Quorum: On wading through U.S. politics and winning the QEC 2015
Disruption—the perennial startup buzzword. Whether it’s the hotel, transportation, or music industry, companies that offer users streamlined, accessible, and smart solutions are upending longstanding giants. Enter Quorum, a platform that uses congressional data to increase transparency on Capitol Hill and deliver insights for those who want to make a difference in the legislative process. Co-founded by Harvard graduates Alex Wirth and Jonathan Marks, they’ve made their goals clear: “We want to be the equivalent of the Bloomberg Terminal. What that is to New York, Quorum is to Washington. If you show up to work, you’re logging in to check your Quorum dashboard,” says Wirth. He and Marks won the Queen’s Entrepreneurs’ Competition in 2015, and since then have grown their team and success, and have even made a recent jump across the pond. I rang Alex Wirth to delve into what Quorum is all about, and learn what it’s like to be a young entrepreneur disrupting an old boys’ club in Washington D.C. Below are excerpts of our conversation.
QEC: What was the inspiration behind Quorum?
Alex Wirth: Quorum got started out of experiences that I had with challenges in figuring out what was happening on Capitol Hill, and not knowing who to talk to and how to rally other people to advocate and take action on certain issues. Really, what we found was that it was too difficult to take action on the issues you cared about. My roommate at Harvard at the time and I figured out during a late night dorm room conversation that if you take the same analytics that apply to protein networks, and apply to it congressional networks, you can map out who every member of Congress works with most frequently. So that, for us, was the spark that led us to come up with the idea for Quorum, which is being able to collect all this information that’s happening on Capitol Hill so that it’s very clear exactly what’s going on, and build the outreach tools to empower others to take action.
QEC: What advice do you have for QEC hopefuls this year?
AW: I think the first thing is to be very clear about the problem you are solving. That, at the end of the day, is what a lot of the judges are looking for. Then, it’s about proving that what you’re doing is actually a viable solution. The best way to do that is to actually go and talk to people in the industry, to be able to say “here are different people that think that this is important and relevant.” The third thing is not to be too concerned about financials. I remember at the QEC, there were other teams with financial models, and we didn’t have a huge profit and loss statement, so we put something together that was competitive, but it was overwhelming to look at all of those models and try to project something small, like how much we were going to spend on WiFi in three years. It’s just not something you need to do. More importantly, it’s about what you’re going to spend in R&D, sales, marketing, and how you’re going to grow.
QEC: What did you take away as the most impactful part of the QEC final weekend?
AW: I think the most helpful part of the QEC is that it forces you to crystallize and present your business plan and idea. This is something that Jonathan and I found incredibly helpful in that it allowed us to take all of the different ideas and thoughts and conversations we had and focus them on a single proposal and pitch. Having a panel of judges of the high quality that QEC is able to pull together, is motivation to have your answers nailed down and to make sure you’re comfortable with them. It also forces you to re-evaluate some things, and of course, that’s really productive. The other thing to note is really how well the QEC weekend is put together. Jon and I were like, “Okay, we’re going all the way to Canada… Is it really going to be worth our time?” and I have to say, when we were at the QEC, it was so well done. Everything was on time, we had wonderful events and receptions, and it was really one of the best competitions we’ve entered.
QEC: Have mentors been important to Quorum throughout your journey?
AW: We’ve found that asking folks for advice and being able to talk to people about what we’re doing has really provided a lot of tremendous value into what we have created at Quorum. The interesting thing we’ve found is that we get our best advice from the people who are just a couple of years ahead of us. The people who have also started companies and businesses, and have been through similar challenges, are the ones who know what’s going on and can be helpful in helping us grow our company.
QEC: Why is Quorum such a success?
AW: The talent of our team; you don’t make a startup happen with just one person, or just a really great idea. It comes down to the execution. Not only do we have a really incredible software team, we have a great business team. Those two things combined together, and having people who are putting in the time, energy, and effort, can make a world of a difference.
QEC: What’s next for Quorum?
AW: We recently launched in the European Union, so we’re incredibly focused on that expansion and are really excited about the ability to bring our technology to professionals there. We’re also working on breaking down barriers to do grassroots advocacy. We have an awesome suite of grassroots advocacy tools, and we’ve been using those to make it easier for folks to have an impact on the legislative process.
QEC: What’s one quality you think all entrepreneurs share?
AW: Passion. It’s important for people to realize that entrepreneurship is not a one-month game, it’s not a six-month game, it’s not even a year-long game. It’s a multi-year game. If you’re successful, you’re going to be working on your company anywhere between three and ten years, if not longer. If you’re willing to show up every day, and you’re excited about what you’re doing, you’re able to continue forward. If you’re not passionate about it, you’re either going to be beaten by someone else who’s more passionate about it, or you’re going to find yourself in a situation where you lose interest and you don’t want to continue what you’re doing.
To learn more about Quorum, visit their website here.
The QEC is an internationally-renowned undergraduate startup competition. It offers over $75,000 in cash prizes to its top winners, and applications are open until October 30, 2017. Apply now!