• CivStart

Three Things Governments Can Learn from Startups

Updated: Mar 12, 2020

By Catherine Geanuracos, CEO & Cofounder of CityGrows

Lots of times people - especially candidates and elected officials - talk about how government should run more like a business, or even a startup. We love this piece from Strongtowns about how a focus on revenue is important for any organization to be sustainable. As someone who’s worked in local government and as a business owner and now a startup founder, I think there’s some truth to that statement...but in some ways it’s completely wrong!

Local government exists to support things in a society that will never work as money-making business ventures. It’s never going to be profitable to run a fire department, staff a police force and the courts, or run a homeless shelter, yet those institutions allow us to live in communities that are safe, prosperous, and sustainable. Of course, governments should also generally balance their books - an unsustainable national debt (or lopsided state or local pension debt) can prove disastrous.

In the case of other startup concepts, it’s a question of scale. While it’s a terrible idea for a government to adopt a “failing fast” approach on a large project with public funds, it shouldn’t discourage teams from low-cost experimentation and taking risks in the name of innovation and better service.

So what are some of the principles from running a startup that transfer to government? Here are 3 practical, non-risky things startups do that we think should be part of every local government’s operational toolkit:

1. Focus on the people you’re serving