If any app gets just 15 minutes of fame out of the box, isn’t marketing critical? It seems obvious to me that those who offer an app would rank marketing up there with programming — especially when the app’s produced by a low-budget, volunteer-run civic-tech group.
But among some civic tech groups, it’s programming first and last. That’s what one recently retired CTO and former engineering instructor at San Francisco State University has found.
Edy Ortiz Aragon has been shopping for an interesting volunteer role, and he’ll be a prize for any group that snags him. (I have obscured identities to protect the well intentioned.)
Who’s your customer?
At one project, he asked a group leader, “Who’s your customer?” Her answer: the city. Wrong. The real answer is the homeless.
“The first thing you do is follow the transaction,” he said. It’s essentially the same challenge as in banking. You ask what the transaction is for the homeless? That tells you know who you’re going to talk to.
To ensure your app’s adopted, you next go to work on getting buy-in from everyone at the table, from the homeless to the civil servants they encounter. “Everyone has to buy into it a little bit, and slowly they’re going to find it useful if it has enough bells and whistles. That’s when tech becomes important when people using it.”
The homeless app he’s looked at could become the SalesForce of homelessness, he said. Instead of hiring, payroll, and marketing, this app’s chain could be food, clothing, and shelter. The model can be reused in every city, very state, every country.
Attention to the customer, even among non-profit, do-good groups, sounds to me like a worthy vision. Inattention to the customer and overcharged attention to engineering is an error made over and over in the technology industry. When the mistake is committed in business, it thwarts growth. The consequences have far more meaning and consequences when the mistake occurs in civic tech, especially when serving a group like the homeless.