How Clinton Campaign Mimics An Over-funded Startup


If we’ve learned anything from the desperate fight between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the democratic nomination for President, it is that success is never inevitable. (Image from award-winning cartoonist, Nick Anderson, of The Houston Chronicle.)

The analysis of why Obama surged so effectively against the self-proclaimed assumptive nominee, Clinton, has been instructive in all kinds of ways relevant to Found|READERs, especially a leader’s ability to communicate in a way that inspires the rank and file to action — a skill every founder ought to have. (See: The Difference btw. A Tactician and A Leader, Thought of the Day: ‘Yes you Can!’; Credentials vs. Judgment.)

Now this morning I’ve read what must be the most incisive and devastating postmortem on Clinton’s implosion, penned by none other than liberal New York Times columnist, Frank Rich. I call it to your attention because Rich’s descriptions of the Clinton Machine remind me too much of something else: the bloated, over-hyped, Kool-aid drinking, but strategically lethargic animal we know around here as the over-funded startup. Such characteristics of glutony do not guarantee success. They doom one to fail.

By comparison, writes Rich, the Obama campaign was “lean and mean”, with a focus on maximizing even the smallest increments of funding with indefatigable grass roots footwork — just like the best bootstrapped startups. For example:

The gap in hard work between the two campaigns was clear well before Feb. 5. Mrs. Clinton threw as much as $25 million at the Iowa caucuses without ever matching Mr. Obama’s organizational strength. In South Carolina, where last fall she was up 20 percentage points in the polls, she relied on top-down endorsements and the patina of inevitability, while the Obama campaign built a landslide-winning organization from scratch at the grass roots. In Kansas, three paid Obama organizers had the field to themselves for three months; ultimately Obama staff members outnumbered Clinton staff members there 18 to 3.

I encourage you to read all of Rich’s very thoughtful column, The Audacity of Hopelessnes.

As saddening as it is to see promising ventures fail (Clinton has so much to offer, but this clearly wasn’ the right model or the right time) as always, there is much to be learned from them.