Simply put, the Code for America (CfA) Accelerator changed our company’s future. We had been on track for increasing sales and product development, and had already raised some angel funding, but from the first day, CfA’s staff and mentors brought us to new heights of understanding what we were doing. They not only made us feel part of an extended network of hypercompetent and successful people, but also gave us the tools to articulate our vision, and the techniques to realize our product in ways we hadn’t even considered.
In 2013, when I got the email that our company, StreetCred Software, was in the final group being considered for the Code for America Accelerator, getting in it became urgent. Until then, it was a "back of my mind" kind of thing. Then, I found myself constantly trying to manage my own expectations.
StreetCred is a software as a service that helps law enforcement agencies find fugitives, get them out of the community, and bring the officers home safely. It aggregates information from a wide range of law enforcement and open sources. Our software is open source and is based around CentOS, Ruby, Chef, PostgreSQL, and other common and awesome open source packages.
We normalize and correlate data from backlogged and disparate paperwork, running it through a series of algorithms that are proprietary and unique to StreetCred. StreetCred then securely displays, on the mobile data terminal or on approved mobile devices, a score which indicates the likelihood that officers will locate the fugitive at the address in StreetCred’s system and crucial safety information. We’re not looking for "good" warrants. Rather, through a series of discrete steps, StreetCred seeks to disqualify from consideration by officers those fugitives StreetCred believes are less likely to be located or able to comply. This leads to more compliance, fewer arrests, and more efficiency.
"Getting accepted," I told myself, "will be wonderful, but not getting accepted won’t hurt us at all."
Yeah, I didn’t believe that, either.
And over the next couple of weeks, I thought regularly about Code for America, what the organization does, and the Accelerator program itself. We did an interview about the company, which left me feeling distinctly as if I had flubbed it, and that we wouldn’t get accepted—or, that we would because I had nailed it.
I couldn’t help but notice that my business partner, Dave Henderson, and our VP of Sales, Cody Durham, were also jittery and distracted.
"You hear anything yet?," they would ask.
"Nope, and we probably won’t for a while," I said soberly, thinking, "I wonder if we will hear today."
When the email finally came that told us we had been accepted, I jumped on the phone with David. David’s WHOOP! was emblematic of all of our feelings. "Don’t," I said, "tell Cody until the end of our upcoming conference call, but we got accepted to Code for America!" We thoroughly enjoyed keeping Cody in suspense for the next 20 minutes.
Coming in as cops from Texas, we learned that the amount of mutual respect present at each and every encounter was tremendously satisfying. Additionally, we learned that people who had never thought about police issues could understand so much about what we are selling and how we can improve it.
For example, when we met with Cyd, the in-house user experience guru, I was trepidatious. "Listen, Cyd," I said, "This is really specialized stuff here, and I’m afraid that if you don’t understand what we’re trying to do—if you don’t know what the job is—that you won’t be able to understand the UI." (user interface)
"Okay," said Cyd, "Here’s the deal: I don’t care what you do, if I can’t figure out exactly how to use your application in five minutes then your UI sucks."
Turned out she was right. And, it also turned out that in her five minute test drive Cyd was able to glean enough about how we do what we do that she could give us the most specific, actionable, and spot on comments we’d had on our user interface in the two years we were developing it. Her changes sparked a UI enhancement and reconsideration that inspires everything we have done since.
We learned stuff about "bringing the data forward," and product market fit, and sales funnels, and earcons, and financial planning and sales tactics, and sales strategy and, and, and...
CfA and its Fellows and interns and staff and mentors learned just how much cops want to help, not hurt, and that the popo can, in fact, be civil libertarians.
Most of all, the Accelerator program gave us powerful tools we needed to reach the next level of our business. Nothing—not even the fact that they made us do yoga—can take away from how generously these people gave of their knowledge and expertise and hearts. And no one can tell me that Code for America’s Accelerator didn’t change the course of our business and set us firmly on the road to success.
Should you apply to the Accelerator program? Only if you want to create a business of social impact and get it poised to succeed.
Talk about standing on the shoulders of giants.
Originally posted on the Code for America blog. Reposted using Creative Commons.