After Brigade launched as an app for debating positions on heated political issues but failed to gain traction, it pivoted into what Causes had tried to be — a place for showing support for social movements. More recently, it’s focused on a Rep Tracker for following the stances and votes of elected officials. Yet the 2016 campaign and 2018 midterms seem to fly over Brigade’s head. It never managed to become a hub of activism, significantly impact voter turnout, or really even be part of the conversation.
To be sure, we attempted a big, risky idea with a low probability of success (a social network for voters, built around political districts and ideological alignment, an attempted twist on NextDoor and LinkedIn) and it didn’t work at the scale or impact we wanted. You were correct that the demand wasn’t there, at least in the way we implemented the idea. Change.org and Countable are finding greater scale with their approach to the same problem. Brigade, CrowdPac and many others, less so. It’s good to have a diversity of bets in the space. I had the same fear about demand as you, as did most of the VCs we talked to in 2015, but I don’t regret trying. We reached millions of voters with better ballot guides and p2p get out the vote messages, predicted the 2016 race when no one else did, and we have small groups of activists across the country who met through Brigade-based campaigns and are continuing to work on important issues together today. On the technical front, I think we’re positioned to contribute to others’ work in what is a very tough space.
Matt Mahan, Brigade CEO, in Civicist
The remnants of Sean Parker‘s start-up Brigade, which he pumped an estimated $40-50 million into, have been acquired by Countable, a civic engagement app that caught the post-2016 activism wave more successfully, as Josh Constinereports for TechCrunch. As part of the deal, Countable is open-sourcing Brigade’s voter matching software, which allows them to tie users to their official voting record, enabling personalized features like reminders of upcoming elections or ways to contact their elected officials. Brigade is also deleting “billions of rows of data” that it had collected on users from its earlier acquisition of Causes, another Parker start-up, which had pulled in the Facebook data of tens of millions of users back in the Wild West days of social network privacy grabs. Both of these steps are to be applauded.