THE BLOG
05/03/2013 06:39 pm ET Updated Jul 03, 2013

Navigating Procurement, Startup Style

Back in 2009, we built a simple tool to help us work with our government clients to manage their social media messaging. We called it Measured Voice. It saved us and our clients a ton of time. We thought other people might like it, so we opened it up for others to use. They loved it.

We got to know our users and learned a lot from them. It became clear that social media was quickly becoming an essential tool for governments to communicate with the public. It also became clear that Measured Voice was particularly well-suited to help governments do this.

The cost of working with governments is high. Procurement laws can make sales difficult. Legal limitations can keep governments from accepting common software terms of service.

Startup founders often learn about the special needs of government and give up. They don't think they can afford the time they'll need to deal with them.

To keep up with the needs of citizens, governments need to be able to keep up with technology and move at the speed of the internet. There are two ways to make this happen.

One way is to reform procurement laws and other policy issues that prevent government adaption of new technologies. A great example of this is the RFP-EZ project, created by a team of Presidential Innovation Fellows last year.

The other way is to encourage startups to work with governments.

So, when Code for America announced its accelerator program last year, we jumped at the opportunity. We wanted more people to use Measured Voice, and the Code for America Accelerator seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to make this happen. It was.

We didn't know what to expect when we started. We knew we had a great software product, but none of us had built a software business before.

Over our four months with the Accelerator, we learned how the pros do user testing, market research, product design, and sales. In short, we learned how to build a world class software business.

The Code for America Summit gave us the opportunity to launch a beta of a new version of Measured Voice in front of hundreds of government officials from around the world. And demo day put us and our product in front of hundreds of investors.

There's really no better way to say it: Code for America accelerated us. When we started, we had built a rough prototype of a new version of our product. By the end of the Accelerator, we were in a public beta with hundreds of beta testers from around the world.

Today, we have paying customers from city governments, state governments, federal agencies, universities, and media companies. It's very satisfying to know that we've built a tool that people love to use, but it's exhilarating to prove that a startup can work with governments.

We're still in regular contact with the other companies we worked with in the Accelerator. We gladly share information and advice with one another as we navigate procurement laws, and draft specialized government contracts.

As Code for America Accelerates more companies, this kind of sharing will increase and best practices on how startups can work with governments will emerge. Ultimately, this will result in more startups, more jobs, and governments with greater access to technology that can help them better serve citizens -- and cut down on the preposterous sum governments are currently spending on IT.

We certainly haven't followed the typical Bay Area startup model, but that's quite alright with us. We're solving problems that we care about and working with institutions that directly impact people's lives. It's what gets us out of bed in the morning.

If you've got an idea for a business that can help build the government of the future, apply to the 2013 Code for America Accelerator, right now. America needs new civic startups.

Measured Voice is a social media management tool designed with government in mind. Sign up for a free 30-day trial at http://measuredvoice.com/signup.

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