Matt Tomasulo is not a politician.
He’s a designer, an urban planner, a landscape architect, a city dweller, a business owner and increasingly, a thought leader.
But his experience building a startup that unintentionally grabbed the attention of city leaders around the world thrust him into the municipal world.
It also made the opportunities and issues in his own city of Raleigh all the more evident, and incited a passion for taking entrepreneurial lessons he learned building CityFabric and Walk [Your City] into practice in government.
October 6, Tomasulo hopes Raleigh voters give him a shot at infusing startup into City Council. And he’s got a growing following of local startup leaders behind him.
Throwing his final fundraiser Thursday night at HQ Raleigh is a team that includes Justin Miller of WedPics, Matt Whitley of Happy & Hale, Jason Widen of HQ Raleigh, angel investor Bill Spruill, Trish and John Healy of Hyde Street Holdings, Niall Hanley of Hibernian Irish Pub and the Raleigh Beer Garden and startup lawyer Mital Patel.
It also aligned with grassroots community-building efforts happening in cities like Brooklyn, San Francisco, Chicago and others, and cities began to inquire about putting Walk [Your City] signs in their towns.
Taking startup lessons into office
A key lesson from WalkRaleigh and now Walk [Your City] is a “test before you invest” model. Specifically, Tomasulo believes in test, iterate and prove before you invest. In too many cases, cities spend $100,000 to study something for a year and it becomes irrelevant six months later. He believes in a short-term inexpensive test in order to make a more informed decision.
It’s “lean methodology to policy and place shaping,” he says.
A more recent example was The Wander Box, a pop up beer garden that happened last summer in front of the Contemporary Art Museum downtown. It was initially envisioned as a “Raleigh beach” to cool off on hot summer days. But he started with a scaled-back version, and it was a huge success. Still, regulatory hold ups prevented it from happening again this summer. Tomasulo hopes to find a way for the city “to operate in the gray area.”
One city he hopes to mirror is San Jose. The city fast-tracked Walk [Your City] with participation from economic development, transportation, engineers and lawyers to get authorization in a week and signs hung in a month. Tomasulo calls that “exhilarating”. In that month was the collaboration, troubleshooting and hacking that he so often experiences in the startup world. He hopes to bring that spirit to Raleigh city government.
Tomasulo also believes in taking best practices and ideas from other cities. He’s well traveled and connected due to his businesses, so he knows about Pittsburgh’s use of land trusts and experimental housing prototypes to test new models of affordable housing and the way cities are using software like Esri, CommunityViz and FLUX to help visualize the impact of development or collaborate with each other and/or citizens.
“I have this international network of knowledge—I get to go and meet the cities who are innovating at the national level and I see these opportunities I’d love to bring to Raleigh,” he says.
Finally, he views residents as his best advisors just like a startup would lean on customers to provide product feedback. A goal is to build better connections with Raleigh residents by appointing people within the city’s divisions to translate everything that is going on to the public.
It would be that “customer support rep’s” job to help the city and its residents “get to a yes,” Tomasulo says.