The Business of Politics Show

Gerrit Lansing (WinRed)

September 01, 2021 Startup Caucus
The Business of Politics Show
Gerrit Lansing (WinRed)
Chapters
The Business of Politics Show
Gerrit Lansing (WinRed)
Sep 01, 2021
Startup Caucus

On this episode, we're joined by Gerrit Lansing who is the President of WinRed, the Republican Party's official, networked grassroots donation platform. Before making the leap to entrepreneur, he built transformative digital programs at the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican National Committee. WinRed represents one of the GOP's most significant investments in technology and helps thousands of Republican candidates across the country up and down the ballot raise billions for their campaigns.

https://winred.com/about/

Show Notes Transcript

On this episode, we're joined by Gerrit Lansing who is the President of WinRed, the Republican Party's official, networked grassroots donation platform. Before making the leap to entrepreneur, he built transformative digital programs at the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican National Committee. WinRed represents one of the GOP's most significant investments in technology and helps thousands of Republican candidates across the country up and down the ballot raise billions for their campaigns.

https://winred.com/about/

Gerrit Lansing:

If you think something through carefully and then tell a roomful of people about it, and they all laugh at you, it's probably a very good idea.

Eric Wilson:

I'm Eric Wilson, managing partner of startup caucus and investment fund and incubator for republican campaign technology. Welcome to the business of politics podcast. on this show, we bring you into conversation with the entrepreneurs who build best in class political businesses, the funders who provide the capital and the operatives who put it all together to win campaigns. On this episode, we're joined by Garrett Lansing, who is the president of win read, which is the Republican Party's official network grassroots donation platform, before making the leap to entrepreneur he built transformative digital programs at the National Republican congressional committee, and the Republican National Committee, when red represents one of the GOP his most significant investments in technology and helps 1000s of Republican candidates across the country up and down the ballot raise billions of dollars for their campaigns. Very excited to have him on the show today. Garrett, you were very early in the push to get candidates in the party to take online fundraising seriously. And today, it seems like a no brainer, right? As we see these huge fundraising halls from grassroots donations, give our listeners a sense of what it was like back then. And some of the objections you heard when you were trying to get this started.

Gerrit Lansing:

Yeah, it was relatives now real Stone Age stuff. I think I started April Fool's Day 2012, at the nrcc, which says, think and really didn't know anything about online fundraising that was trying to get, you know, had great conversations with the romney team and trying to learn and in the interests, he was doing some stuff, but it wasn't a major component of anything. It was, however, a major component of what D, Triple C, the NRC, C's Democrat, opposite was doing. And basically, for three years, I got my butt handed to me by D trip. And I was in a monthly meeting with like bainer, and canner and the leadership staff. And there was, you know, at some point in the meeting, every time I returned to online fundraising, and the gap in online fundraising was so big that overall, we were losing, we were beating them and every other category

Eric Wilson:

described big here, are we talking like millions of dollars every quarter a month or 10s of millions of dollars?

Gerrit Lansing:

Um, I can't remember the monthly quarterly gaps, but certainly, the likes 2012 and 2014 cycle gap had to be in the, in the 10s of millions. Wow. Okay. And so, like wildly significant. And, you know, when you're 20, something leaving these meetings, you become highly motivated to figure out what the heck is going on. And what I figured out was going on is that somewhere, I don't know, plus or minus half of the reason was that act blue, had created this infrastructure that made it easier for them to raise money online. And the other half was an ongoing, just sort of psychological cultural resistance to investing in this new internet thing, which is, to a large degree still happening, but less and less. And so I was Have you quotes, lucky to get my butt kicked by D trip for three years, because I was really one of the early people in the party on our side of the aisle in general, to see what was possible there. And to be tracking this obsessive Li and thinking about it, and trying to reverse engineer everything and failing and trying and testing. And I came out of the 14 cycle. In fact, somewhere in the middle, I think, really august of 2014, I decided and started to put together early ideas of how to counter act blue, how would we put that together? And so I think I was just early to see that impact. And like the senators and the governors, other people just hadn't seen it yet. Because the DGA and the dscc, whatever hadn't picked it up as much Dietrich was an early adopter, and they early adapted me to a large degree.

