E-campaign Makes an Entry

Elections in the US have always been a hotly contested
affair, closely and keenly watched by political pundits and the electorate
alike. The campaigns often reach their zenith with the candidates pitted against
each other in verbal duels on TV–the strength and effectiveness of this mass
medium is at full play then.

Ravi Singh, who contested the polls for Illinois’ state
representative, thought ahead. He used the Internet to campaign for his
election, becoming the first one to do so. “I was focused only on politics.
It was my brother, Simer’s idea to use the Internet for communicating with the
voters,” says Singh.

That election ended his brush with politics, but only to give
rise to a more lasting affair–with the Internet. His humble e-mail campaign
idea soon transformed into an election mall that would campaign for George Bush
Jr in the presidential elections in 2000. In 1999, the two brothers received
angel funding for the development and creation of Electionmall.com, a vortal for
election candidates and voters. Chiranjiv Kathuria, an investor in the Mir Space
Station and founder of two ISPs in
Europe and Japan, made the investment. The vortal was launched with eight unique
sites providing voters and candidates with the ability to use various tools and
services for “eCampaigning”.

Each site is globally patented and trademarked, focused on
meeting the demand for campaigning over the Web.

Electionmall has already won a contract from the Republican
National Party to campaign for George Bush Jr. “The nice thing about it is
that though we launched in July, we will be profitable by the end of these
elections,” says Singh.

Money-making model

The e-contest for Bush Jr has not only brought Electionmall
into the limelight but has also given it a promise of profitability, a question
that bogs down most dot-coms these days. The site works on a model that aims to
make money not just for the proprietor, but also helps raise funds for the
candidate. "You could have the greatest idea in the world but if the
revenue model isn’t in place, it will be of no use," asserts Singh.

Electionmall fulfils a two-fold objective. It helps
politicians generate the money and the votes while simultaneously allowing
citizens to take part in the political process. Anyone, be it a student body
president, a citizen or even the president of the US, will be able to
participate in the campaign via Electionmall, claims Singh. And how do they make
money? "We charge a transaction fee for every e-mail we send out and
collect," explains Singh. "It is a result-oriented solution. If you
don’t get e-mails you don’t pay us and if we are able to help you raise
money, we take our commission."

Striving to be a one-stop shop for all kinds of election
services, Electionmall has launched a family of eight sites, each catering to a
separate need. Singh describes it as a hub for people in politics and also those
inclined to learn and participate in the complex world of politics. Related
portals work along with Electionmall to provide political information,
e-campaigning solutions and services, all in one place. The portal contains
news, online chat, search in categories and an events calendar, among other
features. Individuals can offer support for candidates of their choice through
ePrecinctCaptain, a platform for volunteering at Electionmall. Electionmall has
an objective: to find solutions for the campaign manager, politician, political
novice or even the apolitical, and to gather information on issues, candidates,
vendors and real-time developments in politics.

Scope in India

Electionmall was one of the first projects developed by
Wearethesolution.com, the parent company, that endeavors to develop more such
profitable solutions for dot-coms, especially the little guys. Singh says,
"Many of the smaller entrepreneurs cannot afford internal IT services like
Web design and development. Here, we can act as a resource base and provide
24-hour maintenance to their sites."

Singh is also keen to extend his operations to India and has
explored the market during a trip to the country. "Here in India, I see
there are some really great ideas but the infrastructure, development and
marketing haven’t really caught up," he says. About the scope of
Electionmall in India, Singh feels, "We may not be able to do fundraising
here but it can be used for polling, election results and data collection.
E-voting and e-filing are already happening here. That’s a step in the right
direction."

According to him, India offers a huge market, of a billion
people, and the advantage of being the first mover. "Just like Sabeer
Bhatia did with Hotmail, Electionmall can position itself to define paradigms in
the political arena," he says.

The site may have won a deal in the US political circles, but
the Indian market would surely need a different treatment. It is not just the
small size of the Net-savvy public but also our politicians’ attitudes that
need to be tackled. A key issue here is: how many of the Indian politicians will
be willing to shell out those ‘extra bucks’ to communicate with the voters
through e-mails.

SHWETA VERMA
in New Delhi

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