Today’s political climate demands not only a better-informed public, but accurate tools to help voters arm themselves with timely information, said Sara Baker, co-founder of Fast Democracy.
The Kansas City-based startup — one of four early-stage businesses recently accepted into Digital Sandbox KC — aims to help people “touch their democracy” through its non-partisan web platform, she said. Fast Democracy allows users to instantly track and react to legislation, review the voting history of lawmakers, and connect with their legislators in real time.
It’s a first-of-its-kind social database for polished political pundits and the average voter alike, she said.
“And it’s pulling back that curtain that says, ‘Government is too hard to understand,’” said Baker, who doubles as chief innovation officer for Fast Democracy and as legislative and policy director for the ACLU of Missouri.
Logging onto Fast Democracy, a user can create a free account and comment on bills publicly, privately or — in the case of activists and lobbyists — with a group of like-minded friends or colleagues. The database has started to find a footing with lawmakers, journalists, and educators, Baker said, though she hopes to see those user demographics expand as the product grows.
“The feedback is, ‘I wish I had this before; this is so helpful to me in the work I do; thank goodness that this exists because now I can stay more on top of things,’” she said.
In fact, Baker’s own struggle to track legislation led to Fast Democracy’s inception, she said.
Tasked with following an onslaught of bills during the January 2017 legislative session in Jefferson City, Baker sought help from her husband, Anatolij Gelimson, who built her a Google spreadsheet that tracked legislative data and simplified Baker’s ability to update her bosses on the progress of assigned bills, she said.
“Beyond the spreadsheet, we realized we can do so much more,” Baker said.
Fast Democracy was born, and Gelimson became its chief technology officer. A year and a half later, the company added a chief executive officer, Jill Kline.
A friend and co-worker of Baker, Kline served as a sounding board for her and Gelimson in Fast Democracy’s infancy.
“I would wander into Jill’s office while in the dome and say, ‘Hey, what do you think about this? Would this make life easier?” Baker said with a laugh.
The two ultimately supplied Gelimson with a lengthy list of wants and needs for their product, and continue to be surprised when he finds a way to make their requests a reality, they said.
“I don’t think there’s been anything you’ve told us you can’t do,” Baker commented to her husband, who chuckled in agreement.
NEW Sandbox startup @fastdemocracy gives you the same power as lobbyists to track, comment and share bills in real time so you can stay informed and influence legislators. And it’s free! Check it out: https://t.co/y212CCeBdQ
— Jeff Shackelford (@TheSandboxKC) July 23, 2018
With Kline now devoting her undivided attention to Fast Democracy’s development, the trio plans to launch a professional version of their website soon — a goal made all the more likely by Fast Democracy’s acceptance into Digital Sandbox KC, an incubator program that provides companies with proof-of-concept resources and early-stage commercialization support.
Fast Democracy has been approved for as much as $20,000 in grant funding through the Digital Sandbox — in addition to educational opportunities — that will allow the company to hire a law firm and begin the process of incorporating, Baker said.
“Digital Sandbox is a pretty big deal for us,” she said. “We’re going to continue working toward bringing on clients, earning some revenue, and building a solid foundation to bring more investors on.”
The Fast Democracy team also hopes their company’s participation in the Digital Sandbox program garners them brand exposure and increased marketplace excitement — already observed in numerous customer requests to purchase the inaugural, professional version of Fast Democracy, Baker said.