That’s how SeamlessDocs Co-founder and CEO Jonathon Ende envisions the interactions between citizens and government. It’s also the ambition of venture capitalists, who this month invested $7 million into the startup to beautify government’s ungainly piles of documents and PDFs with its digital forms.
The infusion of capital arrived through a round of Series B funding. Motorola Solutions led the round and was followed by such government venture firms as 1776, based in Washington D.C.; the Govtech Fund, based in San Francisco; and the New York State Innovation Fund, based in New York City. The resources will add new technical talent and create a sales team to generate government customers at the city and state levels — the startup’s first customer base — to now federal agencies with the leadership of Dan Tangherlini, the former administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration.
Ende said demand for quicker and more affordable citizen services stimulated the investment that has grown to $14.7 million since the startup was founded in 2011. SeamlessDocs is closing new customers at a rate of one per day with an average sales cycle of 46 days. This potent rise is expected to continue, effectively doubling customers year over year.
"I think we've been able to show investors that we're not just a great gov tech company, but that we're a great company," Ende said.
He credited any of SeamlessDocs' success to a one-dimensional focus on government. Time and again, Ende said he is approached with the question ( perhaps a more nudging suggestion than question) of why the startup isn’t serving more lucrative markets in the private sector, industries like health care or the insurance marketplace. Ende said his answer is always the same: It’s to hold to the company’s core mission of improving government and, as the aphorism goes, to do one thing well as opposed to many things with mediocrity. The vision has held in spite of naysayers who have dismissed the government market as outdated and unworkable.
"That's been one of the major forces that’s driven our success, being naive enough to think that we can do it," Ende said. "We've had people leave Google, and leave Twitter, to come on and actually take a pay cut because they're excited about the mission we're working on."
The single-minded aim has pushed SeamlessDocs to evolve with each new department and agency it adds. A city like Los Angeles or New York will request a specific form or feature. SeamlessDocs creates it. Then other cities — small or large — have access to new tools and templates. Ende said this has prompted certain cities to standardize forms and create a set of best practices to deal with everything from permits, to employment documents, to public record requests.
"As we add to the platform," Ende said, "the entire ecosystem benefits."
He asserts the interest of VCs in the viability of govtech companies stems from the fact the startups are entering an already established marketplace in government IT, something the Oracles, IBMs and Microsofts have served for decades. The paradigm shift now is that with the advancement of cloud technology, it’s become possible for startups to offer competitive — or better — solutions than their corporate counterparts at scale.
"It's just about opening the market to competition so now startups can compete,” Bouganim said in 2014, when he first organized the fund.
The VC and incubator 1776 is another believer in the trend. The group has invested in startups with smart city and urban tech solutions since the beginning of the entrepreneurial movement. David Zipper, 1776’s managing director, said the reason the group invested in SeamlessDocs was for its elegant solution to a highly vexing problem.
"We have a sense of what sort of solutions will resonate in government," Zipper said, "and I think what particularly attracted us to SeamlessDocs is that it's hard to build a scalable app focused on local governments because the price points are relatively low and it’s a fairly fragmented space."
The value in SeamlessDocs is most felt in the cost savings that come from time saved. Processing paper forms is a chore that’s both cumbersome and time consuming. With SeamlessDocs' core suite of tools, Zipper said citizens get an easy experience while governments can automate the collection of form data at the same time. The platform's specific tools include a drag-and-drop form builder, wizard-building, a document signage tool, and a dashboard for record management and analysis. When these features spread throughout federal agencies, Zipper said results are likely to speak for themselves.
"There's a whole new world that opens up when you’re able to work with a much, much larger agency at the state or federal level," Zipper said. “The value proposition, it's so clear, it's monetary and experiential.”
Asked for his five-year plan, Ende underscored the startup’s mission, its emphasis toward elegant design, friendly interaction and functional realities.
"We want to be the new standard in government no matter where you live,” End said. “When you interact with your government — whether it be local, state or federal — we want that to be a beautiful experience."
Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.