A mobile application founded in the Elm City for citizens to report public-works problems has now been used more than two million times around the world.
In 2008, New Haven native Ben Berkowitz wanted to remove a piece of unsightly graffiti near his home, but found the process of dealing with local government cumbersome and ineffective. A freelance web developer at the time, Berkowitz came up with SeeClickFix — an app through which citizens can electronically report their concerns about city infrastructure to their municipal governments. When someone sees a public-works issue, such as offensive graffiti, they can take a picture of it through the app and then the app will send that photo and problem report to local government officials so that they can fix the problem.
“[It was] a huge opportunity to break down barriers in the public space,” Berkowitz said.
The app is free for regular users, but governments have to pay in order to gain access to the citizens’ reports. The majority of local governments who seek this relationship with their citizens, mediated by SeeClickFix, are looking to increase governmental transparency and accountability, according to Berkowitz.
Based out of New Haven, the service has taken off across North America, and is most widely used in California, Florida, Georgia and the American Midwest. Of the two million reports so far, an estimated 80 percent have been fixed by local government, Berkowitz said.
The app, though not yet as popular in Connecticut, is starting partnerships with local governments around the state — including Hamden, Bridgeport and New Haven.
In the past few years, the company has also attracted several Yale graduates, including current Impact Managers Caroline Smith ’14 and Margaret Lee ’14. Both women said their love for New Haven, which developed out of their time at Yale, led them to join the company.
“In my story of how I came to love [New Haven] — that didn’t happen until after I graduated.” Lee said.
After graduation, Lee worked for the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, where she worked for many different types of startups. But she realized that she wanted to dedicate herself to one startup, especially one that serves the public.
“Ultimately, I wanted to get involved with a social enterprise whose triple bottom line was doing good and doing well,” Lee said.
In contrast, Smith’s path to SeeClickFix began during her time as an undergraduate. In 2012, she was subscribed to an email newsletter and saw a picture of Berkowitz on the front page. Interested in what he was doing, Smith sent him an email asking to talk about the app. That discussion encouraged Smith to become more involved in the Elm City’s public works. During the rest of her time at Yale, she helped shovel elderly residents’ snow-filled driveways before joining SeeClickFix full time postgraduation.
While most of the Yale student body has yet to use SeeClickFix, Lee is optimistic.
“I really do believe that people want to be engaged with others, and one of the richest ways to do that is to be engaged with your city,” Lee said.
The company, headquartered at 746 Chapel St., is also growing, forcing its workers to relocate to a larger, more open office space in the same building, Smith said.
Along with increasing office space, the company is diversifying its user base to include college students, Berkowitz said. Because universities maintain both inside and outdoor spaces, the company’s model should be particularly attractive to students, Berkowitz said. The company has piloted its app at Susquehanna University and found that within the first week of implementation, over 25 percent of the student body had downloaded the app — a “huge success,” Berkowitz said.
Though the company is no longer a startup after having operated for eight years, its leaders are still willing to take risks and invest company profits in growth, Berkowitz said.
SeeClickFix’s longevity has also been a result of its staff’s desire to provide more services than applications with only one use. They developed a new platform SeeClickFix Work to help workers keep track of their progress on fulfilling requests, in addition to the original request function.
“We never wanted to be government software,” he said. “We have been most successful as we go deeper into the stacks of government.”