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Pets.com But With Guns And a No-Knock Warrant

The government has a CIO, it turns out, and when he's not hassling us to change our passwords again or to stop BitTorrenting on company time, he's got a plan to re-invent government itself:

On Tuesday, VanRoekel said that he wants to overhaul the federal bureaucracy to become more agile in an age of services delivered via mobile apps, and where information is atomized so that it can be mashed up by anyone to provide deeper insights. He also wants to break down massive multi-year information technology projects into smaller, more modular projects in the hopes of saving the government from getting mired in multi-million dollar failures.


“Going forward, we need to embrace modular development, build on open standards, and run our projects in lean startup mode,” he said.

No one can argue that he doesn't grasp the lingo. However, a career Microsoftie is maybe not the best choice to run anything in "lean startup mode". As someone with a fair amount of startup experience, I offer him the following pieces of advice:

1. Never say "lean startup mode" (or "agile" or "mashed up")

Each of these buzzwords sends a clear signal that either you've been in a coma since 2006 or that your "startup experience" consists entirely of eavesdropping at a coffee shop where programmers hang out.

2. Also, "mobile apps" are very 2009

I'm not saying you couldn't hit the jackpot and sell several million copies of "Angry Birds D.C." or "Laws with Friends" or even "Doodle Congress". But the odds are against you.

3. Startups have to convince investors to give them money

This is part of what makes startups startups. It's tough to stay "lean" and "agile" (let alone "mashed up") if you can simply close a funding round at gunpoint each April 15^1^. If VanRoekel can somehow make it so that government has to make PowerPoint slides and beg us for money each time it needs some, that would be a huge win.

4. Startups have to at least pretend to have a revenue model

It doesn't have to be completely realistic. It can in fact be pretty ludicrous, like "we'll sell '\$50 of junk for only \$25' coupons and then only give the merchants half of the \$25."

But it does have to involve revenue. For instance, "we'll use the funds to subsidize our friends' failing businesses and also to bail out our other friends' failed businesses and then to send troops to Africa and then finally to imprison some recreational drug users" is not a revenue model. Could you maybe add some sort of group shopping component?

5. Startups need an "elevator pitch"

At some point you'll be in an elevator with someone, and he'll ask you what your startup does, and you'll have to explain it to him in terms of something he already knows (and recognizes as a success for venture capital).

For instance, a startup might be "Flickr but for dogs" or "Facebook but for cats" or "Pets.com but for group shopping deals."

Obviously, none of these describes the federal government. Coming up with these analogies is more of an art than a science, but you might consider "Enron but bigger" or "Swoopo but mandatory" or "Pets.com but with guns and a no-knock warrant".

6. Startups fire people

Part of being "lean" and "agile" and "mashed up" is that you can't afford to keep the wrong people *cough* Tim Geithner *cough* Janet Napolitano *cough* Eric Holder *cough* Steven Chu *cough* in their jobs when they suck at them. If the CIO is empowered to make this change, then good for him!

7. Startups have a "fun" culture

fun not fun ping-pong table metal detectors free popcorn the toothpick rule catered meals Supreme Court cafeteria geek shootout Waco shootout ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

8. Startups usually fail and go out of business

I'd be lying if I said this wasn't the most exciting part of the "government as startup" plan.

1. Can we dispense with the fiction that taxes are due on April 15? Multiple times I paid my taxes by April 15 and yet was still "penalized" because I didn't "estimate" and "prepay" them sooner.

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