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This article was published on May 10, 2012

Power to the people: PublikDemand helps disgruntled consumers form pacts against big firms

Power to the people: PublikDemand helps disgruntled consumers form pacts against big firms
Paul Sawers
Story by

Paul Sawers

Paul Sawers was a reporter with The Next Web in various roles from May 2011 to November 2014. Follow Paul on Twitter: @psawers or check h Paul Sawers was a reporter with The Next Web in various roles from May 2011 to November 2014. Follow Paul on Twitter: @psawers or check him out on Google+.

We’ve all been there…right? You move address and inform your ISP in plenty of time for them to arrange a seamless transfer of Internet services to your new abode…only to discover, by which point it’s too late, that they’ve got the date wrong and have the wrong address down for you.

That’s just one of many example situations that could lead a consumer to tear his/her hair out in frustration, and spend hour-after-hour on the phone trying to talk some sense into a pre-programmed, scripted call-center worker.

If you’ve ever had reason to feel aggrieved at the way you’ve been treated by big organization, and attempted a futile ‘David vs. Goliath’ battle to no avail, then read on.

PublikDemand: Helping David beat Goliath

PublikDemand is a platform designed to help guide consumers into forming a pact – people with similar complaints about a single company – and start a viral campaign to get the issues resolved. Then, if the company doesn’t play ball, consumers can opt-in to get exclusive offers from competitors.

It’s certainly an interesting idea, and one that merits further investigation.

PublikDemand was founded in early 2012, with an early beta version rolling out in March. “PublikDemand is the Better Business Bureau of the digital age,” says company co-founder Courtney Powell.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB), for those who don’t know, is a North American corporation which gathers and archives information it receives about businesses, both locally and nationally, and invites them to become accredited members. In return, BBB members can use their logo, and mediation and arbitration services. It’s like a badge of trust.

What PublikDemand does, however, is take this a step further and actively seeks to give power to the people by not only helping consumers collaborate and broadcast a louder collective voice, but encourage competitors to get involved too by stepping in to offer their services if the company in question refuses to budge.

As with many startup ideas, PublikDemand was born out of personal experience. “PublikDemand stems from my own issue with Time Warner Cable,” says Powell. “The company said that I had a cable modem that had not been returned, and drafted hundreds of dollars from my account to pay for it. I did not have the modem but it took me three months and countless hours to resolve the issue. The experience left me feeling completely dis-empowered and frustrated. I knew their were others out there who had experienced the same issue, but I had no idea how to connect and figure out how they solved it or work together to fight the company.”

You can see Powell explain more about her predicament here:

Power to the people: The story so far

The company currently consists of four full-time employees – including three co-founders – and are headquartered in Mountain View, California. PublikDemand has so far raised more than $500,000 from angel investors in their hometown of Austin, Texas and from within Silicon Valley itself.

At the start of its beta phase in March, the startup launched its inaugural demand, asking AT&T to stop “throttling” unlimited-data users, which led to AT&T settling with a PublikDemand user, and then negotiating an exclusive deal with an AT&T competitor.

Any other recent examples? Yes, as it happens.

“Netflix CEO Reed Hastings shared his thoughts on the unfair applications of Comcast’s data cap via his Facebook feed two weeks ago,” says Powell. “I immediately reached out and got his approval to share the story as a ‘demand’ on PublikDemand. Within 35 minutes of posting and alerting the press, the AP and many others covered the issue and people began spreading the word.”

Powell adds that they’re now spearheading a campaign to help stop violators of net neutrality with organizations such as PublicKnowledge, Free Press and the Open Internet Coalition. “The campaign will launch later this month,” she says, “tentatively called ‘4 Steps to Stop Comcast’. This is an issue that is affecting millions of Comcast subscribers.”

12 months from now…

Looking to the future, Powell says that the key to the platform’s growth will be connecting with everyday people who have grown tried of giving their hard-earned cash to companies that don’t deserve it. “Distribution is key for us and we will be taking advantage of channels like Facebook, specifically open graph innovations, Pinterest, Twitter and many others, to help people spread their demands as virally as possible,” she says. “Furthermore we are creating partnerships with leading consumer advocacy/rights organizations to help direct people to the help we can provide.”

PublikDemand is one to watch, and we’ll be keeping an eye on the progress of this startup to see how it progresses. But Powell is confident that they can become the first port of call for consumers needing support.

“In twelve months, we hope to be consistently helping to empower consumers and solve their problems,” she says. “When a consumer needs a voice to help prompt a big company to listen- we want to be the first thing they think about.