Parker Bros

Brigade's $50M crack-up; the online donor chase; and more.

  • This wasn’t civic tech: After five years, Sean Parker’s start-up Brigade is breaking up with most of its talent going to Pinterest, Josh Constine reports for TechCrunch. According to his story, which was confirmed by company co-founder and CEO Matt Mahan, Pinterest has “acquhired roughly 20 members of the Brigade engineering team.” Mahan is hoping to find a “host” for the remaining staff and components of Brigade, adding that “Brigade built a lot of foundational technology such as high quality voter matching algorithms and an entire model for districting people to their elected representatives. My hope for our legacy is that we were able to solve some of these problems that other people can build on.” 

  • Back in 2014, I told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Joe Garofoli on the record that even though Brigade had launched with $9.3 million in total initial funding from Parker, Ron Conway and Marc Benioff, I expected it to fail. Why? There wasn’t a market demand for an online hub for generic civic engagement, which was Brigade’s original value proposition. (It didn’t help that Brigade’s original leadership team was all white men with no experience in political organizing.) And as Alex Howard reported for our mother site techPresident back then, Brigade’s founders were never very open about how the company actually sought to make money, with indications that the opinion-sharing app that they built was really designed to elicit all kinds of granular political information from users in order to then sell deep-pocketed clients on astro-turf campaigns. (That approach also flopped, so later it pivoted to selling tech to governments.)

  • Given that Brigade spent heavily on expensive San Francisco talent and digs, and carried a headcount of at least 26 engineers plus assorted marketing staff, it’s safe to say that the ill-starred start-up probably burned through $40 million to $50 million, which one presumes was mainly from Parker’s stash. (Or $55 million!) That amount could have carried Code for America (whose grass-roots volunteer Brigades continue, despite Sean Parker & Bros’s having appropriated their name) for five years. Or, if Parker had chosen, he could have funded all of Democracy.Works’s annual budget, including the vital work it does supporting the Voter Information Project data (which powers hundreds of millions of vote-related searches on Google, Facebook etc, every cycle), for decades. Or, Parker could have funded a whole ecosystem of innovative civic tech start-ups, since the sector is so starved for risk capital. (Or, he could have recreated his Big Sur wedding once a year.) Instead, Brigade’s crash will likely be cited by some as proof that civic tech doesn’t make sense. And nothing could be further from the truth.

  • One final comment: Would it be ok to use the word squanderfailed instead of acquihired?

  • Tech and politics: In the New Yorker, how the Israeli company Psy-Group conducts secretive influence campaigns taking advantage of the porousness of social media, by Adam Entous and Ronan Farrow.

  • The Spanish e-voting company Scytl has clients in 40 countries, including the United States, but as Adrienne Fichter reports for Republik, there are many reasons to be skeptical that its software is as secure and trustworthy as it claims.

  • Who’s got the biggest base of online donors among Democrats vying for their party’s presidential nomination? The New York Times’s Shane Goldmacher, Lisa Lerer and Rachel Shorey offer some answers, based on their analysis of ActBlue data.

  • The Iowa Democratic Party is considering holding “virtual caucuses” over six days next winter, allowing for absentee voting by phone, Natasha Korecki reports for The Hill.

  • A new study by real estate firm Savills Plc finds that New York City ranks first, ahead of San Francisco and London, as the best place on the planet for tech, due to its combination of talent and capital, Bloomberg reports.

  • Long read: Whatever else you may say about the internet, it has been a force for the personal liberation of severely disabled people, as this story by Vicky Schaubert reminds us.

  • Internet of Shit: I don’t think this is a parody, but boy is it a dumb Kickstarter idea. (Mom, please don’t click on this.)