By GREGORY ZELLER // There had to be a better way.
That was the thinking shared by Jeff Guillot and Alex Voetsch. Both worked in political capacities – Guillot for a Manhattan-based consultancy and Voetsch for the New York State Democratic Lawyers Council, a voting-rights and election-protection advocate. And both felt constrained by their respective “establishment entities,” as Guillot put it.
They met as fellows of the New Leaders Council, a national nonprofit offering training and support for emerging leaders. The council focuses often on entrepreneurial thinking and early-stage talent, Guillot noted, and the fast friends decided to “carry that mantra and mindset” under their own flag.
“We decided we could do this better,” Guillot said, “and in a more innovative way.”
In February 2013, they launched Millennial Strategies, opening offices in Manhattan and Garden City, although the Long Island satellite orbited in April to LaunchPad Huntington. Guillot runs the Island office and Voetsch handles the city side; both counsel political candidates, advocacy groups and private businesses.
In addition to old-school direct-mail programs, the firm utilizes forward-thinking direct-contact operations – paperless canvassing is especially useful, Guillot noted – to promote candidates and influence opinions.
“In most political campaigns, they hand you a clipboard and you mark one to five on a sheet of paper and volunteers spend all night entering the data,” the cofounder said. “We’re eradicating that work. We’re going entirely paperless with our canvassing endeavors.”
Using mobile devices and task-management apps, Millennial Strategies’ field interviewers collect real-time sentiment, a “more streamlined and efficient” way to take a pulse, according to Guillot.
“You sit at a computer and know instantly how your issue is doing in the field,” he said. “Depending on how it’s doing, you can adjust your approach on the fly.”
Such next-level thinking has helped the 30-month-old firm build an impressive client roster, after the state Democratic Lawyers Council, Voetsch’s former employer, signed on as Millennial Strategies’ first client. Current customers also include the New Leaders Council, the New York League of Conservation Voters, the Long Island Council of Churches, the Garden City-based developer Engel Burman Group and various labor unions and advocacy groups.
Millennial Strategies has already consulted for the Islip Democratic Party this year and will be “heavily involved” in a special state Senate election in Brooklyn this fall. But “our most tangible work this year has not been on the political side,” Guillot noted.
“This isn’t necessarily a slow year for candidates, especially if you have a presence in the suburbs,” he said. “But you have to approach it differently and focus more on advocacy work than electoral work.”
The candidate-focused work should pick up around the holidays this year. “The 2016 cycle is ramping up faster than the 2014 cycle did,” Guillot added.
Millennial Strategies’ employee roster basically follows the workflow. The staff ballooned to nine full-timers during the 2014 election cycle and stands at six now, including the cofounders; the team should swell again as next year’s state and federal elections swing around, according to Guillot.
Those who do come aboard tend to be like Guillot and Voetsch: young. The cofounders are both 33 and everyone they’ve hired has been younger than that, a youth factor that plays out in several ways.
While the firm’s name can be considered a nod to Generation Y-ers born after the mid-1980s, Guillot said Millennial Strategies’ young thinking is best evidenced by their technological weapons of choice – and especially by their candidate and issue selections.
“My guess would be if we were doing this 10 years ago, we’d have been at a decided disadvantage,” he noted. “But there are members of the House (of Representatives) younger than we are. Given the advent of young people becoming very successful in tech startups in their 20s and early 30s, you’re seeing more people our age taking leadership roles.
Young people aren’t thinking about the next rung on the corporate ladder,” he added. “They’re thinking, ‘How can I be the boss?’”
Precisely what Guillot and Voetsch were thinking when they raised $20,000 in private investments and launched their 21st century consultancy. Even being particular about client standards hasn’t slowed them – they only work for organizations they are “ideologically aligned with,” Guillot noted – or stopped them from expanding their services, which now include fundraising.
“Fundraising helps us be a part of every step of [a candidate’s] process and development,” Guillot said. “We especially like to work with folks who are first coming into the business. Those are our favorite clients.
“Our ultimate goal is to stay with our clients for a long time,” he added. “We’re trying to get in on the ground floor with great candidates and help them achieve their goals over a long period of time.”
Guillot and Voetsch are also looking to achieve their own goals – developing that “better way,” for one, and in Guillot’s case, promoting millennials in the workforce. The Millennial Strategies partner also founded the Suburban Millennial Institute, a nonpartisan think tank promoting millennial retention on Long Island.
“I’ve made a concerted effort to become an advocate for that particular cohort,” Guillot noted, citing the institute’s focus on “stopping the exodus of young people from certain areas of Long Island” by encouraging job growth for thirtysomethings.
That millennial mindset “is carried over into the consulting firm,” he added, an advantage that could prove critical in 2016 – not only to Millennial Strategies’ clients, but to the startup itself.
“Millennials – especially those living in ‘swing districts’ like NY1 or NY2 or anywhere in the states of Pennsylvania, Florida or Ohio – are probably going to be the most important cohort in the next election cycle,” Guillot said. “And we specialize in communicating with those voters.”
What’s It? Political and advocacy-group consulting
Brought To You By: Cofounders Jeff Guillot and Alex Voetsch
All In: $20,000 in private investments, covering standard startup costs
Status: Influencing American society one issue at a time