How Polimorphic Helps Cities Manage Their Workload
JT chats with CEO and Cofounder Parth Shah
John, here. Welcome to this special edition of UrbanTech. For today’s newsletter I chatted with Parth Shah. Parth is building Polimorphic and is a member of UT’s free Slack community.
Polimorphic is building the constituent relationship management software for local government. They help municipalities digitize all parts of the constituent to city interaction: including digitizing processes/applications, seamlessly collecting digital payments, and recording constituent interactions.
With the great resignation, cities are often trying to do more with less — Polimorphic’s software is a force multiplier for overworked staff. With modernization across other industries, constituents are expecting user-friendly, efficient, digital experiences — Polimorphic’s software helps cities surpass these expectations.
I loved chatting with Parth to hear how his company is helping cities with their constituent workload. Many of the lessons he shares can be applied to any civic tech or govtech start up.
Now, onto my conversation with Parth.
JT: What Led you to found Polimorphic?
PS: When I was studying computer science at MIT, I got pulled into two interesting phenomena. The first was working with the Massachusetts state government on improving ways they serve constituents. The second was being part of Boston’s smart cities movement. I joined the founding team of a location data analytics company that used data for urban planning. While our solution made a ton of sense to a city like Boston (the city of Boston had its own software engineers who wanted to work with APIs, etc.), most cities looked at us like we were crazy. Data analytics was pretty far down their concern chart, especially given the way their constituent services were managed.
Local governments provide vital services like maintaining roads and supplying utilities. Despite how critical they are, they don't have modern tools to do their job. We found them using Outlook as a makeshift CRM, relying on manila folders as a process management system, and preferring mailed checks for payments because legacy digital payments systems were more frustrating than time-saving. I quickly realized we have a massive opportunity to make interacting with the government more transparent, more accessible, and more efficient in cities, counties, and states across the country.
JT: How much have you raised? Who are some of your investors so far?
PS: We have raised $3.8M to date. We are fortunate to be backed by innovative firms including Shine Capital, Looking Glass Capital, Pear Ventures, Anorak Ventures, Caffeinated Capital, and Tribe Capital. We also have an incredible group of angel investors including Fortune 500 executives, former municipal executives, and govtech founders!
JT: Who are your customers? What kind of organizations?
PS: Polimorphic is working with municipalities, city departments, and counties around the country serving 1,000 to 100,000 constituents. For example, we like to talk about our first customer: St. Albans, Vermont. St. Albans Town has ~7,000 residents, is home to a Ben and Jerry’s factory, and also is the site of the furthest north Civil War battle. The vast majority of Americans live in municipalities that are more like St. Albans than New York City.
JT: Many of UrbanTech's readers exist in the public-private space. Can you share some info on what it's like working in that space these days?
PS: I think that we are approaching a renaissance for public-private partnerships. Constituents are expecting more from government than ever before. Local governments will inevitably need to partner with private entities to deliver services more effectively. As I learned in my earlier experiences, only the largest cities have the resources to build in-house technology.
It’s a pain to maintain software and there are more pressing needs that city staffers are better equipped to work on. Software companies like Polimorphic can help fill that gap. Workload for cities is growing faster than personnel. Governments need modern software systems to meet their constituents’ needs.
JT: How can cities become better constituent support/service organizations?
PS: The first step to getting better at something is prioritizing it. If cities want to get better at constituent services, they need to make it a core focus. I often compare government to healthcare. Both are extremely high-impact on people's lives but also full of bureaucracy and under-appreciated complexity. It’s important for cities to realize that a lot of their day-to-day issues are just symptoms of a deeper problem: poor constituent management systems. While it’s easy to get caught up on those symptoms, sometimes taking a step back can reveal that the underlying cause is a lack of capacity to focus on constituent service.
JT: What should I have asked you that I didn't? What do you want to leave UT readers with?
We often get asked why we do this work, especially since we are a pretty young team for gov tech. I think that how we interact with government is one of the most significant aspects of our lives, and I feel incredibly fortunate that I get to make that experience better for people. By building better tools for local governments to work more efficiently, we have an opportunity to change the relationship between people and government. That’s what inspires us to do this work.
A big thanks to Parth for taking the time to chat with me about Polimorphic! If you’re interested in chatting with me, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re interested in connecting with Parth and other like-minded folks including professionals at Uber and Bird, please consider joining UT’s free Slack group.
Talk to you on Thursday,