Do small businesses need their own social network? A new online community, launching today, is betting they do.
Called Brazzlebox, the new environment is designed specifically for the needs of Mom and Pop stores and other businesses that often have to plan carefully just to buy a new office chair.
“[Some of] these small businesses are just a few bad months away from bankruptcy,” CEO and founder Glen Zinszer told VentureBeat.
When he was a small business owner, he said, “another small business owner down the street [might say,] ‘If there’s anything you need, just let me know.” But, he added, not all businesses can get out and introduce themselves to everyone nearby, which is the need Brazzlebox hopes to fill.
The new community is not intended to be another Angie’s List or Yelp, where customers or other business owners can leave reviews. Businesses can post pictures and info about their products and services, and they can endorse each other, but there’s a no solicitation policy, and there are no reviews.
Members can contact other businesses within half a mile, or other businesses anywhere that are in the same industry. They can create groups based on their location or their industry, post in a community bulletin board, exchange private IMs, or offer discount coupons.
Businesses can relay hyper-local news, like whether a bad check was recently received in a neighborhood. Or there might be a query to neighbors about a recommendation for a good insurance agent.
Why would competing businesses want to be in the same community as their rivals?
“Mostly for exchange of information,” Zinszer told us.
As for Brazzlebox’s competitors, Zinszer noted that he always cites Facebook and LinkedIn, even though they’re not focused on small businesses. Amex Open has a blog directed at small companies. “But our website was built specifically for small businesses,” he noted.
Started in February of 2012, the Syracuse-based company has raised $1.3 million from about three dozen angel investors — 95 percent, Zinszer said, from central New York. A beta test was held in April of last year for businesses in selected New York counties. He said there “was hardly any marketing,” yet the site acquired 3,000 users in a month.
“We didn’t expect that engagement rate,” he told us. The feedback was used to revise the site for today’s launch.
Now, more than 32,000 users have pre-registered to join the community before it launches. Eventually, consumers will be allowed to join, but they won’t be allowed to comment.
Brazzlebox is free to join and free to use. Revenue sources include premium memberships, general as well as small business advertising, referral fees, and fees from discount coupons or for uploading a business card.
Some large businesses, like UPS Stores and payroll services vendor ADP, are coming aboard as partners — and all are reportedly offering discounts to participating businesses and placing ads in the site.
“So many large businesses want to get in front of this [small business] market,” he told us. Because of this, he said, the network is already “revenue-positive” against operating costs before today’s launch.
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