Interview with Travis Trawick, Founder & CEO of RoboCent, Inc.
Conducted on Saturday, October 24th with 10 Days Until the 2020 General Election.
We had a chat with Travis Trawick, Founder and CEO of RoboCent – the premier political phone messaging provider in the US. Mr. Trawick has worked in the industry since 2011. This year, RoboCent released a completely redesigned update to their application labeled Version 8. RoboCent works with over 2,000 political organizations in the United States.
Q: What exactly does “Political Phone Messaging Provider” mean?
Trawick: Essentially it means that if there is a way to contact a voter on their phone, we can do it. We used to label ourselves as a RoboCall provider, but that doesn’t really tell the story anymore. With the invention of Ringless Voicemail and P2P Texting for politics, there is a so much more than just RoboCalls.
Q: Is it true that the industry is moving away from RoboCalls and instead focusing on less annoying ways to contact voters?
Trawick: [laughs] Maybe not the industry quite yet, but RoboCent is - absolutely. A RoboCall is an active, ringing call to a landline. Believe it or not a RoboCall to a cell phone is illegal without written consent. We started to get away from RoboCalls and focus more on Ringless Voicemail as early as October 2015. RVMs are a much better experience for everyone. With a RoboCall you get an annoying call ringing your phone that requires you to stop what your doing and answer it. Instead, we can send a Ringless Voicemail that doesn’t ring the voter’s phone and leaves a message that the voter can listen to on their own time. And, if it’s something they’re interested in, like voting deadlines or where to early vote or an event address, they can play it back as many times as they want. Plus the fact that RVMs have a much higher deliverability it just makes sense for everyone. Client is happy, voter is happy, and RoboCent is happy because we’re promoting safer and more acceptable forms of voter contact.
Q: Well then, where does Peer-to-Peer (P2P) texting fall into all this? Are campaigns putting a lot of time and money into texting instead of calling?
Trawick: P2P Texting is the biggest change to voter contact we’ve seen since TV ads. Being able to connect with voters in this intimate medium that they’re already using is invaluable. Voter contact is all about going to where the voters are, not making them go out of their way to come to you. Texting hits all the check marks there. RoboCent was one of the first providers to start offering P2P SMS, but we took a different approach. Instead of making our customer send the texts (which includes finding a bunch of volunteers, training them, setting them up, etc.) we took care of everything. You load up a list and a script and our team of 50+ agents get assigned to send every single text manually - at a rate of 10,000 texts per hour. It definitely made us stand out with the bulk of our customers coming to us after going through weeks of setup just to find out they must send the texts themselves. With RoboCent, we accept any campaign, any party, any size, and can get your message sending in 2 hours or less.
Q: How much innovation and modernization can there really be in phone messaging? I don’t imagine there is a lot of tech or developer desirability in the industry.
Trawick: That is the unfortunate truth that RoboCent is fighting. I love technology. I love to experience any new thing that comes out or gets developed, be it a product or service, anything that can make humans more efficient gets my attention. But Political Phone Messaging is a stagnant industry. Most of the providers that were the “big dogs” in 2011 haven’t made any changes or updates to their platforms since. They have these systems that were built in the early 2000’s that are reliable, so they don’t want to touch it.
RoboCent has a full-time development team that constantly pushes new features, makes the system easier to use, more intuitive, faster, more reliable, and so much more. In January we made the decision to commit to our original idea from 2011 that “it can always be better”. So, we quadrupled our dev team, hired a full-time marketing agency, and have since completely relaunched our product to be even more competitive. We talk with every customer so we can get a better idea of how they want to use the platform and what they expect from it. Then, with more and more feedback, we implement features that our customers want and need.
Q: That sounds like a lot of work!
Trawick: [laughs] Yeah, it really can be. Especially when we’re 10 days away from one of the biggest elections of our lifetime. But, we’re still working 18 hours a day to improve our app so campaigns from across the country have a reliable and easy to use platform to Get Out The Vote and remind people that they can’t sit this one out. We are also strictly non-partisan. Everyone deserves equal access to cost-effective voter contact, whether it be a write-in candidate in Alaska or an Incumbent US Senator. RoboCent treats everyone the same and everyone gets access to the same industry low pricing and data-driven results that RoboCent offers with every message.
Q: Does RoboCent focus a lot on trying to get people to vote, or registering people to vote?
Trawick: We donate services to a lot of non-profit, non-partisan voter drive efforts across the country. We believe that voter registration should be automatic when you turn 18. But, since it’s not (at least not yet anyways), we commit a ton of resources to help organizations register young people to vote. A lot of our outbound messaging involves asking for donations which is a great way to get your supporters involved. We send surveys asking people if they need a ride to the polls, Transfer calls so voters can be connected with their constituents, and much more. A top priority for RoboCent is providing an open line of communication between a voter or constituent and their representative. Anything that can create a more open and transparent line of dialogue with voters and representatives has our support.
Q: It was great speaking with you, try not to pull your hair out these next few days! [laughs]
Trawick: [laughs] Yes, if I can make it through the next 10 days with all my hair, I’ll consider it a success.
[Interview edited for clarity]