Marci Harris, Popvox, Woman Entrepreneur
Marci goes under the title that every industry the best way to disrupt an industry is starting a movement from outside. That is exactly what Marci has done with Popvox. Popvox might even be before its time. She is bridging the gap between what Americans want to happen in Congress by aggregating the flow of communication ( online which is a serious leap for our Government ) and provides that information to the members of Congress. It is a discussion forum trying to change a system that doesn't work. A system that has no interest of changing from within.
Marci grew up in an area of Tennesse sandwiched between Memphis and Nashville. She comes from a long line of entrepreneurs. They ran the local funeral parlor. Her great great Grandmother ran the funeral parlor after her husband passed away. Her Grandma then took it over. That was a time when a woman had to have a husband to sign a lease. Her mother ran a flower shop. Her fathers family started out as farmers. Her Dad was an entrepreneur in his own getting into real estate eventually developing restaurants and shopping center. She grew up around the kitchen table talking about the businesses that everyone always had to worry about. You learn about the obsession to buid something.
Marci has traveled extensively. Her parents got divorced when she was young. Interesting enough her father is a Republican and her mother is a Democrat. At the time her mother was importing silk flowers out of Asia. She moved the family to Australia for six months. It was 1991 and she was a sophomore in high school. She came back and finished off her senior year in Memphis. Her mother moved back to Orange Country, CA. She decided to go to Paraguay for a summer as an exchange student continuing the abroad experience in her summers between her junior and senior year. After high school, Marci went to the Franklin School in Switzerland for college.
At the Franklin School she had to work so she ended up meeting kids from all over the globe. She did a semester abroad in Buenos Aires. She lived in Lungano where the Franklin School is located where they actually speak Italian. . Seeing the world like that helps you observe the world and people very differently. These experiences made a huge impact on Marci.
After graduation Marci knew she wanted to do something in travel. Makes sense. She convinced the Robb Report to hire her in Boston. It was a time when anyone who understood the internet under 30 was a genius. I have seen this in many women entrepreneurs. If they understood the internet, they went to the head of the line. The Robb Report sent her everywhere, to every conference, to every event because she got the web. She stayed two and a half years starting out as the asst to the VP of sales moving to the head of special projects in new media.
The next job she took was at the Tufts Fletcher School. She left after a year and then waitressed for awhile and hung out until she decided to return to Tennessee. In Tennessee a friend called her and said that the graphic design was sick and wanted to know if she could just come and help out for a short period of time. It was for a small newspaper in Jackson. She decided to stay for awhile and soon became the one of the managers after a few months and then the incumbent mayor asked her to run his campaign. Politics came knocking at Marcis door.
The night before the election there was a devastating tornado that destroyed the town. 3000 homes and businesses were effected. Marci quickly became the point person for recovery. She said it was like running her first start-up and it was a town. The town had just been revitalized and now she was begging people to stay. Marci went to DC to bring in the urban land institute from DC and draw up a plan of how to rebuild the town. She worked with FEMA, HUD and the Army Corp of Engineers. She got private people to commit to capital matching public funding. After things began to turn around, she decided she should go to law school. Makes complete sense based on what she had been working on.
She stayed close and went to University of Memphis to get a law degree and then went on to American University to get a master of law. While she was at American she did an internship with the House Ways and Means Committee. When she finished that internship she took a job on the hill working primarily on health care reform, medicare, waste fraud and abuse. This took place between 2007-2010.
It was obvious to Marci that in Congress there was a problem that could be solved around technology. She kept thinking about how Congress was literally a world into itself. It isn't even set up to fix its own structural problems. She started to keep a list of all the things that needed to be fixed. The list got longer by the day. She was just blown away and got more and more frustrated.
There would be weekly meetings for the staff, press secretaries and administration people and she would be the only policy person to show up. People did not even know what cloud technology was but over time she realized the staffers got it. Marci talked to Tim O'Reilly and showed him a 12 page business plan she had wrote up. It was to fix this problem. He told her it was really interesting and to get back to him when she was ready.
She found two co-founders, Rachna Choudhry and Josh Tauberer, and told her office she was going to leave after health care reform was passed. She left at the end of January 2010. She went to CA and Marci started to attend start-up panels. She began to learn specifically from Paul Martino who she asked to teach her everything he knew about start-ups and in turn she taught him everything she knew about politics. She was blown away how open and helpful the entrepreneurial world is.
She decided to enter a competition for start-ups after being in SF for two weeks. She did not even know how to build a deck. She had learned powerpoint the day before the competition. The two people who were judging the event were so confused that she got up and pulled over a whiteboard and began to explain. One of the guys got up and said, "I get it, it is the Craigs list for politics". He said that Marci was way too early but the idea had great potential and he introduced her to a law firm and everything began to fall into place.
Popvox is trying to take what happens off-line and put it on-line to create public transparency that is accessible to everyone. There are different users. Members of Congress and staff, individuals making their opinions known, advocacy groups and the media. There is rich information that is beginning to be available on Popvox that they are hoping the site will eventually be designed to create unique experiences for each users. Here is how it works; a bill is introduced in Congress and the status shows up on Popvox. The bill is there and users can create a profile to either oppose or endorse the bill. This is still done in Congress but on paper. Popvox is not changing the behavior of Congress but they are taking the wealth of information that is coming on to their site, printing it out and get it to Congress. Archaic on one hand but not on the Popvox end. Congress is certainly getting much more information which is up to date and hopefully they will eventually want the software that Popvox runs on in the individual offices of Congress. They are getting information to 100% of the offices now. They are seeing the Popvox widget popup on sites which helps them aggregate even more information for Congress. Popvox is hoping to streamline Congress by getting them to read and use what is happening on Popvox.
Marci is certainly on to something here. I love that her brother is her COO. No doubt there is a serious need for technology within Government at every level. It makes complete sense to get live information to Congress on how Americans feel about every bill.
If you like what Marci is doing, you can to go WeFunder and see their profile. Marci is passionate about what she is doing. She has seen the need for disruption for Government first hand and she is adamant that she will be the one to disrupt something that is ripe for disruption.