What Silicon Valley simply does not understand

Silicon Valley VC: Wow you guys are getting a lot of revenue traction. Wait so why is ARGO a nonprofit?

Me: Public data is a public resource that should be managed in the public interest, much like how water is serviced by public utilities.

Silicon Valley VC: I don’t understand. Why again is ARGO a nonprofit?

Me: Public problems are different and that’s something you need to understand. It’s not about the shiny-ness of the data tool so much as the public service that’s delivered.

19th century water infrastructure was extremely ad hoc and isolated. Particularly in the West. Picture farmers working together to dig a ditch and then creating a “mutual association” to manage it.

That fragmentation is mirrored in today’s municipal data management with ad hoc databases and the new infrastructural trend towards integrated data facility / warehouse / infrastructure / center / platform / zillion other names people use.

More than just a platform, ARGO exists as a new kind of public institution to manage that infrastructure honestly and effectively so it serves the public good. The work we’ve done to deliver the first ever statewide assessment of Governor Brown’s new water efficiency targets is far more important than the tools.

It’s about providing objective facts to inform a key policy debate affecting the future of 39 million Californians and providing a coalition of talented water utility staff, academic researchers, data scientists and everyday Californians to ensure we deliver water reliability no matter what the future holds.

And Silicon Valley has a lot to learn from the visionary tradition of technocratic excellence in California water. Public ownership matters! Just look at the history of the Colorado River…