Jason Mandell: Firm focusing on tech industry makes political waves

When political pundits say Barack Obama has mastered the use of the Internet in his campaign, they are referring in some small part to the work of San Francisco’s LaunchSquad.

Founded in 1999 by Jason Mandell, Jason Throckmorton and Jesse Odell, the public relations shop worked closely with the political Web site BarelyPolitical.com to create buzz around the hugely popular “Obama Girl” video, also known as “Crush on Obama,” in which an attractive woman raps about her favorite candidate. The clip has been covered by ABC News, The Washington Post and countless political and entertainment blogs, and ballooned off into a number of spin-offs including one where a “Giuliani Girl” duels it out with the “Obama Girl.”

Despite this political coup, the firm originally was formed by Mandell and his young, aspiring friends, fresh out of college and still wet behind the ears, to cater to rising technology businesses.

At the time, there was a large wave of businesses trying to get in on the Internet action and become the next Amazon.com. The infamous dot-com bubble had yet to burst, and clients were not difficult to find.

Things became more difficult around 2000 and 2001, as the dot-com bust became the post-9/11 recession. Despite economic troubles, however, LaunchSquad still managed to attract prominent clients.

“I’m thankful to have fallen into a profession where people are able to work with companies and entrepreneurs that are brilliant and to help people make those ideas reality,” Mandell said. “There’s always new technology and ideas and it’s endless. It’s just an exciting industry to be in.”

Among those was Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Inc. along with Steve Jobs, who hired the firm to help launch his start-up, Woz. While Woz was unsuccessful in the end, Mandell is proud to have worked with him.

“We were a young company to be working with someone with his credibility,” he said.

Mandell prides himself on maintaining a work atmosphere at LaunchSquad that emphasizes teamwork and making sure that all members of the workplace have an equal say in what happens.

“We don’t have cubes, and I have the same desk as someone at an entry-level position,” Mandell said. “A lot of companies talk about team, but they have a hierarchical structure where some people’s opinions are valued more than others. Everyone here has an opportunity to voice their views.”

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