Like most first time founders, we were a bit naive to the rollercoaster of building a startup when we co-founded Esper in 2018. We set out to improve the creation and management of policy in government and this mission still drives us half a decade later. Today, Esper has over 1,000 active users across 38 agencies in 10 states. In 2022, over 500 regulations were reviewed and updated within Esper.
These regulations span topics from improving healthcare access in rural areas to eliminating licensing requirements for selling fruit door-to-door in Montana. We’ve learned so much in the last five years and wanted to share some of our most salient lessons:
Expanding the Esper product from regulation into broader “policy”
When we started Esper, we were focused on a hyper-specific type of policy: regulation. At the time regulatory reform initiatives were being introduced across the United States, and there was a strong appetite to modernize regulatory systems and reduce burden on businesses.
We launched our core regulatory product with early customers and the feedback was positive. So positive, in fact, that customers asked if they could use Esper to manage other types of policy: handbooks, directives, security protocols… you name it!
In 2022, we launched Esper’s Policy Builder & Library, which supports the creation, management and publication of all types of policy. The New York City Police Department (NYPD) now uses Esper’s Policy Library to serve as the system of record for all the Department’s policies.
By expanding our product vision from regulation to all types of policy, we’ve been able to work with new market segments such as law enforcement and introduce new upsell opportunities with existing customers.
Customers serving as intellectual thought partners for Esper
I recently had a 1:1 with an Esper Product Manager who joined a few months ago and asked him what novel observations he had about Esper. He said, “Usually governments shy away from words like disruption, but our customers truly want to modernize and level up their policymaking processes.”
I suppose I’d taken it for granted, but it’s true. Traditionally, legacy institutions like government tend to be slower to adopt new technology and more risk-averse. We’ve been fortunate to work with customers that are aligned with our product vision and serve as true thought partners through the building and iteration of Esper’s product.
Here’s one of my favorite quotes from the Lieutenant Governor of Montana Kristen Juras:
Lieutenant Governor, Montana
She is one example of many customers that are pioneering new ways of solving old problems with Esper.
Referenceability and local networks
It turns out governments are a little competitive. We’ve observed that winning a large, referenceable customer in a state government creates momentum that we can use to open up the territory for more opportunities.
We’ve noticed customer referenceability matters most on these two variables:
- Subject matter area
- Government agencies grouped by subject matter area, whether it’s Departments of Insurance or Departments of Labor, tend to follow each other in the news and share best practices. They attend conferences together and often rotate roles between different states
- Esper’s partnership with the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the largest DMV in the country, speaks volumes to other DMVs that are looking to the CA DMV for best practices
- Geographic proximity
- Agencies within a state or in a neighboring state often face similar challenges because of political climate or regional similarities. We’ve noticed that agencies in Washington track what agencies in Oregon and California are doing. We use agencies in geographical proximity to each other as case studies and references
Importance of configurability
We joke that “customization” is a dirty word at Esper. In fact, some of our engineers visibly pale when an unassuming team member suggests we customize a feature for a specific customer.
Esper solves government policymaking challenges, and it turns out no two governments have the exact same policymaking process. In the early days of Esper, a lot of our software was hardcoded for our first handful of customers in Kentucky, Arizona and Texas. We quickly learned it was totally unscalable to do this for any new customers and began to search for more cost- and time-efficient alternatives.
“Configuration” is the acceptable C word at Esper. We invested significant time into building out configurable tools that allow our Professional Services team to configure unique workflows, templates, roles and permissions for new customers. Now, we have low-to no-code deployments and opened up our engineering time to build new products and improve our existing customer experience.
These are all lessons we’re actively leveraging and building on today. We’re so grateful for the opportunity to make a positive impact on government policymaking, and can’t wait to share more learnings and success in the years to come!
– Maleka & Lilli