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Show HN: NationBuilder, my startup just launched (nationbuilder.com)
109 points by jgilliam on Apr 6, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 93 comments

Feedback: It wasn't immediately clear to me who this is for. A big headline telling me "Online Campaign Management for Civic Leaders and Candidates" would be helpful.

Thanks for the feedback. We definitely struggled with the overall positioning at launch. Our initial target is political campaigns and non-profits, mostly because they know they need this kind of a tool, and the current options are ridiculously expensive. For them, it's all about coordinating volunteers and engaging people in every channel possible.

But we also think, based on our background using political organizing to distribute documentaries, that there is a big market potential for independent creators as well, a market that will get very large. Authors, filmmakers, musicians, comedians, YouTubers, bloggers, etc.

The first few questions in the FAQ talk about this: http://nationbuilder.com/faq

We're definitely gonna play around with the main language on the website, thank you.

OK, but you still need to make it clear on the homepage that it's a tool for organizing and expanding a group of people, using social media, around a cause. From the homepage I thought it was just another company trying to bundle all my personal social media together. I shouldn't have to go to the faq.

I would second that feedback. I eventually figured out what you were talking about, but for the first minute or so I had no clue. I actually thought you might be a simulation game for a second! I know you don't want to pigeon-hole yourself into being "just" a tool for political organizations, but you really should get some sort of descriptive text up there.

Agreed, my initial thought was this was a sim-nation style game.

The design (while nice) and fake example data hardly discourage that impression.

Could be geared around a planning desk or war room theme (without connotations of violence)?

My thoughts, exactly. I thought it was a new creation of Nation States.

How about: Online Campaign Management for Candidates and Activists

Okay, I have no idea what the site is about, but it's beautiful. Who designed it?

Jesse Haff, he is amazing. http://3dna.us/about

Me. Thank you! :)

Yeah I actually came back to the HN thread to find out what the purpose of the product was

I might be in the minority, but I understood what it was for pretty quickly. Tagline could use a bit of tweaking maybe.

The city-in-a-box icon meant nothing to me. My brain keeps seeing a joystick for some reason.

It's not just for civic leaders or candidates.

While we built it with an eye on the non-profit and political world, it could also be of benefit to independent creators of all types -- artists, musicians, advocacy groups, small businesses, sports teams, public speakers, etc. Anyone who is a leader or creator with a following.

I'd brand those as different companies with slightly different designs, built on the same platform to cater to the market. A politician is more likely to sign up to an awesome service for managing political campaigns, and an artist is much more likely to sign up for a service to handle her public image that setes out to help manage gallery showings (and not just "gatherings" or "political events").

Remember all of patio11's comments around SEO as well. People will search on the problem they want to solve:

"How can I manage my political campaign?" "How can I promote my music?"

I agree that this doesn't come across so well with your current copy and examples. Some more realistic examples in your target markets might help to make this clearer.

Basically, the "Abe for President" line makes it seem very heavily targeted towards US citizens running for public office. I found it get past that initial impression.

Understood, but you either are targeting the civic leaders and candidates, or you aren't. Don't be shy to express it in your message.

My suggestion would be to strictly target one niche, and it looks like it should be civic leaders. You'll find each market has unique needs with each of your features, and trying to build a solution that satisfies everyone will result in being mediocre to everyone. If you disagree, read Crossing the Chasm :)

Groupon Started as ThePoint-- for anyone who wanted to do a tipping point style campaign for anything.

Focus and then expand-- don't try to boil the ocean. Think Amazon (books first), Craigslist (SF first), Facebook (college kids first). How you position at first doesn't lock you down.

Yes. It's not at all obvious the site is for politicians / public figures.

Is it just for them? It seems it's for businesses as well.

After looking at the website for a minute my opinion is that it looks really cool, though I'm not one hundred percent sure what it does. After writing the previous sentence I read the FAQ and now I'm a little more sure what it does, but definitely the explanation side of things needs a bit more work.

The big "click here for pricing" button comes way too soon. You need to explain your product before you hit me with the pricing. The "FAQ" and "About" links are way over there, where I'm not drawn to 'em.

I love the idea of the Abe for President campaign. And yet, it doesn't seem to be fully functional. Perhaps letting me see a fully-functional demo of the Abe for Pres campaign might help me to understand what's going on a bit better.

edit: In case the above came off too critical, though... I think you've done a really good job in identifying a real problem that folks with money will pay good money to have solved. The only problem is that spending a few minutes on your website doesn't yet communicate to me exactly how you're solving it. Tighten up the marketing message and you could really be onto something.

> The big "click here for pricing" button comes way too soon.

