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CEO Andrew Therriault on Building the Analytics Platform for Local Government

There is no shortage of ways in which local governments can benefit from using their data but too often those benefits are not realized.

“I saw a lot of the potential benefits of data to improve city operations, but I also saw a lot of the technical challenges that we faced in actually implementing those solutions,” says Civin CEO Andrew Therriault who founded Civin to make smart city solutions that scale across communities, regardless of size.

Andrew joins the Forward Thinking Founders podcast to discuss his vision for the future of data analytics in local government and how Civin is actively working to achieve this vision. Listen to the podcast at the link above or read on for a full transcript.

MAT: All right, how's it going everyone? Welcome to another episode of Forward Thinking Founders where we talk to founders about their companies, their visions for the future and how the two collide. Today, I'm very excited to be talking to Andrew Therriault, who's the founder of Civin. Welcome to the show. How's it going?

ANDREW: Great. Thanks, man. Thanks for having me.

MAT: Excited to have you on. I'm looking forward to learning more about what you are working on. For people that haven't heard of your company. What is Civin? What are you working on?

ANDREW: Civin is a civic technology company building analytics tools for local government. Our mission is to try to remove the technical barriers that cities and counties face when using data so that they can serve their communities more efficiently and effectively.

MAT: Walk us through a little bit about how it works, maybe from a government perspective, if someone wants to use the product, what can they do with it? How does it work? What does it look like? I’d love to go a little more into the details.

ANDREW: Civin dates back to 2016 when I was appointed the city of Boston's first Chief Data Officer. When I was there, I lead a team that was working on all different aspects of city government, everything from filling potholes to optimizing ambulance response times. Back then I saw a lot of the potential benefits of data to improve city operations, but I also saw a lot of the technical challenges that we faced in actually implementing those solutions. The prevailing model for local governments working with data is to take off-the-shelf commercial or open-source tools, and then adapt them to fit their needs. In Boston, that was a real pain point. It took a lot of resources and time and people to do it, but we made it work. One of the things I realized when I was there, and especially afterwards, is that model is tough to make work in a city like Boston but it's kind of impossible to make work for someplace that doesn't have the resources or the staff that Boston does.

With Civin, the whole idea is to say, how do we take the most common use cases that communities face and build scalable solutions and make that accessible for communities of all sizes? To give some examples, the first product we've developed, our MVP as of May, which is in beta testing with hopes of a wider release this summer, is a tool to provide access to publicly available datasets for local governments in a way that's customized to fit their specific use cases and removes the technical barriers to analyzing it and understanding it. There are a lot of tools out there to access public data like the census, but they're not specifically made for local government or non-technical users. What we've done is put together tools that let you access a curated set of that data that's specific to the ways that local government will use it. We layer on tools for data visualization, mapping and overtime trend charts, and do that in a way that allows for presenting the data at the levels of aggregation that local governments care about. When you get census data, it is aggregated at the census tract or block or block group level, but that's not actually what cities care about. What they care about is things like neighborhoods and city council districts and police precincts. One of the things we do behind the scenes is reaggregate that data and push it up at the levels that will add value to cities.

MAT: That's awesome. I feel like that solves some core problems there. You went into a little bit of this but I’m curious to get a little deeper. You have domain experience here. You've been in the government, and you've worked in many roles in it. You could probably do a lot of things but instead, you're working on Civin. Tell me about the origin story and why you decided to focus on this of the various things you could do. I always love to hear why a founder does what they do.

