Having grown up in and around politics in Arkansas, Hudson’s professional network was always political. So, when he knew he wanted to run a business of his own, he consciously chose to lean into not only his network, but also his skill set – which was (and still is) designing and building ready-made apps. Hudson has been a developer since he was 12 years old.
Given his political experience growing up, Hudson knew that political candidates weren’t active or engaged in the app world. “I wanted to give [politicians] a better way to communicate,” he says. And, thus, given his network and skill set, he saw a unique opportunity to develop VoteRockIt.
VoteRockIt is a non-partisan technology company that builds affordable, fully-customized apps for campaigns, elected officials, or organizations. Today, features of the app include mobile donations, live video, push notifications, video library, news feed, turf cutting, surveys, and mobile canvassing with real-time analytics.
It’s an impressive and important list of features that is beneficial to candidates and organizations alike. The process and journey of developing those features is equally as impressive and important.
Building VoteRockIt took Hudson approximately a year. He had a mentor throughout the process; upon completion, that mentor invested money to help Hudson spread the word about VoteRockIt’s launch. Hudson did several interviews, none of which amounted to anything more than local press coverage or quick, media hits. He eventually found a business partner who worked in the White House. They spent several years knocking down doors of American politicians to spread the word about the app’s capabilities. Their first customer was Asa Hutchinson, the 46th Governor of Arkansas, elected in 2015.
And then some surprises started to emerge. VoteRockIt was gaining traction – in Africa. It was utilized by Goodluck Jonathan, the former President of Nigeria and then John Mahama, the current President of Ghana. Mahama worked with Hudson to build in certain features including the chat function and live video. Mahama went on to livestream all of speeches from inside the app; he and his campaign directors were active in chat room conversations, as well.
“Africans are very involved in and passionate about their politics, and their phones are their connection to the Internet which is why the app did so well with those users,” Hudson explains. “It’s funny – we would receive support for candidates in the feedback section of the app [in lieu of] actual app feedback.”
The experience with these earlier, core users proved critical as Hudson decided how best to position the company, value, and pricing moving forward. And some of the lessons harkened back to his childhood.
“My dad was involved in politics for a very long time, and he’d have us as kids in the call center, calling people,” Hudson remembers. “I realized that it was more about supporting people than anything else.”
That leads into VoteRockIt’s real value – it’s a platform designed not only to communicate with users on their smartphone, but also to support politicians in the process of educating volunteers.
“People want to know what you, as the politician, are working on; they want you to tell them what’s going on,” he says. “And more importantly, your volunteers, and your advocates want to know the right information you need to arm them with, so that they know what you want them to share out – that’s the connection that drives VoteRockIt.”
If that’s the case, VoteRockIt isn’t as much for the politicians as it is for the supporters and/or the constituents. “I thought it’d be the opposite,” he admits, with a short laugh. “But it turns out it’s a great tool to coordinate with volunteers with important campaign information or event just reminders to vote.”
Which is why the latest addition to the app is critical to its overall value. In 2018, VoteRockIt will be further developing the canvassing function – a solution that allows people to knock on doors, take surveys, and collect and hold data for campaigns with the support of NationBuilder.
“Right now, we drive more value in Africa than the U.S. because American politicians have a lot of access to things that African politicians do not,” he states. “But, if I’d been laser-focused from the get-go, we would have built canvassing first because that’s that access and information that’s critical to getting elected in the U.S.”
Ironically enough, Hudson’s philosophy as a Founder is just as much about the support he learned as a child in that politician call center. “The most important thing you can do as a business owner or entrepreneur is to teach to or share what other people around you are doing,” he notes. “Because, if you share knowledge with them, they’ll see you as someone they’ll want to stay connected to, and you need people to support you, you need people to care about your product or service, you need people who will give you honest feedback.”
He shares his experience with the team at Parse. Several years ago, while working on another venture, he wrote a blog post in support of Parse; as a result, he met the team who eventually invited Hudson to present at Facebook’s annual global developer summit. Mark Zuckerberg opened the F8 Conference; and Hudson’s presentation closed it. To this day, the Parse team remains a good, professional connection for Hudson who has emailed Parse’s Founder in the past for thoughts and feedback as he continues to build out VoteRockIt.
So, aside from his success in Africa, what’s been the biggest surprise? “Just how hard it is,” he admits. “You have to know your value proposition, your market, and your price. You’re never your target market, so don’t be afraid to get out of your own echo chamber; you have to find the value you’re delivering, and you do that by knocking on doors.”