Facebook is nice and all, but with one billion users, it’s hard to feel like there’s any more than a pool of statuses and food photos. Sure, it’s great for keeping in touch with old friends, but what about people who live right next door? When Sabrira Arefin and Ashfaq Rahman created LocalBlox, that’s exactly what they had in mind.
The Bellevue-based startup was founded in 2010 and is focused on creating a hyper-local experience on the web. Using content aggregation, the app collects location-specific content to bring users information that’s specific to their very own neighborhood.
LocalBlox is kind of like a digital, pocket-sized travel guide. Synching with your location, it shows your neighborhood and gives immediate information about what restaurants, grocery stores, retail stores and events are going on in the area.
Currently working in 112,000 neighborhoods across the country, LocalBlox has racked in 30 million user profiles and a huge following in the social media sphere. They’ve got seven employees and a whole lot of room to grow.
And they’ve got quite the team behind them: YellowPages.com founder Dane Madsen and MSNBC.com’s Merill Brown sit on the advisory board, and co-founder Arefin comes from a business analysis background of the Fortune 500 variety.
The startup is only two years old, but with a hot trend recently toward all things local, LocalBlox definitely has a lot of the ingredients for takeoff. Here’s more from Arefin in the latest Startup Spotlight.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it (in a Tweet-sized statement): “LocalBlox is a one-stop resource for people to find out what’s going on in their neighborhood. We aspire to be ‘the Kayak’ for neighborhoods and neighborhood businesses.”
Inspiration hit us when: “… I fell in love with Seattle on a beautiful summer day, overlooking the Cascade Mountains and lake. I decided to move here with a job at Expedia and a dream to travel the world. While I was travelling and commuting to Duke, NC for my MBA program, I found out some of our plants were killed. I learned from those in the area that wanted to preserve their million dollar views that such vandalism wasn’t uncommon. I wanted to connect and discuss the situation with my neighbors but couldn’t find a Facebook page for it, so I started a neighborhood site. My idea was that there needed to be an easier way … to connect and stay in touch with neighbors. That webpage was the eventual impetus for the launch of LocalBlox.
As LocalBlox started evolving, we figured out that people care a lot about their neighborhoods. That’s where we started building engines to aggregative content from around the web and map them into the neighborhood context. Our goal is to connect neighbors and neighborhood businesses.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap (And Why): “Local is inherently tough and big failures in the space made it very sour for investors. After what happened with Judy’s Book, the shutdown of Everyblock, and Patch not being so profitable, another local neighborhood site seemed “not fundable” according to some VCs. We have really focused on building our product and features to be user-friendly, creating a sustainable revenue model, and focusing on a couple of large potential clients. We realized that we really needed to stay focused and not get distracted or diverted into multiple directions by the different opportunities. It would be deadly for our little startup. That’s why we decided to bootstrap to build our technology and data assets. We will begin talking to investors soon.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “We really don’t have a secret sauce. Execution is really the key. We are very passionate about building neighborhoods and connecting neighbors and local businesses. We keep building based on what our users want and to make their engagement a meaningful and wonderful experience. I guess our secret sauce is love, as many people have helped build our communities online out of love for their own communities. We have proprietary data acquisition and validation engine and algorithm to make the content relevant, accurate and meaningful for users.
We have a large aggregation of local businesses and local events with extremely rich data-points, we have generated the boundaries of the top neighborhoods in United States. We have unique features like hyperlocal news and neighborhood crime watch built on top of our aggregation engine. We have created some disruptive self-serve offerings for local businesses to gain a targeted reach and build their profiles. We are leveraging these assets to build a sustainable business model.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Our smartest move was to keep forging ahead. Being an entrepreneur is tough. Even with the best of luck and inspiration from top entrepreneurs and executives, being a solo entrepreneur is hard work. Many things didn’t work out. We learned from our mistakes and we were able to move on with an abundance of love and support from our users.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Our smartest move came from the biggest mistake we made! We had great opportunities knocking at the door for our different components and feature sets, technology and data sets, including acquisition interest. While they all sounded exciting, we learned we really need to stay laser-focused on a few key things that are most important to us: our users and our next steps. Otherwise we will fail hard trying to go in too many different directions.”
Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “They’re all inspiring, but I’d have to choose Bill Gates. Bill and Melinda Gates really gave a lot of themselves to make millions of lives and communities better, instead of writing one big fat check. Our vision is to truly connect people, and to build better and safer neighborhoods in a meaningful way, I think it’s something that they would both appreciate and understand.”
Our world domination strategy starts when: “Our world domination strategy is simple. We want millions of people to start using LocalBlox at least twice every day to see what’s going on in their local neighborhoods and communities, the same way they check Facebook to see what’s going on with their friends.
While Facebook could get our neighborhood friendly and social with billions of users, people connect with community members differently than they do friends and family. Neighbors connect on neighborhood issues like news, special events, crimes, kids, activities, business and service recommendations. We cater to those differences.”
Rivals should fear us because: “We’re a small team with a big dream! We are very passionate and ready to move forward through any obstacle. We have a sustainable revenue model that works unlike most rivals in hyperlocal that started with just hype in general! We have the scale and use big data and technology strategically, leveraging them to build key partnerships focusing on our key strength. We are not just a social network or another local site. There is unique depth in each of the module on offer at LocalBlox which makes it possible for us to build a lot of interesting business models revolving around interesting technologies, algorithms and big data.”
We are truly unique because: “We address the needs of the individuals, business owners and event organizers. We have two distinct sides to our services – one for the residents within their neighborhoods and one for business owners. Those two separate parts are brought together seamlessly for the mutual benefit of all.
Our highly scaled proprietary algorithms and dataset technology captures web content in real-time and maps into neighborhoods. Love Score is calculated for businesses and neighborhoods from diverse, disparate, authoritative sources. Aggregated profiles give users a comprehensive yet simplistic view and allow automatic mobile and integrated web campaign creation for local business owners and event organizers.”
The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “The biggest hurdle was and is because I’m a woman. Traditional investors and potential clients don’t have the same level of confidence that would automatically be afforded a man. One individual even told me to get back with him when we have a new CEO – a male. It’s tough being a woman entrepreneur in business.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Persistence is our key. I believe that in a confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream wins – not because it’s stronger, but because it’s more persistent. Rome wasn’t built in a day and entrepreneurs must have a passion to persist in order to succeed.”