CityBase: Come for the Vision, Stay for the Craft

A message from outgoing Chief Product Officer Josh Goldstein

By Josh Goldstein, Chief Product Officer

This week marks the end of nearly three transformative and magical years at the helm of CityBase’s product team. The lessons I learned at CityBase are rich and varied, but the one I’ve been thinking about the most is this: come for the vision, stay for the craft.

Vision is the version of the future you want to create. In 2017, when the company was half the size it is today, CityBase took a risk by acquiring the Department of Better Technology (DOBT), the company I co-founded and was leading at the time.

The two companies had complimentary products, but what forged us together was a shared vision of the future. We both saw a fragmented government technology landscape. The cost of this fragmentation was passed on to residents and businesses, with marginalized communities sharing an inordinately large part of the burden.

We also saw a future where a single, unified experience for businesses and residents would not only save time and money, but would also lead to a more equitable experience. We imagined, for example, using utility payment data as an early warning system for financial distress, and then automatically enrolling residents in subsidy or payment programs before they experienced a serious financial event.

Craft, on the other hand, is what brings vision to life. Craft is execution and attention to detail at the highest level. It’s taking pleasure in understanding context, and working to get it right again, again, and if needed, again. It’s what Ed Catmull of Pixar calls “obsessive specificity.”

If you work at a company that values craft and craftspeople, it’s satisfying on so many levels. At a technology company serving people that work in the highly regulated, complex environment known as local government, craft is the precursor to trust.

One example that has been on my mind lately is our work supporting the San Francisco One-Stop Cannabis Portal, the state’s premier model for cannabis regulation technology. Reflecting on the launch at a recent conference panel, San Francisco Chief Digital Services Officer Carrie Bishop said CityBase was a true “whiteboard partner” — the kind that relishes working on hard technical and process changes.

In the early days, a maniacal attention to craft is what drove us to identify every single possible interaction between the City of Indianapolis and its residents, giving birth to the idea that these interactions could be codified and powered by a single underlying data structure.

Most dedication to craft, however, is quiet and incremental.

Craft is arriving at our weekly demos to hear that we’ve launched a tool that dramatically improves our alerts and monitoring for our devices in the field. Craft is resolving every single last support request in a way that makes customers happy. Craft is launching a total revamp of our website (stay tuned!) because of a desire to see good design in the world. Craft is having the courage to say no to good ideas, to enable more focus on great ideas. And this only scratches the surface.

The funny thing about craft is that it doesn’t always feel like linear progress. It can feel like the fog of war. It can unearth new problems and issues even as it solves old ones. Yet it pays handsome dividends and is also deeply satisfying on its own terms.

Looking back on these three years, it’s remarkable to see how much progress we’ve made toward our vision. This can be seen in the data — the significant and steady growth of users and interactions on the CityBase platform — and it can be seen in the enthusiasm of our champions in cities and counties across the country. Craft ensures that we are achieving this growth in a thoughtful, meaningful way.

As I move on to my next adventure, I’ll remain an advisor to CityBase, and I couldn’t be more excited for what we’re building and where we’re headed as a company.

Onwards!

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