ANDREW: I'm originally a political scientist. I did a PhD in math and graduated in 2011. And then I spent about five years working in professional politics. My last job before going to the city of Boston was head of data science at the Democratic National Committee in DC so I've always had that kind of civic orientation to my career. That said, After leaving City Hall, I went in a different direction and worked for Facebook for a while. I was managing an infrastructure data science team, working on things like network traffic optimization and data warehousing and developer tools. It was interesting, but ultimately, it wasn't fulfilling for me because I am very mission-driven. I felt like coming out of my time in government, there was a lot more work that still could be done. One of the things I wanted to do was to think about how we move the level of influence beyond just what Boston can accomplish, to think about how to provide those kinds of benefits to the sort of places that otherwise wouldn't have them. Part of the thing with Civin that was interesting was learned from my time in government. When I went into government, I thought we should do everything in-house, we should build our own tools. By the time I came out, I'd changed my view completely. At that point, I thought, anything we can outsource we should. The reason why was that going in, I kind of assumed that money was always the limiting factor, but actually, what I realized is it's people, particularly highly technical people. You know, I had a fairly large team as these things go, I had about 20 people under me. But even then, when I could hire highly skilled people, it's really hard to keep them around. Anybody who's managed in tech will understand why trying to hire experienced data scientists and engineers for $80,000 a year in a place like Boston is going to be a tough sell. And that’s the best-case scenario in Boston, most places can't even have that. So it doesn't make sense for cities to be doing this on their own. The reason we build software in the first place, why anyone builds software, is that there are problems that are common to a lot of potential users and so you build scalable tools. That's something that hasn't been done as well as it could in the city analytics space. So with Civin, we want to say, how do we take the models of solutions that were done for places like Boston or San Diego or other major cities and make that something that's more easily generalizable so that we can make it accessible to places that can't afford to spend millions of dollars on an analytics team?

MAT: I love it. If you were to look out into the future, what does the world look like with Civin as a large company 5, 10, or 15 years from now? What's your big vision here and what direction are you going in?

ANDREW: If you think about how the private sector does data, nobody has to convince them at this point why they should be managing and analyzing data and using it for their daily operations. At this point, companies that don't do that are going out of business, because other people are eating their lunch. It's weird in local government because you don't have that same pressure. It's not like some competitor to Boston is going to take over if the Boston that's there now doesn't do their job correctly. The way I think about it is, there's a real need for cities to innovate but ultimately, with resource constraints being what they are, tax dollars growing at a rate that's not quite keeping pace with the cost of things like housing, health insurance and all that, cities and other local governments are going to be constrained and even more so over time, which means they're going to need tools to figure out how to better manage their resources. For us at Civin, we want to be the people that cities and counties go to when they need help doing that, because by and large, cities and counties, other than the really large ones, are not going to be building these large in house teams as I had in Boston. They're going to need outside support, and we want to be the go-to folks. I've heard some people say, and this always hits me a little weird that, “Oh you want to be Palantir for local government. And, you know, there are reasons why that's a good model and reasons why it's not so good. But ultimately, we want to be the ones seen as the experts in this field and the ones who, when there are these problems that cities face, can come to us to help solve them because we've done it before. We understand their challenges, we know their capabilities, and we can provide them guidance. It's more than just software, we can provide solutions.

MAT: Yeah, I love it. It's a great vision but to make it happen, you'll need some help, right? It takes a village to make a startup work and scale. So my question for you is how can the Forward Thinking Founders community help. Are you raising money? Are you hiring and looking for users beta testers, or partners? How can we assist?

ANDREW: There are two things right now that we're focused on and we've been fortunate to have just finished the TechStars Anywhere accelerator program. TechStars helped us figure out our vision, helped us build an MVP, and has given us a good network within the tech community, but there are two things that we're interested in now. One is that we want to connect with innovative leaders in local government, especially in small to medium-sized cities and counties that might not be at the forefront of innovation but they want to be. We have a good really good network among larger communities but lack connections with the small and medium-sized ones. If folks know particularly innovative people in their local governments, I would love to connect with them. The second one, which is intrinsic to any early-stage startup, is the challenge of funding, especially in this environment. We're not currently fundraising but we are planning to do that sometime around September. We'd love to connect with like-minded investors who are not only interested in the financial aspect but also really appreciate the mission we're moving towards so that we can start building those relationships and be ready to raise when the time comes.

MAT: And then if anyone wanted to connect with you for any of those reasons or anything beyond that, how can they find you online? Do you have a website, a social media presence, or an email address? How can someone connect and learn more?

ANDREW: The easiest way to find out about the company is to go to our website, Or, you can also just shoot me an email directly, at We're still in the early enough stage that I'm answering all my emails personally so I’d love to hear from anybody who has some ideas.

MAT: Cool. Well, thank you so much for coming on to the podcast. I appreciate it.

ANDREW: Thanks, Mat for having me.