I disagree. Too many products and services make it too hard to work out what they actually cost. It's maddening.

However OP might give consideration to giving the FAQ equal billing (ha!) with the pricing.

Yup. I thought it was one of those nation web games.

My feedback:

- Landing page does not tell me what the site is about. Who is it for? Something like the one suggested by @spking needed.

- Carousel is too fast for me. It should also pause on hover to let me check.

- Heroku and AWS is most probably unknown to your target userbase. You should drop it from the carousel, IMO.

- Not urgent, but you should work on the YSlow score. Lots of the scripts are unnecessary for the landing page.

- Make the hover animations on the "features" pages discoverable. No one will notice them.

- Can't you make a shorter version of the screencast and put it on the landing page?

Overall, there are lots of features inside, but screenshots are too crowded and copy is not helping much in the landing page.

For example, there's a lot going on in this screenshot and there are many screenshots like this one in the landing page carousel (http://nationbuilder.s3.amazonaws.com/3dna/pages/36/features...). You have many features, but select something simple and stick to it for the landing page.

Wow. Compared to what a lot of people are calling startups these days, this is practically General Electric.

Looks great to me, although I have not tried it (since it's 100% integration work, devil is in the details). Seems that you've done this before and built the app you would have wanted.

> Wow. Compared to what a lot of people are calling startups these days, this is practically General Electric.

This made me chuckle a lot.

Anyway, this definitely looks like an idea that could take off/has potential. As others have said, it might be better if you did not have to sign up for the 14 day trial with a credit card. However, every trial I've ever signed up for worth paying for later has asked for my credit card information.

And for what it's worth, I understood what it was about without really doing anything.


A potential client came to us several years ago with a similar idea, apparently there's lots of money to made since every local election needs a site + social media. Thus white-labeling the process, as NationBuilder is doing allows for your local sheriff or judge to harness the necessary tools they need to get their campaign going without a cost prohibitive price tag.

I thought it was a good idea then, and an even better idea now. I think NationBuilder did a great job. Needless to say the potential client got cold feet, and never executed their idea.

You asked for feedback, so here it is.

Have you worked on any political campaigns? Candidates, issues, activism, anything? I have. Your NationBuilder is not yet a full product.

Pitch your product to local campaign managers. That's the fastest way for you to get your course correction.

Campaigns do need better tools. So I encourage you to keep at it.

(If you're wondering why I just don't tell you what you need, I'm working on a business plan for something very similar. Also, I'd rather you earned the domain knowledge firsthand.)

This has a lot of potential.

Only problem I see is the pricing. You should be doing 4x what you currently have.

Also, you will greatly anger your potential corporate customers by explicitly charging them 25x more for the same services. Instead, devise a pricing scheme that herds corporate customers into the high price tier.

I find the pricing somewhat confusing too. What exactly does 10,000 people entail? What if a person is just signed up to the email list? The addons for text messaging and email blasting make calculating what the real price is, difficult.

> You should be doing 4x what you currently have.

Just to be clear, do you mean it's overpriced or underpriced?

Political clients, especially with regards to smaller/local elections are notoriously cheap.

Hopefully General Zod will use this for 2012. I might have voted for him, but his page in the last election, http://www.zod2008.com/ , didn't have enough social network engagement and I thought he was a bit behind the times.

Does anyone else think people would be more likely to sign up and try it if a credit card wasn't required for the 14 day trial? I was going to sign up to to see what it was like, but then decided not to when I found out that a credit card is required.

That's the point- he only wants people that are seriously interested in using his service to sign up. Since giving him your credit card chased you away, you probably wouldn't have ever paid for the service. Be honest, are you his target demographic?

This is very true, but I've also experienced this with credit card sign ups. People who really don't want to pay will sign up, and forget to cancel. Then they'll file charge backs and complain when they get charged. Requiring a credit card may eliminate not-serious buyers, but it makes the ones that actually get through even more of a pain to deal with.

You're right, but I'd be more concerned about ppl forgetting to cancel with a 30 day trial. A 14 day trial is short enough that it'll stay on users' minds.

I don't have a link, but 37signals did some research on this. They also practice and preach requiring a credit card at sign up. I think it really depends on the market.

I think this would really help political candidates in countries such as Canada without fixed election dates, where elections can begin with little notice. Our election just started a week or so ago and parties were nominating new candidates for some ridings at the last minute. My riding still doesn't have a candidate for the Liberal party.

Certainly these new candidates are starting the campaign flat footed with regards to their web presence and social media strategy and this favours the long established incumbents. This service could fix that and get new candidates that haven't had time to prepare up and running as soon as possible.

Nice work!

