[Editors’ Note: In a first-person essay, Robert Mander, founder of Govlish and a seasoned entrepreneur, discusses his love for anything abbreviation and outlines how some of these investment acronyms can spell out big bucks for investors]
Investment abbreviations FTW. SMH at those who don’t understand what this means. BRB, let me check Google. BTW, this is how Gen Z and Millennials communicate.
Then there’s ZULU, FOIA, and SPAWARSYSCENCHASINST. ICYMI, these are government abbreviations. And, they’re among the more than 223,000 abbreviations and acronyms listed on Govlish.com.
The idea to develop Govlish into a website and a company grew out of my experience as a technical writer — government documents. Without a good grasp of their thousands of unique terms, you cannot understand the government. So I began making lists for myself as I encountered them. The lists include acronyms, initialisms, codes, cryptonyms, abbreviations, aka’s, dba’s, “backronyms,” namesakes, and nicknames.
By 2011, I had aggregated about 1,500 investment abbreviations, all placed in the context of their sources. My research revealed that nothing else like it existed inside or outside of government. Little did I know that this was just the tip of the iceberg. Database expert friends advised that I had something of great value, so that year, I began working on Govlish full-time. Through careful research and dedicating much of my time to expansion, the database grew from 1,500 abbreviations to 223,000 (and thus adding additional value to the product).
Government reaches out beyond its walls, and we follow the money to include government contractors, which account for more than half a trillion of your tax dollars every year.
We also provide pronunciations for a term said as a word rather than as individual letters. For example, pronounce F-O-I-A, for Freedom of Information Act of 1966, FOY-uh.
I discovered fairly early that I needed to tie our investment abbreviation startup to an existing, recognized movement, and that meant reaching out to the “big data” people. Hence our elevator speech— “Govlish is a data-driven solution to navigating our government.” Big data people are largely mathematicians and ultra-techies, and relating to them wasn’t easy for someone who flunked high school algebra.
But they “got it,” as do equity investors. They easily grasp our mission and its significance, something that others had difficulty even wrapping their heads around. For an entrepreneur who is a combination of linguist, huckster, and wonk, it’s a somewhat uneasy alliance. After introducing myself at one data-science networking event, the event leader asked me, “What’s a wonk?”
I explained, “A wonk is someone who can tell you whether to hyphenate anal and retentive.” It got a big laugh.
Explaining a unique startup to equity investors is equally challenging. For example, U.S. elected officials amount to approximately 500,000. Add their staff to that and the number doubles or triples. Most are at the local level, and our databases at this time encompasses the federal level. When you realize that on average 40% of a state’s revenue comes from or through the federal government, which the state, in turn, funnels down, these people have a vital, ongoing stake in understanding the taxonomies and folxonomies of the federal government, which sets the standards and regulates how the funds are spent.
All of which is to say that a truly innovative, disruptive startup requires a great deal of face-to-face communication with potential equity funders. The various online services, where startups can post a pitch, are simply not up to the task. Neither are the cattle calls such as Shark Tank, which are far below the level of reasonable return for the effort expended.
Equity investors do not encourage un-referred invitations to meet, and getting face time is difficult and time-consuming. This being the case, it’s vital that I make 2 important points:
As a startup entrepreneur, my job is to build a machine. The equity partner’s job is to provide the oil and gas to make it run. The machine must break new ground and serve an as-yet unmet need. The equity investment must be sufficient to allow the machine to reach its full potential over time.
An initial investment might be small (“Lean,” for an MVP, or Minimum Viable Product), but the investor must also realize that such an investment is truly “seed” money, and stopping there results in nothing more than a break-even scenario at best while minimizing losses, far short of our mutual goals. This is not a scenario that either an equity investor or a startup entrepreneur is seeking. Certainly, benchmarks can be mutually agreed to which, when met, trigger decisions to move forward, pivot as appropriate, and commit additional time, effort and funds. All of this implies an investment in time and intellectual and emotional energy as well as money—the stuff of a long-term partnership.
My investment abbreviation business development plan did not spring fully formed out of my head. I joined 1776, a renowned Washington, D.C., incubator, where I learned the ropes for how to seek equity funding. I “graduated” from 1776 when I realized that I have credible answers for every possible question an equity funder could throw at me.
[Editors’ Note: If you are interested in more about structuring your business, read Fundamentals of Corporate Structures and Their Effects on 4 Types of Equity Offerings]
As a startup, we’ve ensured our markets are defined, quantified, and qualified. We conducted needs analyses, completed branding (making Govlish a trademarked term), and drew up our website architecture and wireframes. We have tons of proof of concept from the media and relevant users and a successful introductory splash page. Our business models include low-, medium-, and high-value products to monetize the traffic drawn to our site. The next step is to go live and demonstrate traction.
[Editors’ Note: If you are interested in reading about the categories of startup growth, read 3 Categories of Startup Growth Potential]
Google Index tells us there are 14 million searches every month for government terms. Those terms include investment abbreviations. With this knowledge, we expect to capture much of this traffic. Further, if we take other action, like feeding our expansive data records (or terms, as mentioned above) into something like a Google warehouse and work-appropriate algorithms, this dwarfs that 14 million figure. By developing plans for scaling operations and content, both vertically and horizontally, you add to a company’s potential.
Nineteenth-century city planner Daniel Burnham said, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s [or women’s] blood…”
Big plans, on the other hand, do stir the blood, and when carefully thought out and seriously pursued, generate not only the greatest profits but also the greatest satisfaction — and even fun — not to mention making the world a better place.
[Editors’ Note: Be sure to check out our Glossary on Financial Poise for business, investment, and financial terms or our DailyDAC Glossary for bankruptcy terms. To learn more about this and related topics, you may want to attend the following on-demand webinars (which you can listen to at your leisure and each includes a comprehensive customer PowerPoint about the topic):
This is an updated version of an article originally published on November 5, 2015 and previously updated on August 6, 2019]
©2022. DailyDACTM, LLC d/b/a/ Financial PoiseTM. This article is subject to the disclaimers found here.
Bob Mander, the founder of www.Govlish.com, spent much of his career dealing with mind-bending government acronyms like OSDBU, LORACS, and SME. A technical writer of government documents for 15 years, he began in 2003 at the Law Library of Congress, and included assignments at more than 25 government agencies, primarily in the federal government, but…