Source: Forbes Magazine
Are potholes jeopardizing your coffee (and your hubcaps) during the morning commute? How about graffiti, tarnishing storefronts in your neighborhood? Or do you wonder who in the bowels of City Hall to contact to get an overflowing public trash can emptied? PublicStuff is your solution, for all of the above and more.
Lily Liu, 29, CEO and co-founder of PublicStuff, created a company that helps residents report any number of major and minor annoyances to their local government quickly and easily. The request gets routed to the right person, who is then held accountable for seeing that it’s fixed. The resident-user also gets an e-mail or text confirming the request was received, along with status updates.
The goal, according to Liu, is “to enable people to better communicate to government, and for government to better respond to people.” After spending 10 years working in various municipal jobs in Long Beach, California,Washington D.C. and Mayor Bloomberg ’s office in New York City, she saw an opportunity. “I started really understanding how difficult it was for a city that wanted something that I believe every city should have: the ability to provide great customer service. But it was so difficult and so expensive. There wasn’t anything out-of-the-box, ready-to-go that allowed cities to better communicate with their residents.”
So Liu set out to create that out-of-the-box solution. She and fellow Carnegie Mellon alumnus, Vincent Polidoro, PublicStuff co-founder and CTO, teamed up in 2009 to develop the technology in their spare time. “I knew the market. I knew every single vendor. I knew the price points and the various options out there. Vincent understood the technology, what was easy to scale and how to do it. We started getting traction and interest in some towns and cities to test it. So we mocked up what it would look like, and of course, this was all in our free time. But at a certain point, I decided, ‘You know what? In order for this to really take flight, I need to make a commitment to it and start doing this full time.’ So I left my day job in 2010.”
Today, the PublicStuff platform is being used in over 200 cities around the country. According to Liu, “The service is all done remotely, via mobile phones, through the Web, and it’s all managed by city staff using the back-end software solution.”
Philadelphia and Plano (Texas) were early adopters, and the company recently added Tallahassee, North Miami Beach, Asheville (N.C.), Newport Beach (Calif.), Aurora (Colo.) and two hubs of Silicon Valley, Palo Alto and Redwood City. “When we contract with a city, they’ll actually sign up for the back-end software solution that will automatically route to the right person in the city. They use our software not only to receive the information, but also to manage the workflow around closing it out. That’s also the system that they’ll use it customize their mobile app experience, web experience, widgets and so on. Each city has its own interface and it’s fully customizable, once the city has signed on to take ownership.”
PublicStuff’s impact is not just in those cities that have signed up for the software. “Our system works in any city, even Omaha, Nebraska. You can report anything, ask a question and our staff here will make sure that it gets sent to the right staff person in that city.” When I asked Liu how they work with a city that’s not a client, she said, “We have a database that will collect processes. For example, if we receive a request from Omaha, we’ll create a process around certain issues. And so the first time is a little more time intensive for our staff. The second time, it’s much faster. And every time thereafter, there’s a process that’s already been mapped out in our database on how to communicate with that city.”
Liu, who is featured on the Forbes list of 30 under 30 Social Entrepreneurs, has built the company to 20 employees, 60 percent of which are male. While most female-created firms tend to have 60 percent women, PublicStuff is technology-focused, a market where men tend to be more prevalent.
Liu’s plans for the future are to grow the company by getting into more cities and getting more users into the system. So if you see a problem in your city that you’d like to report, you can tweet it (#GetStuffFixed), photograph and email it (via any of the major Mobile apps), call it in (+1 888-491-3119) or submit it via the website (http://www.publicstuff.com/request/submit).
The sky is the limit for this rising entrepreneur. My bet is that once Liu achieves her goals with PublicStuff, we’ll see her pop up somewhere else with another clever venture.