Sangeeth Peruri may have been a bit of a dark-horse candidate for the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees in 2014, but he had two secret weapons: a mind-set focused on efficiency and a campaign team willing to get creative.
“I found the process really inefficient,” Peruri said of winning his seat. “We were spending a lot of time phone-banking for Measure N … and people don’t respond from a volunteer they’ve never met. There had to be a better way.”
After the 2014 campaign, Peruri and his brother-in-law Vivek Katta developed the app VoterCircle, which enables political campaigners to get in touch with friends who are registered voters to inform them about issues. The friend-to-friend canvassing platform has gone from Peruri’s home to prominent use in 100 races in 15 states across the county.
“We’ve had races with 20 million voters and those with 1,000 voters,” said Peruri, now CEO of VoterCircle in addition to his role on the district board. “It works for any issue that gets people excited. You’ll have a lot more success with something that people are passionate about.”
According to Peruri, VoterCircle works as a force multiplier for nimble campaigns. He said it took 750 hours for the team to phone-bank in 2014, securing 1,300 commitments to vote “yes.” In 2016, Keep Los Altos Schools Strong volunteers used VoterCircle for 10 hours and cinched 1,100 positive commitments.
“It was a massive productivity boost,” he said, noting that volunteers still did the groundwork of door-knocking to reach outside their contact books.
A local innovation
Peruri, who moved into his home near downtown Los Altos in 2010, said he never expected to run for office. He certainly never imagined inviting his friend and fellow Covington School parent Joe Towne over on weekends to work on the app.
“It’s really satisfying to be working with people,” he said, dubbing VoterCircle a “neighbor affair.”
Word about VoterCircle has spread throughout the Bay Area. Peruri said both Marc Berman and Vicki Veenker used his app in their 2016 race for the State Assembly, as did U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna and San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim.
The app won a Reed Award for campaign tools and has received funding from New Media Ventures.
The optimal use of VoterCircle, Peruri believes, is for small-money candidates in local races. VoterCircle’s customer pricing scales from free to $250 per month, with additional campaign management features for users who pay more.
There is no partisan motivation behind the app, but rather a hope to leverage community organization.
“Someone in the community is going to be more effective than a political ad,” Peruri said. “If 1 percent of the people in the community has the time to care about politics, the other 99 percent knows someone in that 1 percent. It becomes about ideas, not about money.”
Peruri hopes his app enables campaigns to leap over funding hurdles.
“We want to make it easy for candidates to run, and not expensive,” he said. “We want every small local race to use this.”
Smaller races, Peruri noted, allow for greater creativity by campaign staff. In Silicon Valley, that means more opportunities to learn.
“It’s a privilege to be in the Bay Area,” said Peruri, who grew up outside Chicago. “If an idea doesn’t work, that’s OK in this part of the country. To try new things, to push limits – it’s great to be like that.”
For more information, visit votercircle.com.
Correction: This article was edited for clarity on which elections VoterCircle was used for after publication.