ClearGov, a leading provider of transparency, budgeting and forecasting solutions, in November 2018, added two new hires to its executive leadership team. Sarah Webber, VP of Client Success, and Vartan Hagopian, VP of Sales, join the team as part of ClearGov’s mission to attract and hire top-notch talent and thus accelerate growth.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled to have both Sarah and Vartan on our executive team at ClearGov,” said Bryan Burdick, President and Co-Founder of ClearGov. “ClearGov has seen rapid growth over the last two years and is poised to accelerate this trajectory in 2019. Sarah brings a proven track record and expertise in scaling a client success team, and I am confident she will ensure every ClearGov customer has a tremendous experience working with us. Vartan has successfully led software sales teams of all shapes and sizes, and he knows how to drive rapid growth.”
These appointments coincide with the 150% increase (as compared to 2017) in ClearGov’s employee base and the acquisition of a spot amongst the top 25 for the Comparably Award for Best Companies for Perks & Benefits.
Transparency in Government Spending
It started off with Bullock trying to figure out how to vote on a tax increase that would fund a new school in his hometown. He had tons of questions, chief amongst them being, “How are property tax dollars being put to use?”. As reported in Government Technology, he went digging through Hopkinton’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) to see if requisite data could be collected. But soon he realized that making sense of the multitude of charts, financials and municipal jargon was near impossible, especially since it didn’t have any comparative context. For instance, it would be easier to know if the town was spending too less or too much on education if it could be compared to what other (similar) jurisdictions have been spending.
This frustrating exercise led Bullock, to leverage on his 15-years of experience in the B2B software industry to birth ClearGov. A self-funded (mostly) and simplified platform, ClearGov helps the average citizen make sense of city budgets with interactive infographics and benchmarking. The model was based on the startup’s intent to collate, analyse and package open data, offered by state entities.
Apart from showcasing where the taxpayer’s monies are going, ClearGov’s sophisticated algorithms also compare the spends of other municipalities, water districts and territorial jurisdictions. In this manner, it gives town officials a means of measuring the outcomes of their policies.
The platform also encourages residents to seeks answers to their queries from government officials, by posting on the website. This, in turn, improves the local government’s accountability and approachability.
ClearGov has constructed infographic-style statistical portals, for 20,000+ local governments in 20 states, and encourages respective local municipalities to “claim” their city or town page.
Advent of the Freemium Model
Knight Foundation saw merit in such an offering and hence granted ClearGov $35,000 from its Innovative Prototype Fund in November 2015. Shortly afterwards, in December 2015, ClearGov launched its “Premier” platform.
While the access to open data is free, ClearGov hopes that government entities will ask to upgrade to the premium version to enjoy more features. Once subscribed to ClearGov’s ‘Premier’ option, these authorities can fill in any data gaps or errors with up to date information. These government bodies can also add commentary to the spends data to help better tell their “financial story.” Easton, Mass is an example of a premier municipality that has efficiently used this platform. Such a subscription to ClearGov is priced at $3,300, with an annual price of $5,500 thereafter (prices as of April 2018). Over and above this, one-time setup fee of $1,200 could also be levied.
Initially, though a few jurisdictions were unsure about working with an ‘open data’ startup such as ClearGov, Bullock was not demotivated. “We simply move on to other jurisdictions. In the beginning stages of any market, your company must identify the early adopters.” he said to Governing, “There are 89,000 municipalities in the U.S., so there is a rich pool of prospective clients to find the early adopters. Leery jurisdictions will eventually catch on and become your best customers.”
Then in March 2017, a press release announced that ClearGov closed a $1.2M seed round, led by Massachusetts-based Kepha Partners.
“ClearGov’s team has a proven entrepreneurial track record and the company’s traction with local governments in Massachusetts speaks for itself,” said Eric Hjerpe, a partner at Kepha Partners. “The company’s solution is incredibly topical as governments are increasingly battling misinformation, making the need to improve transparency and build public trust ever-more important.”
