Startups, Products and Government

This is my first ever blog post and I have to say I’m fairly excited. The end goal of this blog is to support the start-up community. 90% of Startups fail as a general rule due to the broad spectrum of skills, connections, drive and luck needed to build a business. Anything I can do to support my peers in their journey is an opportunity I MUST capitalize on.

Let’s talk about Government. No, hold on! Not politics but Government. The government is not scary, nor is it (as the majority of my younger friends seem to think) out to get you. The Government is just doing the best it can with the incredible amount of information it generates daily from millions of connection points.

However, rather then rant about how government operates (take a political science class) I’d rather explain how I was able to maneuver myself through the system and create the relationships needed to make HotSpot a reality. This approach will work no matter your age but is focused towards startups that want to solve problems that require government support.

Product Development

SO, you’ve identified a problem! You think you have a solution (you don’t) and you’re ready to TELL the government how you’re going to change the world(you won’t). You’re going to fail. However, here’s how you can have a chance to “supply positive change” #parkingpuns.

  • Speak to the Experts: Start at the ground floor. You want to put sensors in bridges to prevent collapses? GREAT! However, if it’s that obvious then why hasn’t it been done? Go speak with the experts! The Government is full of individuals who have been serving the public for years. They are involved with every major association you’ve never even heard of. They have monthly seminars on emerging technologies and have a wealth of real practical experience! The most important part is they want to make the world a better place. To be in government and rise through the ranks you need a passion for your job, and supporting the people. Go speak with the experts. The best part? These experts have their contact INFO and TITLES all ONLINE! Google can point you to the person you need to speak to faster then you can say, “Razzel Dazzel”.

  • LISTEN TO THE EXPERTS: It's one thing to speak to experts it’s another thing to listen. Every single one of these individuals knows EXACTLY how they want their system to operate. That’s HUGE! They’re telling you what to build! I like to ask “If I could wave a wand what is the things you would like to have that you currently don’t?” They usually come up with 4-5 points. PRO-TIP: Don’t try to solve them all at once. Break it into phases. HotSpot has a 3 phase plan before we are anywhere near a finished product. (Check out Steve Blanks Udacity video “Lean Startup”. )

  • PARTNER WITH THE EXPERTS: You’ve met an expert in the government. They love that you’re trying to help them and solve a pain point. CONGRATS! You just met your first mentor and partner. In order to get anything done in a huge organization such as a government entity partnerships are inevitable. Get used to them and make them strategically. A department head on your team is worth far more than you could possible fundraise while doing product development. I went to the Parking Manager with 3 completely different ideas and 3 completely new set of constraints came out of each meeting until I found one that worked.

Product Approval

CONGRATS! You finally found a solution that an expert thinks may work. Now we can finally get started! The road to approval is long and full of barriers however, if you believe just enough and can convince others to believe in you, you’ll be fine. YOU WILL NEVER BUILD A HIGH POTENTIAL STARTUP BY YOURSELF. (Thought I’d throw that in there.)

  • STACK YOUR TEAM: An expert at the city believes in you. They said they’d give it a shot. Sirens should be going off. Everyone thinks it impossible to work with the city and that’s a barrier but YOU convinced someone to give it a shot! Time to turn that around to your advantage. You’ve done the impossible (not really) you conquered the mountain (not even close). Now it’s time to find individuals who can help you and use the leverage that the city will let it happen to prove to them you can execute, execute, execute. Find the people you need:
  • Software Companies
  • Law Firms
  • Strategic Marketers
  • MENTORS
  • ect.

SHOW them you’ve done something and are going to do more. Then use those connections when you meet with the Government to build your reputation. You're not a guy with a dream anymore you’re a company with strong relationships with strategic partners.

  • PLAY BY THE RULES: (YOU ARE NOT STEVE JOBS.) You cannot come to work without shoes. You cannot refuse to shower or maintain standard personal hygiene. You choose to be in the realm of public servants. You must follow the rules. They are well established and even better documented. There is a series of approvals you must go through and a series of meetings. Each one you must be sharply dressed and well mannered. Know the official greetings:

  • Mayor- Your Worship

  • Councilor- Council man/woman

  • Mom or Dad- Real names

As a rule I generally practice a ½ hour presentation 4 times before I give it to anyone EVEN if I’ve given it before. This is not B2C or B2B, you can’t use your products amazing abilities to get your way to the top. You need to BUILD REAL RELATIONSHIPS with REAL PEOPLE, if you ever want to be successful.

  • CREATE ANTICIPATION: The Government serves the people. How well it serves the people is a political discussion. THE GOVERNMENT SERVES THE PEOPLE is the strongest statement easily of this entire Blog post. The government will do the things the people want them to do….#democracy. In almost all approval meetings there is a press release. Know who’s going to be there and talk to them. Tell them funny puns they can use (I honestly just love puns) and create the hype. We have 200 users right now signed up and our launch isn’t till next week. PROTIP: Use Twitter and FB. The cities have a HUGE following of tech savvy individuals. Leverage their networks to merge with yours. Launching your Product
    ALRIGHT! You got me, I haven’t done this…yet. We are a few days away from launch so I can only speculate on what is going to happen however….

  • WE HAVE A PLAN: Yes! We do! We have a written understanding with the city that let’s them and us know expectations. We know our:

  • Timeline of operations and Daily Routine

  • Trouble Shooting Procedure

  • Support Line and Advanced Support

  • Information Packets & Driver Education

  • Financial Obligations and Cash Flow

  • Feedback Loops and Time to Change Features

We have this all planned out and honestly you should to! Be as transparent as possible. ALSO, Pro Tip FEEDBACK LOOPS are the most important. Establish them. Set times for feedback and get agreements. Do this and stick to it. Find the flaws before the flaws kick you out of Government.

  • DO THINGS THAT DON’T SCALE: Seriously stop thinking of scale. This is a huge flaw a lot of startups face. They think too far ahead. Do the things you HAVE to do NOW. Conquer your “Small World”. Get out there and talk to people about your product. Educate them. Be there with them and build those relationships. With HotSpot we’ll be on the street for at LEAST 2 WEEKS educating drivers. Showing them the system and supporting them. Stop thinking about scale. Make that one customer, that one believer, have the best god damn experience possible. The City is your Customer. Even if they don’t buy anything you’ve sold them on an idea.

  • METRICS AND GOALS: I have no idea how many people are going to sign up for HotSpot… but I know how many I want. 4000 is our number. This is the most important thing! FOCUS ON ONE KEY METRIC. Ours is user sign-up. Then we are going to focus on conversion, then retention. However, until I hit 4000 users. I’m not looking at Conversion. I’m not looking at Retention. Focus on ONE THING. Launch it. And make that one metric affect your entire Launch. For me if 4000 people sign up that is almost 7% of Fredericton and a great way for us to show the city they made an excellent decision with our product.

Finally the most important thing to remember is that Government is made up of people. If you go into a government trying to change everything and cause a huge disruption the system will crack down on you hard. If you go into government with vision and convince the people to believe in your vision you're going to have a huge team you don’t have to pay.

Phillip Curley