Eric Wilson:

That's interesting. And it is amazing to me, and we'll probably talk about this more but how far we've come and yet how we still face many of the same challenges as it relates to culture and mindset. So let's dig into the business of online fundraising a little bit, because you mentioned the revelation that you had back in 2014. And you started rev a donation platform back in 2014. And so just a little history lesson or reminder for our listeners, the democrats were mostly consolidated or around actblue by then, but the online donation platform space on the right was very competitive and very crowded. What opportunity Did you see there that gave you the conviction to add rev to that mix.

Gerrit Lansing:

The initial insight was that most and there was 100 Now, three or four, maybe five, is probably more sort of main processing platforms. And most of them had been founded to make sure that the marketing agency behind them could just get paid by the campaign and didn't have to chase an invoice, it was very much like a functional billing exercise. On top of that, the ones that weren't, but also the ones that were sort of built for that billing exercise were almost entirely kept, their market share was almost entirely kept by the agencies client list, they were sort of trapped inside that client garden, because there was like rivalries. And you know, that time there was this insane now looking back concept that all of these digital agencies were going to have to be full stack, they're going to have to hide, like, all the analytics, and all the payments and all the technology you need to do. And that was because the industry wasn't big enough to support sort of niche players. And now it's obviously totally different. And people are specializing, and that's all good and natural. But because of that it was balkanized. And in terms of who is using, what system, and the beginning and the end of the value of act blue is that everyone's on it. And so it creates all these different network effects that raise all boats. Right? So my theory was that everyone was using Google ads, everyone's using Facebook, like why Couldn't there be just single focused product that all they did was payments, they didn't do anything else. And therefore it could be adopted broadly, amongst all the agencies and top campaigns. I remember Tom Newhouse, who's at convergence media now was my deputy. And I remember him pointing out, he's like, have you thought about the margins on this? And I remember being like waving my hand be like, Don't tell me about the margins. Like I can't, I don't want to know, I obviously I certain generally knew. But I think that's like, one of the lessons I've always taken is like, you don't you actually like want to embrace like some of the ignorance of what it's gonna be like, I can probably confidently say, If I had known how painful and expensive it was going to be on multiple levels, I probably

Eric Wilson:

I say that about startup caucus all the time. Like, if I hadn't known how difficult it was to sort of help jumpstart an innovation ecosystem and raise money for that, I probably wouldn't have started. And that's, that's why that conviction is so important. Another just sort of idea I want to underline here is that it's the ideas are really easy to come by, right. It's the execution that determines the success. So there's one of the reasons I share a lot of my work in public because, you know, I would love it if someone would put the work in to figure it out. That's a great point. And one thing I didn't want to draw out here is about network effects, right? This is something that we try to unlock with every technology platform that we are building and investing in, which is it becomes more useful, the more people who are using it, right. So Facebook, when it was just at Harvard, was really only useful to people at Harvard. But then when you expand it to other university campuses, it became helpful to most Americans 18 to 21. Right. That's the the network effects that Garrett's talking about right there. I think another important factor in success, she touched on a little bit, which is timing. And I think that's really clear in the story of when read. And so I think our listeners need to know that this idea of a republican act, blue wasn't new, necessarily, it was something that I know you and I had discussed, as long as we've been in politics, going back to the, I guess, the end of the Bush years, and there had been some attempts in the past that fell apart what was right about 2018, for when red to finally succeed as our side's answer to the dominance of act blue.

