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Kansas City startup Phone2Action dials in at SXSW Accelerator

Editor’s Note: Though our team of writers isn’t on the ground at South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, Texas, we’re covering the Silicon Prairie’s presence at the annual gathering from afar.  


Jeb Ory pitches Phone2Action in the South by Southwest Interactive Accelerator.

You just spent hours at a rally getting fired up about a cause you believe in. The speeches, music and camaraderie with fellow supporters has you ready to act. Now what? Kansas City, Mo. startup Phone2Action took the South by Southwest Interactive Accelerator stage today to convince the audience its toolbox of mobile advocacy engagement is the answer.

The startup’s co-founders, Jeb Ory and Ximena Hartsock, used Startup Act 3.0, a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, as the focal point of their pitch. The two-person company came together for movements just like it.

“We’re taking social action mobile,” Ory (right) said in a phone interview Thursday. “We provide a platform for groups—interest groups, advocacy groups, trade associations, municipal organizations—with a cause to activate and engage their members in the moment they want to act.”

During the startup’s two-minute presentation in the accelerator’s news technology track, Ory asked spectators to text “JOBS” to 52886. Participants who did so received a text with a link that takes them to a browser-based mobile app (below) where they were prompted to enter their ZIP code and street address. A pre-populated email on Startup Act 3.0’s importance was ready for them to edit or send as is to their respective congressperson. All of it happens in about 30 seconds, Ory said Thursday.

“We’re very excited about the impact we can make because we think this is the kind of thing that could go viral the same way the PIPA and SOPA campaigns took off,” he said.

Phone2Action’s goal is to remove the headaches associated with finding and contacting the right elected officials. It aims to put the tools in the public’s hands while at a conference, event or rally. Instead of sending numerous volunteers around to collect information and send out emails at a later date, Phone2Action relies on text messaging to provide immediacy.

The startup’s path to SXSW begin last July when Ory, who co-founded a mobile consulting firm and startup, built a prototype of the idea at Startup Weekend Las Vegas. Before long, he had gotten in touch with Kansas City startup accelerator Think Big Partners on another topic. By September, Think Big accepted Phone2Action into its inaugural accelerator and seeded it with $24,000—the startup’s only funding to this point. Ory moved from Sacramento, Calif., to Kansas City. Hartsock came on full-time in December but remains in Virginia.

In less than a year, Phone2Action has worked on numerous multi-day and large-scale events for groups such as a six-day tour with the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) that generated 20,000 emails. Its software has contributed to the successful passage of legislation in several states, Ory said, including Georgia and Alabama.

The startup brings in revenue by licensing to clients through a campaign or an annual contract. Phone2Action straddles two industries—mobile marketing and advocacy—and Ory believes it’s uniquely positioned to capitalize.

“There are competitors on both sides, but we’re the only ones who’ve taken the two and put them together,” he said. “We’ve had to turn down opportunities that could have grown into great things because it isn’t in the core of our business.”

Moving forward, Ory wants to expand the scope of Phone2Action. It’s in the midst of a project with a Chicago municipal agency to experiment putting cards on buses asking passersby to take action.

This week, however, its focus is in Austin as it participates in the accelerator. At 6 p.m., it’ll find out if it advances to the next round of the competition tomorrow.

Update: Phone2Action is one of three News Technologies finalists and 18 total finalists to move on to Day Two of the SXSW Accelerator, which concludes Tuesday. The competition will begin with the News Technologies category at 9:30 a.m. in the Austin Hilton Downtown (fourth floor) and can be watched via Ustream.

 

Credits: SXSW photo from Herb Sih on Twitter. Jeb Ory photo courtesy of Ory. Phone2Action screenshot from phone2action.com.