Every time SeeClickFix helps get a pothole fixed, it proves that democracy can work on Main Street as well as K Street, and a lot less expensively. Municipalities spend about $10 handling a 311 call about a pothole. SeeClickFix can cut that cost to close to zero by delivering to City Hall, via jaw-rattled citizens, GPS-pinpointed information about new potholes plus digital photos of the road damage. Municipal staff can then mobilize resources to fill each pothole rather than spending 15 minutes trying to calm an upset motorist or cyclist. What’s in store for SeeClickFix in 2013? We caught up with cofounder Ben Berkowitz over email recently to find out.
SeeClickFix will be entering its sixth year in March. Has time tempered your excitement about your mission and potential since your launch in 2008?
Not all. Should I be concerned? Does this make me a fanatic? In all seriousness, our users keep surprising us with use cases, the site continues to double content creation year over year, and the number of governments paying us to help them save money and increase engagement in their communities is tripling every year. The party is just getting started.
Do you consider SeeClickFix a hyperlocal news site?
I do. A pothole is literally breaking news to people within a block but not much further. And when you consider the fact that there are conversations about pedestrian and cycling safety, economic development, blight, school safety, conditions of parks, and quality of city response during storms, our users are covering a great deal of exactly what hyperlocal news is all about. Our hyperlocal news is hyper-effective as well. There’s a 66% chance that an issue reported on the site in the last year has already been fixed.
Would you update the numbers? How many cities and towns do you have relationships with? What’s your annual fix rate? How many issues have been resolved? How many news partners?
There are 135 client cities and tens of thousands receiving alerts. Sixty-six percent of issues reported in the last year were fixed. That trend continues upwards. We have around 1,000 news partners. We have really started to focus in on the government partnerships more than anything as that’s where we see the most growth and the company is really performing well in that sector.
Have you had any new rounds of funding?
Nope. We have had healthy revenues and have continued to be able to achieve the growth we wanted without additional funding. We do not have the doors closed to funders but are not actively looking.
You had three streams of revenue when we last talked in August 2011 – your news partners, non-remnant advertising and the “dashboard” you sold to municipalities. How have those revenue streams changed, and have you added any?
Remnant ads and licenses in lieu of remnant ads have continued linear growth while government revenues have increased exponentially.
In August 2011 it looked like you could conceivably generate eight-figure revenues, based on the market out there, which includes 20,000 municipalities and 300,000-plus community associations. Is that revenue number still conceivable?
Definitely. I believe it more today than I did then. We have a number of international clients already and have added a host of features for governments that we did not anticipate building early on. This month we launch a social question-and-answer platform and our mobile apps now let governments add additional information pages and other sources of open data to the application dynamically. We have also built out a full customer request management and work order platform for governments that is getting really positive feedback. Additionally we have added a reverse notification system that can be filtered using our sophisticated geofencing and inferred-areas-of-interest algorithms.
SeeClickFix got what struck me as a backhanded compliment from Damian Thornton of the Knight Foundation who, in promoting the digital citizenship movement, said last year, “Many apps now exist to allow citizens to report potholes to their city governments. This represents an easy win. … What’s the next frontier for digital tools?…We will only begin to realize technology’s potential when we use this kind of engagement to not just fix potholes, as useful as that is, but to bring people together to tackle the major social problems and issues of our times.” Your reaction?
I have always said that potholes are the gateway drug to civic engagement. We too believe that venting this type of frustration is just the beginning of engagement as long as there is a fixer listening to return the communication. We see users fixing problems themselves, contributing dollars and ideas to resolve issues and generally helping out neighbors in ways we did not expect. The Knight Foundation has funded SeeClickFix in Macon, Ga., and Bibb County. Check out this article to see all the benefit they are seeing on the municipal side.
Do you plan to launch any specific major innovation in 2013?
In 2013 we will launch our social question-and-answer knowledge base, we will have our first clients adding other open data feeds to their mobile apps, we will have users crowd funding repairs and will generally will continue to step up the user experience. Sales, marketing and engineering will all grow dramatically at SeeClickFix in 2013. Our biggest focus will be in harnessing the amazing community we have already built to bring in more folks and make neighborhoods even greater.
Tom Grubisich authors The New News column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of LocalAmerica, which is partnering with InstantAtlas to develop sites that will present how communities rate in livability. Local America is featured on the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Pivot Point site.