Working with startups - A Statewide Magazine article
Daniel Franco, one of the Co-Founders of SpacetoCo, recently caught up with Statewide Magazine after a successful presentation at the Local Government Conference alongside Michael Quirk from the City of Vincent. The following article is from Statewide Magazine, Issues 171.
Innovation can transform local government processes and deliver benefits to the community.
How this can work was showcased at the recent LG Professionals WA Community Development Conference in a joint presentation by SpacetoCo’s Daniel Franco and City of Vincent’s Director of Community Engagement, Michael Quirk.
Daniel Franco spoke to Statewide after the event about what it was like for SpacetoCo to work with a local government.
“Our product is an online booking platform that allows people to book local government facilities,” Daniel says. “Our platform replaces the old manual and labour-intensive booking processes with a much more efficient system.
“We had developed the platform originally for the commercial sector. The City of Vincent was the first local government we worked with to transition bookings to the online platform. Our original system was very simple and there were things the City of Vincent needed us to add. We worked closely with the City over a few months to make sure the online process matched the local government requirements.
“At the same time, we have been bringing a different mindset to the City. We have the startup mindset that adapts and overcomes difficulties really fast. That can be a challenge for local government. City of Vincent has been able to adopt some of our thinking as they transition internal processes to work with our product. They see how quickly we are able to adapt because we are so new and nimble.
“When we first contacted the City of Vincent, we chatted about their facilities and low occupancy and outdated manual methods and talked through how our platform could build occupancy rates. They were happy to give it a go and we worked with Michael Quirk and the bookings team to deliver what they needed.
“We had to change the way we work with our data, for example building in some capacity to report on the use of the facilities. Previous commercial customers hadn’t needed that tool.
“We had to make it possible for people to make multiple bookings—in one go—and to choose multiple fee levels, as individuals or as an organisation.
“The City of Vincent had questions they wanted to ask in the online booking before the booking was accepted. For example, was it a booking for an 18th birthday party; would alcohol
be supplied? Previously, this information had been collected manually. You would fill out a form and deliver it to the City of Vincent and it would be a few days before you heard from them. Then they would contact you for extra information.
“We didn’t want the gathering of information to slow down the booking process. We wanted to simplify and streamline the process to avoid a lot of extras. We take commissions on bookings so we’re very aware that the more customer bumps we add, the lower the rate of successful bookings. We are mindful that there are better and more efficient ways of doing things.
“We added provision for a guest phone number at the City’s request. That wasn’t something in our original platform, which used email addresses only. Then we had to consider privacy laws around the phone number—when will it be viewed, how will it be used, and so on.
“It’s been an incredible journey and we have loved every step of the way with the City of Vincent. We have learned a lot and we have worked together to create a better tool. What we’ve created in partnership with the City is likely to suit most other local government booking systems.
“The feedback loop has been very positive. We take on board all their feedback. All the new features we built were a direct result of the feedback. In effect, they are codesigning with us. We have developed a shared understanding about the start-up journey. Our resources are finite and there are only so many things we can develop at a time.”
“THE SpacetoCo concept was originally based on the residential market,” Daniel says. “We thought perhaps people could rent out their backyards for weddings. There were some legal impediments to that idea and it transformed into bookings for commercial spaces.
“We quickly discovered that local government is one of the biggest owners and managers of spaces in our community, but the way the space is managed can be outdated.
“The ‘Co’ in our name stands for community, collaboration, cooperation, co-design, co-working. The heart of SpacetoCo is to connect people to spaces and to see spaces used. The three founders are teachers. Collectively, we have worked in business development management, with schools around the future of work and technology, and in residential property management.
“We are very grounded in why we are doing what we are doing. Sure, it’s a business but the purpose is to enable people to leverage their asset, to improve utilisation of things available in the community. We can stop building things we don’t need, use the things we already have more efficiently and get people better connected in their community.”
ONE OF the big things SpacetoCo has learned from the project with the City of Vincent is to “Give it a go. We started the conversation around listing a small number of facilities and in five months went from zero to 60 facilities listed,” Daniel reports.
“The City also made adjustments, such as to fees and charges, terms and conditions and processes. It was easy and straightforward to work with the City and decisions could be made quickly.
“This system definitely has the potential to generate significantly greater use of facilities. We see activity on the platform from the back end. We saw someone trying to book commercial space but instead booked a facility at the City of Vincent—because they could see it was available and the booking process was easy.
“We have data on how much time the online platform saves. We asked the City of Vincent how long it used to take them to process a booking. It was generally more than 20 minutes and I know that in some other local governments it can take a lot longer—up to an hour at a cost of $70 to $80 per booking. That means money lost on low-fee facilities.
“At the City of Vincent, we have reduced the booking processing time from 20 minutes down to just a few minutes. The online system was a good investment, achieving efficiencies in the management of space.
“The online platform creates co-marketing opportunities. Local governments don’t generally market their spaces very well and we can tackle marketing opportunities together. We have marketing materials they can put around the city to direct people to bookings on SpacetoCo, instead of calling or emailing to go through the old process. People can see a venue they like and just pick up their phone to book the space on the spot. You can book flights, Uber and accommodation that way and get receipts delivered to you—why not for local governments, too?”
This article first appeared in the Statewide Magazine, Issue 171 2018. https://www.lgprofessionalswa.org.au/Lgmawa/About_us/Statewide_Magazine.aspx