Gerrit Lansing:

Well, first and foremost, we had the White House, you know, there was a leader who can bash people's heads together and say, we got to solve this. And that's just so important in politics, because when you're out of power, it's everyone's sort of positioning and maneuvering. And you know, in the, obviously, the Bush years, we had the White House, but the internet just like wasn't sort of theory added as a concept. And the fundraising was just way too early. And so first and foremost, is having the White House. And so the Trump team deserves a ton of credit for sort of recognizing that and putting political capital on the line to execute or make it happen. And then secondly, and this is as a house guy, I can say this with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder that, you know, a few senators get beat up in 2018 with a lot of online money and everyone freaks out so the house and are getting beaten up for seven cycles. And all my memos and meetings are going unanswered about the blue monster that's threatening us in a clear and present way. But in 18, it was just different, you know, White House plus a bunch of very close calls in at the senate level, created a real catalyst just literally, overnight. I mean, I remember In September, or October, getting calls about like, have you ever do you know how at Blue works? Like, what, what is going on here? And, you know, you've talked about this in the past. And, you know, by the end of November it was it was hot and heavy in terms of like, what are we going to do? How do we build a coalition? What are the products? Like, what, where are we going to go to solve this?

Eric Wilson:

Right? And I think that that's another lesson in entrepreneurship that I would flag for folks. And I've had to learn the hard way, right, which is, when you're innovating and building something new, if you don't seem crazy with your conviction at being so early to it, you're probably too late. Right? So, you know, playing that marker way back in 2014, and 2012, about act blue, you were before your time, right. And and so I think that's an important lesson for other entrepreneurs, both political and otherwise,

Gerrit Lansing:

it's a key point. I mean, I shattered into an empty Canyon for four or five years, obviously, people like you were listening. But we didn't know none of us had any Jews to move the dial. And so I think it's really about trusting the trend line. And so this is like a key thing that I always try to remind myself of, and others is that if you can zoom out a few times a month and sort of identify a trend, that thing happened, I think I saw it again. And then like the similar thing that is in that ballpark happened again, here. That's a trend. And then if you can project that out, like let's say, two years, five years, on that existing trend line, and to say what what would that change in the overall environment, the overall world, you can tell the future, basically. And it's hazy, but like, it's generally you can see like the puck is going over there. And I think it's it's really important to trust that trend line and ask people about it just the same way you put things out there be like, hey, this, I think this is a trend, what do you think and have people poke holes in it. And I do remember, back when I was in the house, probably 2009. And I remember standing in front of a roomful of press secretaries telling them that all these journalists are getting on Twitter talking about their stories, and it's a chance for you guys to get on Twitter and like influence the narrator of these stories, and they all laughed at me. And so that's sort of a go hand in hand lesson, I think on the trust the trend line, which is like if you think something through carefully, and put some time into it, and get people to poke holes, and then tell a roomful of people about it, and they all laugh at you, it's probably a very good idea. And and you just got to lean into that sort of that laugh track, I guess.

Eric Wilson:

You're listening to the business of politics podcast. I'm Eric Wilson. I'm joined today by Garrett Lansing, who is the president of win read, which is the Republican Party's networked online fundraising platform. And we're just talking about all the lessons learned from trying to innovate and being really early into some of these digital marketing spaces. And so you were just talking about the buy in that you got Finally, after some pretty significant losses, due in part to online fundraising. And despite all of that, and the political capital that was assembled, it certainly hasn't been easy, when red was able to leapfrog act blue and a lot of ways giving republicans better online fundraising and growth marketing tools than what the dems have still, what have you learned about driving innovation and digital transformation in our political industry, which is you? And I know, and I think our listeners understand as well, that has a lot of inertia, and is very resistant to disruption?

