Moss and politicians - and why they're good for two Philly start-ups

Founder and lead designer Lorenzo Buffa at Analog headquarters in South Philadelphia.

Moss and politicians.

Oh, the possible punch lines. But I’ll play it straight because this has to do with two Philly start-ups taking important steps.

Analog Watch Co.’s involves moss; Jefferson’s List’s, politicians.

I’ve written about both companies in the past (see http://bit.ly/2wT9BRT and http://bit.ly/2nly). But when it comes to a sector where high-five moments don’t come too often, I find it necessary for the morale of the region’s entire start-up community to spread the word about progress within it.

Moss

Analog, started three years ago by University of the Arts graduate Lorenzo Buffa with one product — a wooden, nondigital watch — and later a model in marble, is now going to produce what Buffa says is a first in the world: a timepiece embedded with moss and flowers.

Camera icon Yong Kim
A watch from Analog made with moss.

Who would want one? Within 12 hours of launching a Kickstarter campaign Sept. 5 to raise $10,000 to help support that product expansion, the goal was met, with 115 people placing orders for the first Botanist watches, expected by February, if not sooner. The unisex watch, manufactured in Japan, will retail for $150. By Sept. 14, 237 backers had pledged $22,787; the campaign (http://kck.st/2xJGv4I) expires Oct. 25.

Perhaps equally significant to Analog’s survival is its launch last month of a line of cuffs and rings with embedded flowers and plants, with sunglasses made of wood expected later this month. Significant, because it recognizes something consequential about the industry.

“Amazon is really changing the game in a really big way,” said Buffa, 30, of South Philadelphia. “Unless you’re really hyper-niche with a super-duper following, you kind of have to expand.”

Add to that “a lot of wholesale accounts don’t want to deal with watches,” which requires carrying batteries and parts, Buffa said. “The goal is to secure other accounts that otherwise would not carry us because we only did watches.”

Case in point: the Perez Museum in Miami, an account Buffa said he has courted since opening his company on East Passyunk Avenue, and from which he just finally landed a $2,000 order — for cuffs.

Consequently, the words Watch and Co. are going to be dropped from the business’ name, said Buffa, who would not disclose Analog’s revenue. The company — profitable since day one with product selling in major museum stores, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Getty, and the Guggenheim — usually has one or two employees besides Buffa and uses a variety of subcontractors.

Buffa cleverly handled a question about the rigors of developing new products.

“It’s just second nature,” he said, “pun intended.”

Politicians

Concept soon becomes reality for Jefferson’s List, the start-up by political operatives Dan Siegel and TJ Hurst, who are out to disrupt the campaign world. They intend to launch jeffersonslist.com on Oct. 1, a platform of campaign data intended to help match candidates and consultants with a more informed and comprehensive process than the time-honored method — “I know a guy.”

Siegel and Hurst have been busy amassing an enormous amount of data on campaign spending across the country since I first wrote in March about their entrepreneurial intentions. They have accumulated details on a third of the $90 billion spent on campaigns in the last 15 years, including the entire federal campaign-finance database, along with data from 18 states and six major cities: Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Houston, Boston, and Los Angeles.

“We are, to a certain extent, at the mercy of reporting guidelines of each state,” Siegel said.

Camera icon Ed Hille
Jefferson’s List cofounders Dan Siegel (left) and TJ Hurst in their Center City office in March.

For instance, in Mississippi, data are “individually scanned, handwritten PDFs,” Siegel said. Props to Philly, he added, where “the reporting system is quite good — accessible, clean.”

Jefferson’s List’s activation in October will be a limited one, with broader functions planned by Jan. 1 once its founders have a chance to solicit input from users.

Hurst, 33, and Siegel, 29, met in 2015, when Siegel was consulting for a City Council candidate endorsed by a local political group Hurst had cofounded, Philadelphia 3.0. After the election, they were talking about the need for a more efficient and reliable way of seeing who spent what on campaigns, and what that money delivered.

“Yes, the data is all public, but it’s in so many places,” Siegel said. “We’re the first people to not only put it in one place, but collate it.”

By doing so, Hurst said, “this should lower barriers to entry for people who want to run.”

Jefferson’s List, housed in the Project Liberty incubator, has raised $380,000 and expects to close this round of funding by the fall with another $220,000. It just hired its first employee, David Colangelo, lead developer.

Access to the site will be free. In later iterations, consultants will be able to pay fees to enhance their profiles and access tools Jefferson’s List plans to offer to help them generate business.