How Polco Was Built on a Foundation of Service

2 min read
November 10, 2022

Polco's founders are both Air Force veterans who incorporated the military value of service into the company.

Dedication, hard work, teamwork, and the ability to perform under pressure are skills the military instills in its members. It also promotes a sense of collective purpose that requires sacrificing personal comfort for the greater good. Similarly, starting a business takes determination, vision, trade-offs, and a driving mission. 

It’s why many veterans go on to become successful entrepreneurs. Over 2.5 million veteran-owned businesses exist in the U.S. today—which includes Polco! 

An Air Force base was the backdrop to Polco’s beginnings. It’s where our co-founders Nick Mastronardi and Alex Pedersen first met, experimented with tech, and dreamed up the ideas that would later become the civic engagement and analytics SaaS company that exists today.  

In 2005, a colleague in the Air Force suggested Mastronardi read “The Wisdom of Crowds” by James Surowiecki. The book lays out how, with a few simple guidelines, the power of collective intelligence would outperform traditional groupthink and any single expert prediction. 

“The stakes from implementing this phenomenon more broadly are enormous,” Mastronardi said. “As someone who had sworn an oath to the constitution, I could not shake the potential applicability for improved governance.” 

The book planted the seed, but years would pass before it sprouted into a business. The following year the Air Force sent Mastronardi to earn a Ph.D. in economics at The University of Texas. He was inspired by Austin’s burgeoning tech scene and started experimenting with apps that could potentially harness collective intelligence. 

After earning his degree, the Colorado Air Force Academy General’s staff hired him and other junior officers to mentor cadets that showed an interest in technology. Pedersen was a fellow junior officer faculty member who was a part of the group. 

Both moved on to other roles after the military but maintained a friendship. Pedersen, an Air Force Academy graduate, had been assigned and deployed all around the world and later earned a graduate degree from Harvard. 

Pedersen later went to Google to work in people operations, while Mastronardi was leading advanced data science initiatives at Amazon and reporting to the Chief Economist and also worked in the White House. 

But during that time, they never let go of the initial spark—the potential of collective intelligence in action. 

In 2015 and 2016, they left their jobs to make the idea a reality. And with their military and government backgrounds, they knew they wanted to create a product for the public sector. Together they incorporated their tech skills and previous experience to form Polco.

Integrating community insight at the local government level was the perfect avenue to implement the technology. Local governments are more connected to their community members, and like the military, are built on a foundation of service. 

“Service has always been about a dedication to values, ideas, and principles that far exceed any individual,” Pedersen said. “It’s about setting aside personal needs or preferences in the name of upholding or promoting those higher order ideals.”

In this spirit, Polco's mission is to collectively improve government decision-making by including more voices. We can make our communities better places to live if we listen, compromise, and work together. 

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