Business / Entrepreneurs / Q&As

Ximena Hartsock is leaving Phone2Action to start a new venture

Hartsock talks about how the eight-year-old civic tech company she cofounded is entering a new phase, and building a new tech product.

Phone2Action cofounders Jeb Ory and Ximena Hartsock. (Courtesy photo by Tony Powell)

After eight years, Phone2Action cofounder Ximena Hartsock is leaving the Arlington-based civic tech company to pursue a new venture.

Hartsock started the company in 2012 with Jeb Ory, who will continue to lead it going forward as CEO, to provide software that is used with public policy advocacy campaigns. The company has since grown to more than 1,000 clients in public affairs, government relations and advocacy, putting it among a generation of growth tech companies that have emerged in the DMV over the last decade. In 2020, Hartsock said more than 25 million people used the company’s platform, and tools it put into use for the 2020 election drew 10 million visits.

Bringing cabinet-level experience with former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, having served as director of the Department of Parks and Recreation as well as chief of staff for the city administrator, Hartsock is among a group of D.C. startup leaders building at the intersection of technology, policy and civic engagement. Phone2Action also launched a civic tech fellowship program in 2015 to extend this work.

Hartsock’s departure, which came with the turn of the new year, followed the acquisition in late 2020 of two companies. In November, it acquired D.C.-based legislative tracking and issue management platform GovPredict. The next month, it acquired Lorton, Virginia-based KnowWho, which provides data on public officials. With the acquisitions, the combined companies will have 200 employees. Hartsock said it also represented a time to step away and start something new.

“The completion of this merger is an appropriate time for me to leave Phone2Action to start a new venture,” she wrote in a Medium post.

We followed up with some questions about the decision to move away, and what’s next. The Q&A below is lightly edited for length and clarity.

### In your letter you mentioned that two recent acquisitions presented a good time to depart for something new. Can you describe why that is and what those acquisitions represent for Phone2Action?

Ximena Hartsock: For eight years, we worked hard to create an advocacy software platform that is powerful and intuitive, and we achieved that with great success. The natural evolution for the company was to expand capabilities of the technology to offer an end-to-end solution for public affairs campaigns — a single platform for issue insights, legislative tracking, grassroots advocacy and other important functions. The acquisitions of GovPredict and KnowWho are a major step toward that goal. Phone2Action closed a successful phase and is entering a new one. This seemed like a natural time for me to make a transition. I will always love Phone2Action, but it is OK to do other things.

Going forward, who will be leading Phone2Action?

My cofounder, Jeb Ory, will lead Phone2Action as CEO. He is collaborating with Chairman of the Board Chris Fountain of Frontier Growth. It’s a powerful combination. Jeb has been there from day one. Frontier made a strategic investment in Phone2Action in 2019, and Chris has a long record of guiding companies successfully. Coming into 2021, they have momentum. Last year saw more action on the Phone2Action platform than ever before, and they have two fresh acquisitions that give the company massive capability.

This year will be a big one for Phone2Action and perhaps one where they can expand globally. Phone2Action has a very strong customer success team led by Will Lopez, who has been with the company for four years. The staff at Phone2Action is wonderful. Not often do you find such dedicated, hard working and smart people united by one mission. KnowWho’s founder, Bruce Brownson, is joining the leadership team. He is a great addition to the team as he brings institutional knowledge of Washington, D.C. which pairs well with the young founders and Y-Combinator alumni Emil Pitkin and Neal Kemp of GovPredict. So there is lots of action for Phone2Action in this new phase.

What’s your next venture? Can you offer any initial description?

I’m not ready to get into details yet, but I can sketch some broad strokes. I am in the process of building a second prototype of a new technology product I am launching. I have a small team in the D.C. area that has built a proof of concept and continues to refine our tech. I am not ready to describe exactly what it does, but I can say that this technology will address a very important problem in an emergent market. I learned a lot building Phone2Action, so this launch is coming along a lot easier. I’m very excited!

Do you plan to stay involved in the D.C. tech community?

Yes — absolutely! I feel that D.C. has a very special and unique ecosystem of entrepreneurs and organizations that are committed to fostering innovation in the area. There’s a lot of support. As soon as I announced that I was leaving Phone2Action, Alex Taylor from Arlington Economic Development, Amy Millman from SpringBoard Enterprises, Mary Brady from the Economic Club, Mary-Claire Burick of Rosslyn BID, Gerren Price of Downtown DC BID, the team at the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) and many others sent me notes of encouragement and best wishes. This is a great place to build a business.

Of course, I will also remain involved with CTA, DC Vote and the Washington Economic Club, where I serve on the board. I look forward to CES 2021, which begins in just a few days. I also recently joined the Center for Innovative Technology’s (CIT) Advisory Committee on Entrepreneurial Ecosystems. The CIT role will keep me very busy in January, as this committee meets several times this month to advise the Entrepreneurial Ecosystems Division to administer the Regional Innovation Fund for Virginia, whose chief purpose is to drive economic growth in the state. And, of course, I am over the moon to be part of the advisory committee working to bring the soccer World Cup to D.C. in 2026.

Companies: Capitol Canary

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