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If the bill-tracking service Capsearch was never able to grab the market share it was looking for, it certainly was able to captivate the imaginations of lawmakers, lobbyists and legislative nerds. Now, one of the company's initial creators has moved on to pursue other opportunities, and Capsearch will have to compete in a more competitive, more technologically savvy Arkansas political environment.
Capsearch was started by Matt Price and Katie Bodenhamer, both former Beebe administration officials, in 2008 when their only competition for a legislation tracking and analysis service was the Legislative Digest. Before the 2008 session, Capsearch created quite a buzz for those interested in keeping track of the legislative process, but maybe less interested in sitting through committee hearings at the Capitol.
The service offered clients an easy way to track bills online and get updates on everything from agricultural committee hearings to lottery commission meetings. The company had an active Twitter feed and offered a number of other services I was too cheap to subscribe to.
According to Price, things were going pretty well during their fist session at work.
"We were doing well and we were growing. We felt like we were providing a really good product," Price says.
Then things started to get rocky. Arkansas Business, one of the company's big investors, decided to sever ties with the company last October, saying Capsearch's plans to take their business plan to other states wasn't something they were interested in putting capital into. And differences started to emerge between Price and Bodenhamer over the direction in which Capsearch's growth would continue. Price declined to get into specifics about the split.
That's when Little Rock attorney Graham Catlett got involved, along with some other investors, and purchased all of Capsearch's assets. Now, a new company called Capserve, LLC, exists in its place. Catlett says the business will use two trade names, Capsearch and a new product called Capvoice as well.
Bodenhamer is serving as president of the new outfit. She says the company is speaking with clients to find out how it can better serve their needs.
Price has also started a new company: GoodClic, a smart-phone application company geared toward helping nonprofits and political campaigns access their supporters.
"We aggregate their Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts," Price says. "Then we put that into one application so you can go in and access that information. But we also provide a news feed, contact channels and a fund-raising platform so people who have downloaded the app can make a contribution to the organization directly from that application."
Price says he will not be competing with Capserve, since the two companies are targeting different markets. But LobbyUp, a new web-based bill-tracking and lobbying service, will be.
So who's behind it? Bradley Phillips, a lobbyist with Phillips Management and Consulting Service, and a former investor in Capsearch.
"LobbyUp is really aimed toward lobbyists," Phillips says. "This is a lot friendlier to folks that have multiple clients. We'll be utilizing iPhone, BlackBerry and Android applications. That's something that we never were able to do previously until now."
Phillips says the product will be offered at two price points: $2,000 for the professional package geared toward lobbyists who have multiple clients, and $349 for the package aimed at smaller associations, single-issue advocates and citizens.
"What we'd like to do is eliminate some of the hurdles that people go through when they're trying to contact the people that make the decisions," Phillips says. "We'll be offering some programs that will allow you to get some letters out, get some e-mails out, host some petitions, author some open letters and do a little bit of association management from the website."
Catlett says he welcomes the competition.
"I think it makes us better and stronger," he says. "We're happy with our current position but we're constantly trying to improve."
A final version of LobbyUp will be available in October. A demo version of LobbyUp Professional will be available as soon as next week. A legislative directory will be available for free once it's approved by Apple's app store, which could happen before this issue goes to print.
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