Gerrit Lansing:

Well, as I was just talking about trusting the trend line, you've got to be right about the trend line for one thing, right, because then that creates this outside third party validation point that, hey, more money's being raised online, maybe we should do that. Right. Like, it's not just the same person squawking about it, and annoying people about it. And to people like you and me back in the day, like it was obvious where the numbers were going, people just weren't paying attention. They didn't really know how to solve it. So it wasn't necessarily a risky bet. It was pretty obvious then and now. But I think, you know, politics is actually like a really great place to learn startups, skills, entrepreneurial skills. Our campaign is a amazing startup. It starts from nothing raises all this money, it's blows my mind. It's, it's this amazing sprint, it's always amazed me there isn't more of a management, culture and politics. But in the same vein of learning, you know, startups by doing politics, doing politics is a lot of that is about building a coalition to get to a winning percentage. And I think that is a huge lesson in kind of North Star for me is that if you want to get anything done in business, and certainly in politics, you've got to build a coalition, my friends, and I talk about this as a tribe, like who's in your tribe, who's gonna have your back? Who's going to sort of tell you about something that's happening in the corner you need to be aware of? How do you expand your tribe, and I talked about it explicitly, like, hey, like, this is a tribe and how do you read Add to other tribes and build that coalition. And so I think I was, you know, equal parts lucky, intuitive and smart enough to know that I wasn't smart enough to do this on my own, I needed to build a coalition. And the luck really comes in with the timing of being involved at those committees. Because the people that those committees go on to lead big things, you have the trust, you have, essentially the startup experience of starting a digital department at two big committees, we have to raise money, you have to earn budget, and you have to spend it carefully. And that added up to, I think, some confidence that myself and rev could execute on this, and then where to go and do the whole thing over again, build a bigger coalition, a bigger team and continue to execute.

Eric Wilson:

Yeah, I think that's a really good lesson to train, like an unexpected lesson that translates to to startups, right, and other sectors beyond politics. Like a lot of people wouldn't think about building a coalition. But you know, that's what we do in politics, it's 50% plus one, I think it's an important lesson, because because a lot of people are saying, if I just build the best tech, if I just build the best product, it's going to win out. And that's, you know, that that helps. But bringing people along with your vision is is very important.

Gerrit Lansing:

What you've got to get to people for all kinds of things, you got to for investment, a sale, whatever. And that's, you know, you've got to who influences that person? How do you get how do you surround that personality build a coalition to go after it's, it applies really to all levels? And it's how I think about it is it's so much of it is just relationships, and how do you make sure that you build something durable.

Eric Wilson:

So I see a lot of parallels right now between the criticism of retail investing, you know, thinking about Robin Hood, crypto mean stocks, and and some of the criticism that we see around grassroots online fundraising and politics. And to me, this centers around this idea that regular people, and I'm not advocating for this or arguing this position, but it centers around this idea that regular people aren't sophisticated enough to understand the financial and political decisions that they're making. And they need gatekeepers like stockbrokers to help them but I actually think it's it's less about concerns for individuals and more about fear of losing control. Yeah. What impact do you think the rise of online fundraising in financing political campaigns has on the overall landscape?

Gerrit Lansing:

I think it empowers campaigns to control more of their destiny, and I think it aligns them better, probably, with most of their voters, and lets them be flexible. Right. And so, you know, I think the biggest criticism of politics writ large, is that all these guys are bought and paid for. And yeah, there's some truth to that. But a lot of it is like, Well, you know, if like Exxon's pack and only donate five grand like, is that really like February? How much could they buy? At the same time, you know, they buys them access, and they become friends, and yada, yada, they can. So I generally, you know, I see that. But now it's like, these campaigns can say, Well, I'm funded by all these people who live in my district, you live in my state who live around the country, because they're interested me and you're there, I think they're more free to make more their own decisions. And you see this with the incoming new freshmen on both sides of the aisle are often much more independent of leadership these days, which causes its own set of problems. But that is just part of the overall adjustment of what the internet is doing to society and politics. So it's change, no one likes change, but there's really no pulling back from it. And I think we need to embrace it and and take advantage of it. I think the GameStop thing is a super interesting analysis where like, I get a lot of questions and reporters asking me like, well, this campaign against this entrenched Democrat, like they could never win. So these people should never donate to that. It's a bad stock essentially, is what they're saying. And my response is, I will one so that means that what we should just should give up on those campaigns, like, we should just never attempt to challenge one of those races. It's a pretty nefarious kind of line of mindset or have questions. And then I was like, why even have the vote? Yeah, exactly. Like I like it's like, I'm so constitutionally, just like against that in terms of like my personal constitution. And it's a bad mindset. And too, it's like, let's think bigger, about how to take advantage of big nationalized races that may be in tough to win districts, that to benefit districts are more on the margin, like how do we all work together, through win reds tool set through joint investment in vehicles to take advantage of the attention there? Because yes, some races are hard to reach for it doesn't mean we shouldn't go there. So how do we sort of mutually benefit and raise all boats? That's a better line of questioning. Yeah.

