Earlier this month, New York Times reporter Neil Irwin made a fascinating comparison between presidential campaigns and startup companies. He begins his aptly named investigation, “Why a Presidential Campaign is the Ultimate Start-up,” with a vivid description of a new start-up in Brooklyn Heights. He writes,
“Its growth plans put Silicon Valley start-ups to shame. The new outfit expects to hire hundreds of people and raise and spend $1 billion or $2 billion by late next year. Its competition is stiff, with similarly well-funded rivals in Florida, Wisconsin, and elsewhere.”
It may seem like Irwin is describing an ambitious new tech startup ready to launch the latest app or innovative tech product, but he’s actually describing Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign team. “If the Brooklyn team succeeds, it will make history,” he says. “it is a political campaign, not a fledgling tech company, and it aims to get Hillary Rodham Clinton elected president of the United States.”
This is certainly an interesting comparison that Irwin draws between presidential campaigns and start-ups, and it appears he is not alone in his conclusion of their similarities. Matt McDonald, who worked on the 2008 John McCain effort and other Republican campaigns calls them “the fastest start-ups in the world.”
“I viewed my job as being the C.E.O of a company that in the beginning was a start-up, and was ultimately a very large company,” says political consultant Ken Mehlman, who headed George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign. “My underlying thesis is that my job wasn’t to be a political genius,” he continues, “My job was to take best management practices and apply them to politics.”
As Irwin points out, “a serious candidate for president, after all, requires a high-functioning team that is built from scratch in just a few months. That typically means appointing a campaign manager who may have a background as a political strategist but who becomes de facto chief executive of a complicated enterprise that has little time to evolve.” Things like critical decision-making, fundraising, adjusting to unexpected roadblocks and challenges, coping with crises, and the need to keep expenses down are very much a part of both a presidential campaign, and a start-up company.
What do you think? Do you see any parallels between start-up companies and presidential campaigns, or do you find this analogy to be a reach?
Be sure to read Irwin’s full report for more on the similarities between start-ups and presidential campaigns, with commentary from political insiders.