SeeClickFix, which has used 21st-century technology to fix 2,666,448 problems (and still counting) in municipalities and other jurisdictions around the country, has just moved into a repurposed 19th-century building in downtown New Haven.
In this Q & A, CEO Ben Berkowitz talks about how the company he founded eight years ago has grown into a network of more than a million users and forged partnerships with 300 governments and other entities:
You started by getting potholes fixed. What are you helping to fix today?
Many different kinds of issues have been fixed on SeeClickFix. A lot are small — from the pothole on the way to work to an illegally dumped couch left outside a college dorm. But many, whether as individual issues or in aggregate, are more complex — creating broader, more systemic impact in a city.
These issues touch much of the most important elements of the fabric of the city — like public health and safety. Burlington, Vt., has been using SeeClickFix to empower citizens to report dropped syringes — dangerous needles scattered across the city being an unfortunate byproduct of the national heroin crisis. St. Petersburg, Fla., has been encouraging citizens to report standing water and abandoned tires – the breeding grounds for mosquitoes that spread Zika virus. And cycling activists in New Haven have been using SeeClickFix to advocate for safer streets after bike accidents.
What’s the biggest local-government partner you have among your 300? The smallest?
Houston is the largest city. Utah Department of Transportation represents the most people. Thorp, Wis., is the smallest at 1,635.
How many users do you have?
Over 1 million have contributed content and registered an email with SeeClickFix
You’ve had many unusual problems flagged by your users? What’s No. 1?
There is the baby possum emergency. “I.nurture”, a brand new SeeClickFix user, reported about a paseel (name for a group of possums!) of young joeys (name for baby possums!): “Mother possum died on front walk at 33–35 Pendleton. Newborns trying to nurse. Babies will not last long in heat.”
SeeClickFix users rallied together around the issue to discuss how to help the joeys. Many times, neighbors checked in to receive updates (the issue has been viewed over 250 times!). In addition, it became a moment of education about possums, animals that frequently are shown in a negative light. SeeClickFix user Brian Noonan pointed out that possums are excellent for the ecology because they eat mice and slugs.
Based on SeeClickFix’s eight years of operations, do you think there are better relations between citizens and the local governments?
Absolutely. We have endless anecdotes as well as some early aggregate data that suggest stronger civic trust in both directions. A recent paper by Brendan Watson at Michigan State University is a fascinating example of the correlation between socially pluralistic communities, local media and the success of SeeClickFix in those communities.
How many local sites use your service as an additional feature of what they offer on their sites?
The SeeClickFix widget is embedded on a little over 500 sites.
What’s behind the technology that allows you to handle so many requests, get them to the right people in hundreds of local governments, and then do all the follow-through needed to record a problem fixed?
The primary feature that enables sustainability with scalability is mobile applications and citizen interfaces that can be structured and restructured on the fly by local officials without IT support. When it comes to routing to the right official, geographic polygons and lat/long coordinates allow the system to work anywhere in the world.
We also leveraged a “ruby gem” early on that allows us to localize anywhere. Building an easy-to- use tool for officials to respond quickly to citizens one to many is key in driving our 85% fix rate. Design decisions around transparency and social have proven to be critical features to drive engagement.
How do you help local governments cut costs of their services?
We continue to lighten the load on government by reducing the number of calls while managing an increasingly smartphone engaged populous. Greater efficiencies are created today through reporting tools that help managers look at the data and processes in aggregate. With workers using SeeClickFix in the field, staffers are also documenting their work and their own requests more efficiently.
How do you generate revenue today?
We sell an annual recurring SaaS license for SeeClickFix Request and SeeClickFix Work to roughly 300 clients who are in large part local municipalities. SeeClickFix Request includes a customized smartphone application for local governments intended for the primary purpose of requesting services with the added benefit of additional mobile friendly civic content. Request is also the product that local government uses to manage all external request communication including phone calls. SeeClickFix Work is our newest product. Work is designed to support internal local government workflow, communication and soon scheduled maintenance.
What’s been your financing?
We have been venture backed since 2010 when OATV led our seed round along with angels and Omidyar Network. Elm Ventures, OATV, Omidyar, Launch Capital and CT Innovations participated in our second round in June of 2015.
Are you profitable?
We have teetered on the edge of profitability for years while favoring growth. We plan to officially cross the profitability line in the next 18 months while maintaining current growth rates. Hopefully I didn’t just jinx us, if that’s a thing.
Are you looking at taking SeeClickFix to any new level that would be a major expansion of your mission?
Over the past year SeeClickFix has moved from only addressing request management to addressing workflow and planned maintenance. This inter organizational functionality has expanded the possible end users, ‘the fixers’, of SeeClickFix to include homeowners associations, housing authorities, hospitals, private property and university facilities management amongst others. At the same time the request management product has adopted to the changing civic communications landscape by adding a call taker interface for officials to take requests over the phone from citizens. Last month we significantly overhauled our Android application and in March we will do the similar with iOS. The next year of product development will include features that strengthen the government experience while helping to build stronger ties between the citizen users.
Tom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) writes “The New News” column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of hyperlocal news network Local America, and is also working on a book about the history, present, and future of Charleston, S.C.