In technology startups, the greatest risk is not the question of if the team can build a great product.
It’s distribution risk – how will people find out about the service, sign-up, and come back. According to the book Traction by DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg, the number one reason startups fail is due to lack of distribution.
To solve distribution risk, there’s no easy button, but that’s why consumer and software startups have historically had marketing teams and more often these days, a growth team.
Government is slightly different than consumer internet in that some of its services are mandatory so they will get distribution no matter what (i.e. filing your taxes, applying for your passport).
But there’s a ton of services that aren’t mandatory and have huge distribution risks. For example, how do you get other agencies to use a shared service? How do you get citizens to realize they need to file a pet license form? How do you get low-income residents to find out about a benefit they qualify for but don’t realize it?
And even if you get people aware of the government services, energy must be spent to get folks to complete the transaction as well as remind them to come back.
I applaud the growth of digital services teams to help build modern digital solutions to core government problems. However, let’s not forget about getting distribution in the mix.
A simple equation put together in the book Traction is “spend 50% of your time building the product and 50% of time on traction (distribution)”.
Government should do the same.