The Opportunity for Civic Startups (Short - MIT Entrepreneurship Festival)
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The Opportunity for Civic Startups (Short - MIT Entrepreneurship Festival)

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Short talk from the t=0 Entrepreneurship festival at MIT, given 9/18/11

Short talk from the t=0 Entrepreneurship festival at MIT, given 9/18/11

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  • Today we’re going to talk about how your startups can save the world!\n
  • First, a little about me -- I’ve been working in the “civic” technology space for the past 10 years -- I’m currently managing director at Civic Commons (http://civiccommons.org), a joint initiative between OpenPlans (http://openplans.org) -- where I’ve been a director for the past five years -- and Code for America (http://codeforamerica.org), a new nonprofit that’s like Teach for America for coders. All three organizations are helping to build the civic technology ecosystem, making tech that serves citizens, governments, and communities.\n
  • Great article by Netscape founder Marc Andreesen in the WSJ, pointing out that software is radically transforming every single industry right now, disrupting business models, collapsing incumbents, and providing big opportunities for startups.\n
  • Nowadays, we have the basic tools (mobile computing, internet access, social web, open source tools) to build something that transforms almost any industry. So what’s next?\n
  • While the private sector, is, in many respects, charging ahead at the cutting edge, government (broadly speaking, and this is a huge over generalization) can be thought of as on the “crumbling edge”. Under-funded, and resistant to institutional change, it is taking advantage of new technologies at a relatively slow rate.\n
  • Many projects take years to complete and cost way more than they should -- established models of contracting and procurement often lead to expensive, unsatisfactory projects. This is not sustainable, and like the industries listed earlier, government is a target for disruptive solutions.\n
  • So, what does that mean for startups? I’ll just pick out a few quick points to highlight.\n
  • The internet is rapidly removing and blurring established and understood boundaries. There’s an opportunity in that.\n
  • Connections are being built across geographies and new constituencies form easily -- web apps like facebook are starting to act & seem more like governments, while governments are in many cases starting to act like tech platform providers. This “blurgence” presents an opportunity to consider creative opportunities for serving communities in new ways.\n
  • The millenials and their friends are part of a “maker” culture. Jen Pahlka from Code for America penned a great piece on what this means for public service and advocacy (http://codeforamerica.org/2011/08/07/exit-or-voice-how-about-neither/). No longer are the choices simply to “exit” (stop participating out of frustration) or “voice” (jump in and join the fray). Today there’s a third path -- to make -- to build the thing that needs to exist, rather that just talk about it. Helpful, builder-driven change. Pretty cool.\n
  • Here is a tiny example -- and admittedly not the most profound (but maybe that’s kind of the point). Exit Strategy NYC is an app that tells you where to stand on the subway in order to make the right transfer or find the right exit. It was produced for almost no money and serves an awesome and useful civic function. \n
  • Another big idea for startups is that governments are starting to think of themselves as less as “application makers” and more as “platform providers”. This approach is fundamentally favorable for startups, who can build useful consumer and enterprise apps on top of the government platform.\n
  • For example, OpenPlans is working with the MTA in New York City to implement an open source real-time bus locating system that provides that data to developers. Rather than build a single, closed, application, the MTA is focusing on providing that data first, then building their own apps on top of it, while at the same time inviting others to do the same. \n
  • Another example we’re working on at Civic Commons is Open311 -- this project is about creating an open standard for 311 (service request and inquiry) data across cities, including an open API. What if every city used the same standard for this? What could we learn about how cities are working by analyzing this data? What if a 311 app built in San Francisco automatically worked in Tokyo? Here in the nonprofit sector (at Civic Commons, OpenPlans and Code for America), we’re helping governments lay this foundation.\n
  • If changing the way governments architect their IT infrastructure sounds like a heavy lift for a startup, you’re right (that’s why we’re approaching it from the nonprofit angle). Another approach that many civic startups are taking is what I call the “enterprise end-run” (see http://bit.ly/enterprise-end-run). This is when a product goes first to “enterprise users”, and then uses that traction to pull change out of the enterprise itself (rather than attempting to push the change through the front door).\n
  • Two civic startups that are taking this approach are Socrative (http://socrative.com) and SeeClickFix (http://seeclickfix.com). Socrative offers a mobile tool that any teacher can use in his/her classroom -- if & when it takes off, the teachers become the inside salesforce driving for broader adoption and sales. SeeClickFix takes the same approach re: reporting issues and getting them fixed (potholes, graffiti, etc.).\n
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  • Lastly a few broad points: 1) you really need to care about what you’re doing in order to succeed. Even if you only care 85%, chances are there’s someone out there who cares 110% and will blow you out of the water. So be honest w/ yourself and go w/ what’s deep in your heart. 2) you only need to be a little bit out in front of an issue to make a leading product -- but once you’re there, you need to step on the gas all the way and make it happen. And lastly: 3) start networking early, and don’t expect results right away, whether it’s fundraising, hiring, or partnerships. Start with light touches and build up over time -- this is how you get to know people and build trust.\n
  • Lastly a few broad points: 1) you really need to care about what you’re doing in order to succeed. Even if you only care 85%, chances are there’s someone out there who cares 110% and will blow you out of the water. So be honest w/ yourself and go w/ what’s deep in your heart. 2) you only need to be a little bit out in front of an issue to make a leading product -- but once you’re there, you need to step on the gas all the way and make it happen. And lastly: 3) start networking early, and don’t expect results right away, whether it’s fundraising, hiring, or partnerships. Start with light touches and build up over time -- this is how you get to know people and build trust.\n
  • Lastly a few broad points: 1) you really need to care about what you’re doing in order to succeed. Even if you only care 85%, chances are there’s someone out there who cares 110% and will blow you out of the water. So be honest w/ yourself and go w/ what’s deep in your heart. 2) you only need to be a little bit out in front of an issue to make a leading product -- but once you’re there, you need to step on the gas all the way and make it happen. And lastly: 3) start networking early, and don’t expect results right away, whether it’s fundraising, hiring, or partnerships. Start with light touches and build up over time -- this is how you get to know people and build trust.\n
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The Opportunity for Civic Startups (Short - MIT Entrepreneurship Festival) The Opportunity for Civic Startups (Short - MIT Entrepreneurship Festival) Presentation Transcript

