Early Adopter: Pothole-Reporting App SeeClickFix Raises $1.5 Million to Help You Be a Squeakier Wheel

It started with some simple graffiti that Ben Berkowitz wanted to get removed from a wall near his office in New Haven, Conn. 

“And not the nice kind of graffiti,” he added. 

Instead of knocking on the door of City Hall to get the unsightly spray paint dealt with, Berkowitz and his fellow co-founders developed SeeClickFix.

The Web and mobile app, from the company of the same name, has been aiming to help users document and report civic annoyances since its alpha launch in 2008.

Now SeeClickFix has just completed a $1.5 million Series A round of funding led by Bryce Roberts at O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures. EBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s Omidyar Network also invested.  

The round closed very shortly after a major upgrade of its Apple iPhone app and formalization of partnerships with San Francisco’s 311 issue reporting system, as well as Washington, D.C.’s similar service.

So issues submitted in those cities via the SeeCickFix apps will actually create a work order in the cities’ official system, rather than just being directed to the appropriate agency’s email “tip line.”

Berkowitz said the infusion of cash will allow the addition of a sales and business development staff, as well as the hiring of two developers to focus on its apps and Web presence.

The concept behind SeeClickFix is simple, if not entirely original. In fact, Berkowitz admitted, it began as an outright copy of FixMyStreet, a pothole-reporting Web app from the U.K. 

“We looked at the FixMyStreet code when building SeeClickFix, and quickly realized that it was built specifically not to scale outside of the U.K.,” Berkowitz said. “We had to rebuild the concept from scratch so it would be useful here in the U.S. and so it could scale.”

SeeClickFix took the pothole concept and added the ability to report graffiti, speeding school buses, broken infrastructure and just about any kind of civic breakdown one might imagine. 

People have even used it to request beautification, other than blight removal, such as asking for a tree in their neighborhood. 

Berkowitz claimed the resolution rate for issues filed with SeeClickFix is approximately 45 percent nationally, although he wouldn’t elaborate on given municipalities. 

He did say that he hoped the new formal partnerships would close the loop and allow SeeClickFix to more accurately list the issues that had been fixed through municipal reporting, rather than waiting for citizens to document the fixes. 

I asked about the somewhat unusual funding situation SeeClickFix is now in, having a venture investor best known for supporting micro-finance and political engagement campaigns in the developing world. 

But to Berkowitz, it seemed like a pretty natural partnership. 

“Citizens are our users. That’s who we serve,” he said. “Governments just benefit from it.” 

Berkowitz actually had quite a bit to say about the larger motivations behind SeeClickFix, and you can watch the video interview below to hear it all from him:

(Early Adopter is a new column on early-stage start-ups and ideas that will be written weekly by Drake Martinet.)