GovWorks and Early Web Entrepreneurship

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When Kaleil and Tom began their business, the dot-com boom had already catapulted e-entrepreneurs into previously uncharted territory. Services rendered available over the internet had been considered inconceivable by previous generations. E-entrepreneurs raced against each other to establish their claim on the newest market. Regardless of the specifics, every startup needs a plan in order to function as a viable business.

The opportunity for internet start-ups varies from field to field. At the time of its inception govWorks had no major competition. It was an undeveloped market with potential growth. There are both advantages and disadvantages to entering such a market. While able to establish a consumer base earlier than future competition, those who seek early market domination act as a Guinea pig for later competitors. When govWorks was close to launch and developed issues with the ask interface, govWorks employees took note of what went wrong. They had the option to take note of these shortcomings and apply that knowledge to future projects.

As far as opportunities go, the documentary does not clearly indicate how much data lead to the conclusion that govWorks was a viable business model. They chose to create a system then promote it in hopes there would be a market. They did not research which cities would cooperate with their site nor did they establish where they could anticipate the highest profits. Opportunities as a whole have been excellent for web developers since the dot com boom. The internet market space will always have room for innovation but it is up to the developers to find the right consumer niche. Kaleil and Tom were confident people wanted simpler ways to interact with their government and that fulfilling this desire would be profitable. Their biggest failure, in regards to opportunity, was assuming people would be interested in their service.

The govWorks team started small and grew to a size more fitting for its ambitious leaders. Prior to launch, the small close-knit team strategy proved to be advantageous. Strong camaraderie kept the team together through early problems, such as name selection. Later on in the website's life, Kaleil recognized his team's shortcomings and hired new employees to compliment the govWorks staff. Kaleil chose to build the team early on with friends, but as talent requirements shifted he found himself needing to replace existing team members with fresh talent. Hiring friends later complicated staff issues. Early in the team's life, one core member sold his shares, at a high cost, to the remaining members. Later Tom's employment would prove detrimental to the company. Employing close friends became troublesome in the long run but initially helped govWorks. The biggest success with govWorks team building was growing at a proper rate. At no point in the documentary did any govWorks developer claim he was over-worked nor did the documentary create the impression workers had an abundance of free time while the staff grew throughout govWorks lifespan.

GovWorks had shown difficulty lining up investors to back the big website. During the dot com boom, this was not too rare, either. Kaleil walked out of a meeting, where he sought financial backing, with new knowledge. The investor told him govWorks would need to operate out of Silicon Valley if any investors are expected to seriously consider the project. The process of finding financial backing was the most poorly managed step in the startup. Kaleil attended meetings in which he hoped to establish significant backing without legal council. After creating a bad impression, he left the meeting empty-handed. It is important to consider the significance of financial backing in such a business venture. Showing up to this meeting unprepared cast a negative light on Kaleil and indicated to the investors that perhaps govWorks would not be the safest use of their money. Finding the money for such an ambitious project would be difficult but Kaleil over complicated the process. All things considered, Kaleil managed to gather enough investment money to launch and maintain his service.

The organizational structure was another aspect of govWorks which grew complicated through the relationships inside govWorks. The govWorks hierarchy had been clearly laid out. Kaleil filled the chief executive officer position while Tom fills a more managerial role. It was only when these roles were challenged that the organizational structure suffered. Because of Tom's childhood relationship with Kaleil, he felt he could act as CEO as well. In one situation, Tom's challenge to Kaleil's reflected poorly upon govWorks. This relationship's dynamics would eventually drive a wedge in the company and reflect poorly upon itself. Aside from the power struggle at the top, the documentary gave the impression all other parts of the organizational structure worked as intended. The only other occurrence of turbulence amongst the staff came from Tom failing to lead his team sufficiently and Kaleil attempted to rectify the issue by bringing in outside more experienced talent. However, by the time Kaleil made his staffing change, govWorks was already in an irreversible decline.

While the success of govWork's marketing efforts can not be measured with the resources available, the ideas behind their strategy were well-grounded. GovWorks appeared in a number of well-received magazines and publications. Kaleil made high profile appearances on the news and talk shows. Beyond that, Kaleil was able to not only meet with President Clinton, but he was able to pass him a business card over live television. While that may not have been marketing in the most literal sense, his exchange with the president most certainly was perhaps one of the best exposures an entrepreneur could hope to have. Anyone watching the program with the president would be more likely to take advantage of everything govWorks had to offer than those who ignore government broadcasts. There is no indication as to the extent of govWorks marketing campaign, but the little which was revealed seemed to be advantageous to the service. One marketing shortcoming was the branding. Early in the documentary, the new team discussed the advantages and disadvantages of various names. Some of the team felt concerned with the govWorks branding and the perceived association with government. The govWorks branding created the impression Kaleil and the team worked more closely with the government than they actually did. To those who were reluctant to involve government more in daily life, the meeting with the president may have only worsened the company.

Without a business plan and smoothly operating functions a business would be doomed to fail. Even with a plan and ideal operations a startup still has a strong possibility of failure. Knowing this, Kaleil lead his team as well as he could but at times this was not enough. The business plan itself became a controversial topic in investor meetings. Kaleil and Tom each described different functions to an investor and created the impression they were not focused. In actuality, govWorks was very focused and demonstrated ambition. Ambition became their response to competition. At one point the govWorks staff examined a competitor's service and determined their own suite would have to become more full-featured and superior but the basics remained the same. Instead of focusing on goals set early govWorks chose to react to others' actions. GovWorks always aimed to insert itself between the government and constituent as a means to simplify the interaction between the two. The biggest challenge to operations came once more from the friendship between Kaleil and Tom. Fallout from their disagreements would leave the company stagnant until an agreement could be reached.

Through their childhood, the two businessmen, around which the documentary focuses, dreamt of how they would make their millions. After Tom called Kaleil and told him parking tickets would fund their future Kaleil quit Goldman Sachs. Together they brainstormed and developed govWorks. The smartest move Kaleil and Tom made was stepping into the world of e-entrepreneurship. Regardless of how long govWorks lasted, they have the valuable experience of launching and maintaining a profitable site in the midst of the dot com explosion. They will be season veterans of the internet market place should they choose to launch another service. From the documentary, it would appear that most difficulties in Kaleil's experience came from the complicated hierarchy. During this era, web investors were presented with a plethora of investment opportunities. Securing financial backing could have been a much more streamlined process, but any setbacks in this phase would hardly be insurmountable. Tom and Kaleil should have either agreed to work as co-CEOs or layout their management relationship in a manner free of ambiguity. When Tom was forced to leave govWorks it created the impression something was significantly wrong with the company. Months later the company had all but fallen apart. GovWorks itself was suffering before their falling out, but replacing a core team member, as involved as Tom, would be viewed as an act of desperation regardless of the reasoning. Additional research would have benefited govWorks greatly. They could have developed an advertising campaign in areas with high rates of city fines and internet connectivity. Office and cell phone technology used at this time suggests the internet was not as common as it would be 5 years from recording time. Perhaps now, in a world with more internet access, govWorks would have survived longer.

Reference

Hegedus, C. (Director). (2001). Start-up.com [Documentary]. United States: Artificial Eye.