  • t = 0 Entrepreneurship Festival @ MIT - 9/18/11 - @nickgrossmanciviccommons.org | openplans.org | @nickgrossman
  • me, me, meciviccommons.org | openplans.org | @nickgrossman
  • Software is eating the world — Marc Andreessen WSJ, 8/20/2011 civiccommons.org | openplans.org | @nickgrossman
  • craigslist | classifieds apple | music, phones, cameras amazon | books, retail linkedin | recruiting airbnb | hotels google | direct marketing netflix | videos skype | phones twitter | newsThe tools now exist to transform any institution
  • Government: on the Crumbling Edgeciviccommons.org | openplans.org | @nickgrossman
  • The Opportunity for Civic Startupsciviccommons.org | openplans.org | @nickgrossman
  • 1Emergence, Convergence & Blurgence civiccommons.org | openplans.org | @nickgrossman
  • 2Exit, voice, or neither: Make — Jen Pahlka Executive Director, Code for America civiccommons.org | openplans.org | @nickgrossman
  • 3Government as a Platform — Tim O’Reilly civiccommons.org | openplans.org | @nickgrossman
  • Closed Model Platform Model Mobile, web & other apps API Real-time Server
  • 4The Enterprise End-Run — Me! bit.ly/enterprise-end-runciviccommons.org | openplans.org | @nickgrossman
  • Teachers Concerned & helpful& students citizensciviccommons.org | openplans.org | @nickgrossman
  • So….
  • So….1. Embrace the blurgence
  • So….1. Embrace the blurgence2. Less talking, more making
  • So….1. Embrace the blurgence2. Less talking, more making3. Build on the platform
  • So….1. Embrace the blurgence2. Less talking, more making3. Build on the platform4. End-run the enterprise
  • A few words of wisdom (if I may)civiccommons.org | openplans.org | @nickgrossman
  • A few words of wisdom (if I may) 1. You have to really careciviccommons.org | openplans.org | @nickgrossman
  • A few words of wisdom (if I may) 1. You have to really care 2. Be →this far← ahead, then step on the gasciviccommons.org | openplans.org | @nickgrossman
  • A few words of wisdom (if I may) 1. You have to really care 2. Be →this far← ahead, then step on the gas 3. Networking is a long-term activityciviccommons.org | openplans.org | @nickgrossman
  • Thanks!(now get out of here and go make something) nickgrossman.info @nickgrossman civiccommons.org | openplans.org | @nickgrossman