Looks like there's an errant "Edit this page" link under the sidebar here: http://nationbuilder.com/features

As far as the idea goes, I think it's great, and very polished. Nice work!

I had a bit of a bad initial reaction when I heard the name, however, as it feels very imperialist and negative to me. Might just be me though, so just take it as a single datapoint. But my suggestion would be to look into names that are a little more positive.

I also like the idea and agree with you on the name. From the US point of view, when I hear nation building, I think of the conflicts in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.

I also don't see how the name relates to non profits.

'Nation-building' is one of the most positive activities a politician can engage in. I wish the politicians that govern me did more of it.

Really interesting.

When I arrived at the site I had no idea what it was for. After reading the first and second pages I _still_ had no idea what it was for... but for some reason I didn't care. I began to form this idea in my head that 'nations' referred to 'eco systems' and that this site was a fully integrated Internet presence for a startup. E.g. an easy way to have a Web site, forums, integrate social networking into everything and have it all beautiful at the same time.

It was only once I read the HN comments that I realised it was for a more political market. It just amused me that looking down that sidebar I made pretty much everything in my head apply to startups... "co-ordinate volunteers? are they talking about open source projects?" ;-)

Anyway, those are just my initial thoughts. A very interesting vertical you've _actually_ aimed for.

I think you'll find the size of the market, measured by number of customers, to be much smaller than you think. I say this because your pricing seems very low. This is obviously a very comprehensive solution and complex software. The individual components from 3rd parties would be much more expensive if they were used separately, (e.g. MailChimp, CRM, etc.) so I think you should price based on what the cost of all the items would be.

Another commenter said 4x, I'd say 10x plus an upfront fee.

However, I could be wrong, please correct me if you've done trials and found this to be the best price :)

> I think you'll find the size of the market, measured by number of customers, to be much smaller than you think.

I worked for a politician for a while and considered writing a desktop application to do some of this -- basically CRM for electorate offices. At one point I dug up the figure that there are approximately 600,000 elected positions in the USA. The market is largish for an SME.

The pricing seems suitable for a bottom-up disruption strategy, but I'm not sure whether it would produce enough cashflow to sustain that approach. Maybe tiered pricing based on the election should be introduced.


    Tier 1: National (President, Congress) -- $5,000/mth
    Tier 2: State (Governor, State Congress) -- $2,000/mth
    Tier 3: Local (City Council, Mayor) -- $500/mth
    Tier 4: Grassroots (School boards, fire chiefs, sheriffs) -- $100/mth

This is one instance where in my experience the smaller market makes for a more focused target. There is plenty of work to be done in the political/civic/grassroots arena.

It sounds a bit like what Flowtown is doing with their new product: http://v3.flowtown.com/#/flowtown

  Connect your Facebook account to become an official Ambassador for Flowtown.
  Be the first to know, connect with other Ambassadors, and participate in
  exclusives opportunities.

When I'm using Flashblock the flash at the bottom of your site is huge: http://nationbuilder.com/start

When I accept the flashanimation it works, but you may want to look into it sometime.

And btw: the "start your trial button" looks (in my opinion) more like web 1.0 than 2.0, with all those gradients and strong colors.

Keep it up, looks good!

Wow, this is an interesting spin on a lot of previously-disconnected ideas. I really like the branding and name. The intro screencast was well done.

I'm looking forward to hearing how well this takes off, especially with the pricing plans currently in place. I have an idea for a political action campaign, but I'm kinda on the fence with your lowest tier price.

Interesting idea. How much manual legwork do you have to do when a new customer registers? Is there manual effort involved in setting up Twitter and Facebook accounts, mailing lists, etc.? I imagine many of the online services you use would prevent automatic creation of accounts somehow, like with a CAPTCHA or something.

My first impression was, this was a useful convenient internet mass-media platform, not only targeted at political people, but anybody who wanted to appeal to a group of people. It had a twist of painting the user as a leader/creator with 'nation'. I guess you're on the right track if every one read it like I did =).

Is Corporate Pricing suppose to be all 499/mo regardless of # of people? Why?

"ammount of people", down low in the FAQ (check the spelling)

Is this built on CiviCRM or is a custom platform?

It's built from the ground up, Ruby on Rails mostly.

Have you worked in this field before? It seems like a pretty comprehensive package. If I was still involved in politics I'd pick this over the dreadful crap most offices work with.

Thank god for that :)


So it's basically a dashboard for social media PR campaigns?

(if so then I can't believe nobody's used the word 'dashboard' yet)

I think this is awesome and have been trying to convince a political party to use something like this.

BTW, I'm working on a webapp that needs subscription billing. Who'd you go with, and why?

