Barry Greenfield and James Alfano looked out over the landscape of local government tech shops and they saw a lot of people who wanted to do better but didn’t know how.
They think the solution is getting these people together. So now they’re launching a website where local governments can find out what technology their peers are turning to and how they’re using it.
The effort is called Govlaunch, and it is itself a government-serving tech startup. The company raised a $1 million seed round from investors in January and has some big plans for the future.
For now, the website is full of listings of vendors, products and virtually every city, town and county government in the U.S. The idea is to get representatives of those companies and agencies to come on and claim their listing, then validate information about it. Governments will be asked to list what technology solutions they’re using, and will have the option to add a positive rating and a more detailed description of what they’re doing with those products.
It's free to use for both government and vendor customers. Monetization will came later, and might be tied in with more advanced procurement tools the company hopes to develop. For now, the company is focused on getting people to use the system through outreach.
“It’s definitely going to be a marathon,” Alfano said.
Both founders have background working in government — Alfano worked as a local government consultant in Washington, D.C., while Greenfield has served as a selectman in Massachusetts. While doing user research with local technology and procurement officials, they found that one of the main complaints they had about the purchasing process was an inundation of marketing from vendors.
“We quickly came to the realization that there’s a really inefficient system right now where many agencies are struggling," Greenfield said. "They want to commence the digital age but they can’t find the right solutions.”
On top of that, many of the people charged with buying new technology have a heavy load of daily tasks that come first. So they don’t exactly have time to reach out to go out and research various solutions to a problem they’re trying to solve, or to find solutions other similarly sized cities are using.
“They become reliant on vendors for solutions,” he said.
So one feature of the site is that vendors won’t be able to contact government users through the site unless a user reaches out to a vendor first. Further, government users will be able to see what tech solutions other governments are using, but vendors won’t be able to see that information.
The founders have placed a premium on establishing ways for users to navigate to the government users and tech solutions most relevant to them. For example, local government listings include a budget amount. Pages for technology products offer links to similar products, so government users can more easily figure out what their options are.
The hope is that over time, users will have submitted enough use cases that government officials can start searching for problems and how they were solved instead of just looking for products.
The duo wants to expand the functionality of the website in the coming year. One thing in particular they want to look into is making it easier for governments to find peers who are looking to purchase similar solutions in the near term.
That taps into the core concept of purchasing cooperatives, which look to drive down the costs of procurement by setting up a single contract and then allowing members of a cooperative to use that contract without each going through their own process. Those cooperative processes however, tend to rely on governments who are already members of the coalition.
As the site grows, Alfano said he wants to work with local governments globally and eventually expand beyond just technology purchasing. As cities around the planet continue to grow their populations, he said they will be in need of guidance for how to manage the increasing responsibility. And that guidance could come from cities that have already made that journey.
“There’s a big need for just a playbook on how to become a medium-sized city, and we’re looking to fill in that playbook,” he said.