Where Data Science and Political Strategy Meet at Applecart
Applecart deploys proprietary technology to run smarter advertising campaigns.
We connected with Joe Shafer, President of Politics and Advocacy, and Varun Aggarwal, Senior Data Scientist, of Applecart to learn all about the company, how their technology works, hiring needs, and so much more.
To start off, I’d like to learn more about your backgrounds. Can you elaborate on what Applecart does, and your roles within the company?
Joe: I’m the President of Applecart - we’re a data science and analytics company. I oversee our team of data scientists, data analysts, and client services team members to ensure we have best in class technology, analytics, and that we apply all of our data offerings to help our clients meet their strategic needs. Prior to joining Applecart, I spent more than a decade in political strategy and campaigns, managing Gubernatorial and Congressional races, and most recently running independent expenditures across the country for the Democratic Governors’ Association in 2016 and 2018.
Varun: I started out at Applecart as a Data Scientist intern in the summer of 2017 while I was pursuing a Masters in Data Science from Columbia University. I joined them full time once I graduated, and have grown over the past couple of years into the role of a Senior Data Scientist.
As a Data Scientist at Applecart, my job is to ideate, create, maintain, and improve data driven products that help us with our advocacy and political deliverables. These encompass a wide array of products, starting from data munging and standardization, followed by resolving entities across diverse datasets, which ultimately flow into building our Social Graph. This rich source of data is then used to build analytical solutions that help us deliver insights to clients, and also allow us to execute on those insights by creating customized targeting strategies.
What are some of the core problems Applecart is solving through its offering?
Joe: Our Social Graph Platform maps over 25 billion relationships between over 250 million Americans, all from publicly available data sources. We use the Social Graph to leverage those real-world relationships to help major companies and campaigns target the people who really matter in advocacy, marketing, sales, and political campaigns.
Instead of crude targeting based on geography, basic demographics, interests, and “geofencing,” we allow you to reach your targets and the people who inform their thinking and actions: the friends, family members, colleagues, classmates, and neighbors they regularly speak to.
People don’t make major decisions in a vacuum, and we power advertising and outreach to the closest real world relationships of high stakes decision makers whether they are elected officials and government regulators, corporate executives, or voters.
Who are your customers? Any examples you can offer?
Joe: We’ve worked with everyone from Fortune 50 companies to startups and presidential campaigns to national nonprofits. Some of our clients include Blackstone, KKR, Boeing, and the Environmental Defense Fund.
How do you use data science and analytics at Applecart, specifically in conjunction with political strategy?
Joe: Oftentimes in politics, data is a black box. Campaigns are handed scores based on a model they don’t really understand and told to implement. That’s not how we operate. We strive to understand the strategic imperatives and messaging of a campaign, conduct rigorous analysis and modeling, and translate our analysis into insights that can be understood and actioned by a campaign at every level of the ballot. We don’t just deliver analytics, we are strategic partners that work with every aspect of a campaign to optimize paid communications, outreach, organizing, and get-out-the-vote, so a campaign can get the most out of its resources and win.
Varun: When delivering these insights or strategies, we strive to be as data-driven as possible. This begins with ensuring the quality of the data itself. We ensure that the data we collect is unbiased, and getting data from multiple sources ensures that we have a wide variety of features to make inferences on. We also pride ourselves in keeping up to date with the latest trends in Machine Learning. This enables us to marry the recent advancements in Data Science and Engineering with political strategy in an unprecedented way. We leverage both structured and unstructured data at massive scales to build models that help identify relationships between people, predict turnout in an election, or identify what messaging will an individual respond to.
Let’s talk specifics, can you tell us a little more about the team structure?
Joe: We have a diverse team of data scientists, data engineers, and analysts as well as political and advertising strategists. We work collaboratively on client engagements and internal development to help our clients execute unique advertising campaigns and develop technologies that leverage and improve our Social Graph platform.
How do all those different pieces work together?
Joe: Our political and advertising strategists are client facing and work alongside a team of data analysts who operate our platform to deliver custom data analysis for each of our clients; together they ensure our data insights are translated into polished and accessible deliverables that meet our clients’ goals. At the same time, we have a pod of f data scientists and data engineers on our team that we call our Politech team. I’ll let Varun go more in depth on his personal experience collaborating with the rest of the team.
Varun: In terms of the pieces being put together, I’d start with the ideation stage. This stage is a collaborative effort between leadership, analysts, and technologists. New ideas for products and product improvements might come from user feedback, client feedback, or some new methodology that one of us brainstormed or came across. Next, comes the research phase, where the data scientists and engineers try to find appropriate data, research the latest technologies, and build a prototype. This process is guided through constant feedback from SMEs and stakeholders. Finally, the data scientists and engineers collaborate to scale up and productionize the solution, which is then continually monitored, maintained, and improved throughout its lifecycle.
What kind of positions are you hiring for right now?
Joe: We have two main roles we’re focusing on right now. I’m currently focused on hiring a Director of Analytics to serve as a senior leader on our team. The ideal person for this role will be a great people manager, who will supervise our data analyst team and function as our in-house analytics and methodological point person on client engagements.
Varun: Also, we are looking to hire a Lead Data Engineer. The suite of products that Applecart offers, and their complexity has grown steadily over the years. To ensure that as we grow, these products continue to grow with us in a sustainable and collaborative manner, and that we stay abreast of the latest trends in Data Engineering, we are looking for a Lead Data Engineer who brings with them a wealth of expertise in working with an ever growing team and codebase. An ideal candidate would be part individual contributor, part data systems architect, who can mentor the team and collaborate with product managers to develop product roadmaps and make key technical decisions.
What comes next for Applecart?
Joe: It’s a really exciting time at Applecart. Of course with the election in November, we’re going to be extremely busy engaging with our political campaigns. In these unprecedented times our Social Graph is extremely valuable in helping our clients engage voters based on their real-world relationships and predict voter turnout and support for different candidates in an ever-changing environment. In addition to our political campaign work we are constantly adding more and more robust data to the Social Graph and developing new product offerings to assist our corporate and non-profit clients meet their communications, sales, and advocacy goals.
Want to learn more about Applecart? Check out their Company Page