This is amazing. How long did it take to spec + build? What's the background story?

Can you talk more about your VAN integration?

Nice work, Jim!

My initial feedback is that there are too many pricing layers and that is confusing. Maybe have a few and then do some sort of step function.

I like the idea, I think it makes a lot of sense and this market probably really needs this sort of thing... that being said, I don't know the market AT ALL.

Give me a shout if you want to talk payments, we can probably help you figure out the best way to manage that.

This looks like a joke. Is this real?

Please take a look at the HN etiquette guidelines here:


Specifically the following paragraphs: "Be civil. Don't say things you wouldn't say in a face to face conversation."

"When disagreeing, please reply to the argument instead of calling names. E.g. 'That is an idiotic thing to say; 1 + 1 is 2, not 3' can be shortened to '1 + 1 is 2, not 3.'"

If you've got some criticisms, how about stating them explicitly instead of so off-handedly insulting someone else's hard work?

I really meant it looks like a prank. So I don't see what the point of taking out the etiquette guidelines does in this case. The whole premise of managing twitter, facebook, tumbler, etc. all in one place sounds like a joke to me. What's next? Browse in IE, Firefox and Chrome all at the same time from one convenient location. Every single social app currently has the option of blasting every single thing you post on them to all the other ones and that kind of setup doesn't sound like a feature it sounds more like a bug.

The whole premise of managing twitter, facebook, tumbler, etc. all in one place sounds like a joke to me.

I'm sure Facebook didn't think it was a joke when they paid $50 million for FriendFeed, which did exactly that.


And how many people still use FriendFeed? It is now overrun by auto quote bots and viagra spam. Also, I don't see how facebook approving of something makes the idea any less idiotic.

See, here's the thing -- thinking the idea of feed aggregators is a dumb one, and a net negative to society is one thing. But shitting all over a guy's work by calling it a prank or a joke in a venue that is predicated on the value of small-time entrepreneurs taking gambles on their ideas... How do you think that is ok?

Just to be clear, this guy didn't invent feed aggregators. There are a bajillion of them. You've got a beef with society, not this guy's work. He's trying to make money serving an underserved niche. I hope he makes a billion dollars.

I have nothing against society but I do have something against the OP. Clearly he and his friends have the technical expertise to make something but instead of doing something worthwhile they have created another weapon for the spin doctors. And yes he will make millions because campaign managers these days manage more money than some hedge fund managers but the rest of us won't be better off because of it.

Then go to Reddit and bitch about it. This isn't the venue.

May I point you to the etiquette guidelines for the proper way of shooing someone away. You have hurt my feelings by the blunt way you have expressed yourself.

The FriendFeed team all joined Facebook. I'd imagine less people would use FriendFeed as it became much less actively developed.

You are being incredibly rude and attacking. This is a real pain for some people, and the OP has built a solution to solve that. Having a dozen distributed communication mediums that you have to manage and stay on top of may not be your pain, but that doesn't me its no one's pain.

I didn't say it's not a pain. I just think if you're trying to engage users then blasting them with updates on all fronts is the wrong approach and doesn't change anything about the current political setup.

> doesn't change anything about the current political setup.

A startup doesn't have to do that. This startup is solving the pain of the politicians, and looks like they may do that well.

Jealous? I think that's a great idea.

Jealous? Of what? Another half-ass workaround for fixing the ADD problem of the voting populace?

This guy sounds like an asshole. If he is so concerned about the current state of affairs he should write an application and show the world real problem solving concepts. Instead he rages about something and in the end pretends to be smarter than he actually is.

That sounds like something I said. Are you making a point or just flattering me?

At least you admitted it fixes a problem.

In fact I think it does the opposite. This doesn't fix anything. It makes the problem worse. In our current politics there is absolutely no real dialog between the politicians and people. Blasting twitter updates and facebook status updates to your followers is the shallowest kind of follower engagement because even though everyone can retweet and comment on those status updates no one really does any real communicating in those mediums. For a guy who claims to want to fix the political landscape this is clearly a step in the wrong direction.

Ok, well, at least you are now saying something. But it may very well fix/improve the situation. We will have to wait and see. I think it's an interesting trial at least.

You're obviously very passionate about politics. What's your background, and how are you going to fix the problem?

It's not about being passionate about politics and my background is in mathematics and cs, two of the least political subjects out there. If I was going to devote time and effort to doing anything political then it certainly wouldn't be about empowering the marketing/spin machine used by politicians. I would instead focus on tools to empower individual citizens and give them the tools to fight back the spin machine. This doesn't do anything of the sort.

I think that's a productive approach.

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