Assisting School Districts with Data
Gaining new confidence since the last funding round, in April 2017, ClearGov began serving 400+ K-12 school districts in Massachusetts. These geographies are offered a new line of dashboards featuring metrics such as student count, funding and expenditures details, SAT scores, and graduation rates. It put data in context so stakeholders in a school district can understand what’s going on in their schools.
These districts too will have the option of “claiming” their portals and paying a premium for control of content, and generation of statistics, charts and graphs.
“Data analysis and benchmarking have become a critical yet arduous component of our budgeting and planning process,” Andrew Keough, superintendent of Easton Public Schools, said in a press release. “ClearGov for Schools delivers time-saving analyses and powerful insights for our administration.”
According to the Center for Digital Education 2016-17 Digital School Districts Survey, 56% of districts used some kind of dashboard, 23% were intending to set up a dashboard. And just 19% didn’t use dashboards at all, while 2% did not even know about their functionality.
Most of the respondents (three-quarters) were using the dashboard to aid in tracking student performance or other student information, apart from IT services and financial and budgeting operations. This was a lucrative space to capture, and that’s exactly what ClearGov did.
Apart from the stats, ClearGov saw a genuine need for such a solution while conversing with a municipal customer, the town of Framingham, Mass. The municipal government wished to push for more funds for education, even though it spent more on education than similar cities in the state. But the ask was justified as Framingham School serves more English language learners and special-ed students. This was causing staffing costs to stay high.
“The data was really able to help them craft a story, not only to the town and residents, but has really empowered them with data they can bring to the state level to advocate for additional funding,” Bullock told Government Technology.
Owning the Nationwide Market
Then in May 2017, ClearGov took its service nationwide bringing up the count to 36,000 municipal data portals across all 50 states. “We have built transparency profiles for every city, town, village, borough, etc., in the country,” Bullock said. “The breadth and scope of the ClearGov Insights national database open up new opportunities for research and sharing of best practices across governments.”
In October 2017 it also launched a nationwide data tool for comparing state and local governments’ financials against each other. “Our goal has always been to transform complex data into actionable intelligence,” said Bullock in a press release. “It is our hope that our new state and local government rankings and analyses provide yet another opportunity for research and sharing of best practices across governments.”
Following a 400+% YoY growth in 2017, ClearGov hit jackpot in June 2018 by raising $2.25M in its second round of seed funding. The startup intends to use the new capital influx to scale its team and continue helping local governments be more efficient and effective.
AI in Government Budget Forecasting
To stay relevant and expand its portfolio, in October 2018, it launched ClearGov Budgets, an online portal for creating and sharing budgets for small governments and school districts. This means that ClearGov is taking other brands such as OpenGov, Questica (now part of GTY Holdings) and Neubrain head-on with its new offering.
It also uses AI (Long Short-Term Memory recurrent neural network) to better forecast revenue and expenses from small datasets.
“The more advanced regression analysis we’re doing through neural networks allows us to overcome that lack of data. It uses some pretty sophisticated artificial intelligence to make more accurate forecasts,” he said. “We’re dealing with small to mid-sized governments that just don’t have the staff or the resources to do [those analyses otherwise].”
The financial transparency platform headquartered in Massachusetts has spent 2018 doubling its customer base across 20 states and growing its partnership network.
ClearGov Vs Competition
Other freemium ‘open data’ portals such as Socrata ( $192 to $1880 per dataset), Junar ($7,200 to $20,666 p.a), OpenGov ($1,800 to $25k p.a) and OpenDataSoft ($12k to $200k p.a) enable municipal financial transparency. All these rates differ widely, based on variables such as the platform feature add-ons on offer and city size. But ClearGov is the only platform to offer municipal benchmarking on its public-facing website. Secondly, the startup is quite unique in its usage of infographics to help communicate the government’s ‘financial story’.
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