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Techstars Anywhere Demo Day and a Preview of our Public Data Explorer Tool

Three months ago, we kicked off our time in the Techstars Anywhere accelerator program, as one of just twelve companies selected out of more than a thousand applicants. We’ve spent the ensuing months honing our vision for the company, figuring out the right go-to-market strategy, talking to a wide range of potential customers, and developing a series of mock-ups, prototypes, and early versions of our first product. Now, with Demo Day at hand, the time has finally come to share what we’ve been working on.

One of the most fundamental questions every company has to answer is, “what are we offering to customers?” And while it may seem simple, the answer isn't always obvious, and getting it right can make or break a company. In our case, I thought we had answered that question last year: we were building an analytics platform specifically designed for local government. It’s an under-served market, with huge potential benefits for both the customers and those who can meet their needs, and the problem is one that we’re uniquely qualified to solve. Going into the Techstars program, I knew we had a lot to work on, but product vision was at least one area where we were on solid ground.

That certainty, however, lasted about a day once we were in Techstars. In one of our first sessions, we were asked to write down some basic characteristics of our companies. One question asked about what we were building, and I felt good and excited to be able to answer easily. But the next asked what our customers were buying, and that made me freeze - until then, I hadn’t considered that those might not be the same thing. In that moment, I realized that while I was confident about what we were building, we still didn’t really know what exactly we would be selling.

At first, I thought it was just a matter of packaging - allocating features to pricing tiers, coming up with distinct customer profiles, that sort of thing. But after discussing it with program leaders and mentors (and a couple other startup founders who’d tried that before), it became clear that an analytics platform wasn’t actually the best product to sell. That’s what we’re building, but for most potential customers - particularly those who aren’t professional data nerds like myself - the lack of an analytics platform isn’t actually the problem they want solved. From the customer perspective, there are far more pressing real-world problems to solve than a lack of software.

And so we’ve shifted our focus a bit: rather than thinking about the platform as a standalone product, we’re going to be developing products that focus on more specific use cases. Our platform is what will allow us to quickly and efficiently build solutions to users’ problems, but the solutions themselves will be the end products. That insight enabled us to start thinking about which problems to tackle first. From an initial list of more than a hundred use cases, we narrowed down a shortlist of those we thought the most valuable, and identified what it would take to build each of those. And that’s what ultimately led us to decide on our first product offering: our Public Data Explorer tool.

The Public Data Explorer addresses a key challenge for thousands of communities. There’s a huge amount of data publicly available that’s relevant for policy-making and planning, but one thing I learned leading Boston's open data program: just because data is available doesn't mean it's accessible. And these datasets - from both public agencies like the Census Bureau and non-governmental organizations like OpenStreetMap - are often hard to find and analyze, especially for less technical users.

Our tool solves this problem by:

  • Curating a variety of highly-relevant datasets in a single collection
  • Adding simple-to-use interfaces to look up, graph, map, and export data
  • Providing context by allowing users to compare trends across communities and over time
  • Showing data at the geographic levels that users most care about (like neighborhoods, city council districts, or police precincts), even when those levels aren't in the original datasets

We're also planning to add views of these datasets that are organized around specific topics, like economic opportunity and housing. These will be designed to serve as the starting point for the kinds of reports that many planning agencies currently produce by hand (e.g., see here and here).

The Public Data Explorer tool is still under development, but to see a preview, tune in to the Techstars Anywhere Demo Day broadcast at 12pm EDT / 9am PDT on April 13th. We'll also be posting more about it here, and you can sign up for our mailing list (on our home page) to get notified about updates. And if you're part of an organization that would be interested in trying out the beta version of our tool, please reach out directly via email - Thanks!