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Revelstone shares lesson learned from the civic startup trenches


By GovFresh · April 19, 2013

After a few years in the civic startup trenches, Revelstone has learned a thing or two about building a new business targeting government’s analytical needs.

We asked Chief Operating Officer Mark Nelson to share some of its experiences trying to crack the public sector market.

How has Revelstone evolved since you first started?

We’ve seen tremendous success in the marketplace, with more than 25 municipalities in New Jersey using the software, as well as cities and towns in Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. These municipalities are starting to collaborate with their peers in order to share best practices.

We’ve also held a few events to facilitate this sharing even further – we’ve held two Annual Customer & Best Practice Sharing Days, and recently held our first Service Area Group Meeting, a meeting of fire chiefs discussing what measures they track in their municipalities, and why and how they might collaborate.

As you know, we were one of seven startups in Code for America’s 2012 Accelerator program. We learned a lot through the program – for example, we’ve incorporated feedback from our customers into our newest versions of our software, Revelstone™ Compass.

Lastly, we’ve been providing the market with information on trends. We conducted a survey on service cuts and have just launched one on shared services.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had in communicating your value to government?

Our challenge has not been in communicating the value of performance measurement, the challenge is the pace at which governments adopt change. There’s wide awareness of and interest in moving to a data driven approach, but organizations just move slowly.

One of the things we’ve done to help this is we’ve developed accelerators to speed up the time from when our customers begin using the software to when they are really understanding what the data is telling them. We offer performance measurement fundamentals and training, peer networking and project management best practices.

What's your advice to other civic startups focused specifically on serving government?

Civic startups need to find ways to break down the old school thinking that exists in many municipalities. There’s a lot of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking. As a result, it can be difficult to get people to want to take new approaches to running a municipality.

I’d also recommend civic startups find ways to create momentum within their target government organizations. We’ve found when city managers hold weekly meetings where they discuss the results that are being measured, it results in meaningful discussions and helps to “convert” those who are resistant to change.

It’s an exciting time to be a civic startup – even one that’s not citizen-facing. More and more governments of all sizes are realizing that new technologies can make a huge difference in how they manage their towns and cities. Better management means happier citizens.