Harvard Student Startup ‘Quorum’ Combines Data And Politics

Alex Wirth and Jonathan Marks are changing the way the public thinks about interactions between their elected leaders.

The Harvard seniors created Quorum in 2013 after a conversation the two roommates had about whether they could use big data to determine social relationships in Congress.

Wirth’s interest in politics was sparked in the fifth grade when his father ran for State Senate in New Mexico. Wirth brings political experience to the Quorum team, including past internships with The White House and the U.S. Department of State. Marks has a computational biochemistry background, as well as an interest in computer science.

After winning Harvard’s Innovation Challenge competition, the pair launched Quorum as a full-fledged company. The group was awarded a grant by the Harvard University Institute of Politics, which provided them funding for this past summer.

Quorum is an all-in-one online legislative strategy platform with an algorithm that utilizes statistics, bills, votes, tweets, press releases, and floor statements. Quorum takes this political data and sorts it out based on its customers’ needs in an easy-to-use and visually pleasing format, Wirth said. The service allows users to determine and provides information regarding politicians’ ideology and priorities as well as past voting history and legislative relationships.

“We built a quantitative analytics layer on top of it so we can get insights, like who members of Congress work with most frequently and provide statistics about each individual member,” Wirth said. “We built a whole series of productivity tools to help legislative professionals with their jobs.”

These tools allow clients to compare and track bills, take notes on congressmen, or even create a legislative scorecard for members of Congress based on the user’s own criteria.

Throughout the development of their business, Wirth and Marks have kept up with their course loads, and said they believe that their university gives them access to the premier students needed to continue to grow Quorum.

“We’re really lucky about how easy it is to get incredible top talent—we’ve got a whole series of strengths across a number of different schools both here in Boston, as well as Washington,” Wirth said.

Quorum’s team is primarily composed of undergraduate students from Harvard and George Washington University. Wirth and Marks plan to move their headquarters to Washington D.C. following graduation in May. Wirth currently travels back and forth between Cambridge and Washington to oversee operations in Washington when he has time.

So far, legislative professionals from a variety of backgrounds have utilized Quorum’s services. “Basically anybody whose day-to-day job involves the legislative process—including anybody from advocacy groups to research campaign organizations and lobbyists,” Wirth said.  Quorum’s clients include the Glover Park Group, the First Focus Campaign for Children, and the United Nations Foundation’s Better World Campaign. Wirth says Fortune 100 and 500 companies have also taken to Quorum.

Quorum is a subscription-based service that costs a user $4,800 per year. “That allows us to pay for the server costs and employees and to keep the service up and running,” Wirth said. Quorum also keeps an active blog on its website that provides quantitative insights about Congress as well as informed stories on the U.S. legislative system, such as its most recent blog post on the differences between the 113th and 114th Congresses during their first 100 days seated.

Wirth believes that their biggest challenge in creating Quorum was figuring out if the team was developing a product that people actually wanted.

“We spent a lot of time talking to folks in Washington and making sure that we were building something that was going to be helpful and a game changer to the legislative process,” Wirth said.

Quorum is entirely quantitative as opposed to many other tools in the industry that provide users with the information and rely on them to interpret the data.

“The advantage that we bring is a quantitative analytics layer that help folks to gain insights and better understand the process,” Wirth said.

Wirth and Marks designed Quorum with the intent to save users’ time by performing tasks that may take away from other work. Looking to the future, the duo hopes its idea will change the way people understand the legislative process.

“We would love to see in five years where folks are really turning to Quorum on a daily basis to use quantitative insights for designing legislative strategies and sharing them with clients,” Wirth said.

Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphic

2 Comments

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