of a computer going up to Capitol Hill, I have to try that one day. Last thing before I let you go: since your company, you and your team, you’re working so hard to make government more transparent, you’re really seeing how the sausage is made at ringside. How do you feel? Are you more optimistic or less about how government functions?
WULLER: I’m certainly more optimistic. In any other industry, whether it is a jar, or finance, someone over the last decade has built software designed for those roles. Up until this point, no one had taken a step back, looked at the Government Affairs and Public Affairs industry, and said, how do we build really thoughtful software, that helps our clients save time and energy, and makes them more effective at their jobs? I think if we can make folks across the nonprofit, and the corporate, and the association space, better at their jobs, we’re helping move the industry forward.
ABERMAN: Libby, It’s been wonderful spending some time with you today. I loved hearing about Quorum. That was Libby Wuller, of Quorum.