When Zac Bookman (GVPT ’02) and his business partners first started telling people they were going to launch a company aimed at making governments more transparent, they were met with more than a little skepticism.
“We got laughed at a fair amount and heard a whole lot of ‘Nos’ and ‘Good luck with that,’” Bookman said.
Still, Bookman and his three co-founders from Stanford University were convinced they were on to something. They had discovered that most governments in the U.S. were operating with antiquated systems to store various types of important data, preventing them from accessing and analyzing it efficiently to make impactful decisions.
In 2012, the foursome started OpenGov. Aimed at creating more effective and accountable government, OpenGov is a cloud-based system that offers solutions for government budgeting, operational performance measurement and citizen engagement. While most people might find combing through government data less than thrilling, Bookman talks about it with an infectious passion and enthusiasm.
“This is an out-of-the-way sleepy space we decided to ‘disrupt,’ to use a Silicon Valley phrase,” Bookman said. “But this is the kind of high-leverage stuff that touches people’s lives and we think we can have a tremendous impact on allocating money more efficiently and powering the essence of democracy.”
Six years later, OpenGov is now used by more than 1,900 government entities—including all levels of government in the entire state of Ohio. The four initial employees have turned into a growing workforce of 165 and the company has raised more than $80 million in venture capital.
Government is Everywhere
Bookman says OpenGov represents a culmination of his experiences and interests, born from a life-long familiarity with government that started while growing up in Cabin John, MD, with a father who worked for the National Academies of Science.
“Government is to DC what tech is to the Bay area,” Bookman said. “It’s everywhere.”
An entrepreneurial spirit was also present in Bookman from a young age. At only 8-years-old, he started a landscaping business with his brother, growing it to include more than 20 contracted customers. He sold the business before heading off to the University of Maryland.
Bookman’s decision to major in Government & Politics as an undergraduate at UMD seemed like an obvious choice. Going from a small private high school to a large public university, Bookman says he found the diversity of the student body on campus “inspiring.” He took advantage of every opportunity he could: studying abroad at Oxford University in England, as well as an exchange seminar in Argentina; interning in Congress; and serving as the student valedictory speaker for the campus-wide commencement ceremony in the spring of 2002.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree from UMD, Bookman went on to get a law degree from Yale Law School and a master’s in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School. He also received a Fulbright to study government corruption in Mexico.
Bookman had a brief legal career, serving as a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and later as a trial litigator, before going overseas to Afghanistan where he served as an advisor to General H.R. McMaster on the Anti-Corruption Taskforce. It was while living in a shipping container in Kabul, Afghanistan, during the aftermath of the global financial crisis that OpenGov started to actually take shape.
Always a Terp
Today, Bookman is bringing his passion for good government and public service to the Silicon Valley through OpenGov. However, he makes it a priority to remain connected to UMD.
“It’s hard to stay physically connected from San Francisco but I try to do the best I can,” Bookman said. “The university offered me a lot and I feel a debt of gratitude.”
Bookman hopes to encourage the GVPT Class of 2018 to also maintain strong ties with the university as they begin their careers. He says Terps like himself, with an eye for entrepreneurship, already have a leg up on the competition.
“The university has a proud and strong tradition of entrepreneurship and I think students can kind of put that in their pocket and run off with a touch more confidence than they might otherwise have had,” Bookman said.