Eric Wilson:

And I think that this goes right to what we're talking about. About network effects, and sort of asymmetrical initiatives and leaderless resistance and things like that, that are enabled by distributed network technology. And that's what win read is built on. So you've had a ton of success with win read over the last couple of years. Thanks to win read, Republicans have added billions of dollars to the political ecosystem and no signs of slowing down. How do you see that new money being spent or invested in the political landscape?

Gerrit Lansing:

So I think at the moment, you know, how it's being spent is largely how it's always been spent, I think in the near future, it is going to have to change radically because there is more online money coming, then most of these campaigns kind of know what to do with and can handle. And so that goes from the the obvious that you maybe have to spend earlier, buy more TV earlier or whatever, to the not obvious, which is like what systems products and tech is going to break under the strain of an extra two and a half billion dollars, which if you look at just market cap to act, blue is the minimum what's going to happen in the next few years that when red will help process now all of that money is brand new, but I think a lot of it will be. And so I think there is a massive opportunity. And this is something, again, to your point earlier about talking publicly about this is basically every meeting I have I make this point, which is with the extra two plus billion dollars coming that will be raised by, you know, the top 500 campaigns and a power curve, maybe maybe 1000 campaigns, what are all the products and features and things and companies that don't exist now that those campaigns will need to execute? And what are all the products and features in tech, and companies that will just be broken under the strain of all of that, like thinking about like compliance, like nitty gritty stuff like that analytics, conversion tracking Single Sign On? I mean, there's, there's literally two dozen, and I think one of the things maybe you and I should work on is like, what is that list of things, and let's publish that, and try to get people focused on it. Because I don't think people understand the scale of the growth of politics that's coming on our side of the aisle. And that is really exciting. And we should lean into that and figure it out and go execute.

Eric Wilson:

Yeah, it does feel like we're kind of at the precipice of a kind of a Cambrian explosion, right? Where this $2 billion isn't going to go to more male phones and TV, right, you just can't buy anymore, and you're starting to get diminishing margins of return. So where are these resources gonna go?

Gerrit Lansing:

Yeah, that's a great point about being maxed out. I mean, I think you're seeing it in, in 20, there was a lot of maxed out ad inventory, and TV, in places, and that's gonna keep happening. And so now it's like that, you know, combined with the TV, changing habits, and you know, new media companies being designed things like ruthless podcasts, like those are all new platforms that are going to have to be looked at to buy that audience in terms of showing them an advertisement. And so it's just the complexity level is going to go way up. And your average campaign has nowhere near the sophistication level in terms of the management, the political background, and the technological background to execute at that scale. And so they're gonna need a lot of help, which is a big opportunity.

Eric Wilson:

And I think we both agree that technology is the answer, right? Like that's how you how you get the leverage and the scale that you need to get campaigns that added capacity. Yeah, there's no way to grow. To meet that scale. You have to use basically software to do it. So really fascinating conversation today, Garrett. Every time we get together, I think I just end up with like a list of other things to start thinking about and really appreciate your insights into the future and so offer my thanks to Garrett for joining us on the podcast. You can learn more about what he's working on at when red.com if you learn something from listening to this episode or came up with a new idea, be sure to subscribe to the business of politics podcast where ever you get podcasts and share it with your colleagues.