Building a Business on Open Government Data

hordThis is a guest post featuring an impressive data-oriented startup in the DC Area. GovTribe is a small, DC-area startup with a big goal: we want to impact the world of federal government contracting through smart, accessible technology. While perhaps not the sexiest of industries to focus on, government contracting is a roughly $500 billion market. Supported by woefully antiquated (and bafflingly expensive) technology, it also relies heavily on open government data. To us, this creates an environment primed for disruption. Given current trends in data-driven decision-making and technology consumerization, how could such a market remain unchallenged by scrappy startups like us?

The founders of GovTribe spent nearly a decade in the business of federal government contract services. Working for a big four management consulting firm, we toiled away in the daily pursuit and execution of government contracts. Our experiences, both bad and good, helped to inform our first product: hord.  In short, the hord iPhone app provides an easy, affordable, and portable method for quickly understanding what is happening in the world of government contracting. We move beyond the walled gardens of protected email distribution lists and expensive websites. With contract data from 130 federal agencies, hōrd enables users to subscribe to real time government contract activity feeds. And we make all of this natively available on a mobile device for the first time.

In order to deliver this service, we mine and process a significant amount of open government data from multiple sources. Through a combination of proprietary code, helpful third-party services, and incalculable hours in an Arlington, VA basement we parsed and added value to free, publicly available government data. And response from the industry is good.

GovTribe recently attended a Meetup hosted by Data Innovation DC that focused on creating value from government data. It was great to hear from other entrepreneurs also proceeding into the open data market. They're taking the leap that value can be delivered on top of free government data, and that viable business models can be developed around that concept. As the collective open government data set continues to grow, this trend will and must continue. In light of this, we thought we'd share a few lessons that informed our product vision and market approach.

  • The Data is Secondary to the Problem Being Solved. A lot of government data has been made public. Now what? How can it be incorporated into current decision-making or processes? What new activities can be enabled or feats accomplished that were not possible before? Simple access to the data, even with the slickest of interfaces, will be of little use to the majority of consumers. Action-oriented services supported by open government data is where the real value lies. What problems do you want to address?
  • Customers Don’t Care That You Mine Open Government Data. Save the “built on open government data” pitch for the VCs. Customers only care about how your product makes their lives easier and more efficient. Early on, the open government data angle was a significant aspect of our branding. We were proud of our accomplishments in the challenging world of semi-structured and unstructured data and thought our customers would care. They didn't, so much.
  • You Don’t Have to Be a Data Scientist Or Programmer to Do This. Perhaps you have an interesting idea that could be brought to life by remixing open government data but don't consider yourself to be a developer or a data wonk. Some might see this as a reason to shelve that idea and go back to watching season two of Game of Thrones (again).  Fear not. The amount of freely available online resources, technologies, and machine-readable (trust us, this matters) data sources grows exponentially by the day. Sure, the learning curve may seem a bit steep, but with a bit of work and persistence anyone can get into the game. And frankly, there's plenty of room on the field.

GovTribe has big plans and it includes going deeper into the data. We will soon be looking for folks who are interested in data science, software development, and the promise of open government data.  If you are interested in what we do and want to learn more, drop us a line over your favorite social media platform or send us an email at We believe there is a bright future ahead for the data community writ large and are doing our best to be a part of it.


GovTribe is an Arlington, Virginia-based firm that specializes in turning open government data into products real people can use. Incorporated in 2012 by three former Big Four government consulting alums, the GovTribe team strives to improve the enterprise IT experience through business applications built and priced for the end user.