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NewCo Festival at Townsquared | Photo Credit: Townsquared

If you've ever needed to get in touch with a neighbor, Nextdoor is the perfect community network to try. I've used it to find free moving boxes, contractors, events — I even met a neighbor who came over to help with yard work one Saturday because he wanted the exercise. 

Townsquared is like the Nextdoor for local businesses. It's an online community where local business owners can share recommendations, notify each other about shoplifters, organize events, and much more.

Townsquared founder Rohit Prakash is part of a growing network of social entrepreneurs who are using technology to build community both online and off. Josephine and Urban Air Market are two other such companies that we've profiled on our blog.

I sat down with Townsquared co-founder Rohit Prakash to learn more.

Tell the Localwise community a little about Townsquared.

Townsquared is a private network for local business owners and staff to come together over issues that are affecting them. Some of those issues are neighborhood-based problems like catching local shoplifters, event organizing, or even just sharing resources like unused extra boxes for shipping.

Some of the issues are more broad, city-wide topics like getting useful tips for Yelp, how to market your business better, or build a stronger web presence to bring in new customers. Or even issues that are specific to a certain industry, like restaurants. We’ve even seen members use it to organize around bigger more impactful issues like pushing legislation to give commercial tenants better leasing rights.

Everyone on the platform is vetted and verified so members can rest easy knowing they’re communicating with real people from real businesses, and the conversations are also protected and private to only those on the platform.

This is really just what we’ve seen so far though. It’s exciting to see what businesses can do when they have power in numbers. We wanted a place where businesses could safely and securely connect with one another, build a place where they could share useful resources, and work together to build long-lasting businesses and stronger local economies.

What was your inspiration for starting Townsquared?

My family, as well as Nipul Patel’s (my co-founder) came from abroad and started businesses with no resources besides the communities they were a part of. We saw the ins and the outs of running a business, all the problems they faced, but also how the community would come together to help each other. While we were pursuing our respective careers in neuroscience and strategy consulting, we’d hear about the high failure rate of small businesses and we wanted to make a difference for them.

We started in our own neighborhood of Noe Valley just talking to the business owners and noticed that overwhelmingly, many of them weren’t even aware of all the businesses that made up the neighborhood. We gave a couple businesses a simple email chain to talk about collaborative marketing or joint couponing, but when they had the chance to connect, they talked about so much more like warnings about recent shoplifting and neighborhood crime to who to call from the city to fix potholes and restore sidewalks.

We saw an opportunity to empower a whole group of people who were otherwise siloed and had limited means of support. Business owners are very busy people and don’t have time to walk around and talk to everyone in the neighborhood, even if they would like to. Through Townsquared, they can communicate with entrepreneurs just like them.

Townsquared founders looking dapperTownsquared founders looks dapper | Photo Credit: Townsquared

Can you share an interesting story about some of the ways that businesses have used Townsquared?

We’ve seen businesses organize shop shares for owners who lost their lease, share bookkeepers, and other recommendations. We’ve seen communities come together to get help for local homeless in their neighborhood. We’ve seen whole cities come together around major legislation to fight for leasing rights for local businesses through TakeBackNYC’s presence on the site. Or here in San Francisco where Hayes Valley businesses are pushing back against a formula retailer trying to open a store there. We’ve even seen thieves get stopped in their tracks because businesses could warn the whole neighborhood and share pictures of the shoplifter.

I’m a sucker for the small things, though. Gestures of kindness from business to business. Even sharing something as simple as a useful or hard to find document or government form. That kind of kindness goes a long way for business owners who often feel alone in their work.

Do you have any upcoming events that our community members should know about?

Our events are powered by the members themselves. We’ve helped throw mixers in neighborhoods and cities where businesses come together, get out of their shops, and get to know each other out of the digital space. We also host webinars  with members who have an interesting expertise that can help other businesses. Our last one was Avoid Rookie Legal Mistakes with These Tips for Small Businesses, hosted by Bobby Weinberger, the founding partner at Robert Weinberger Law PLLC. He talked about small business law including incorporation vs LLCs, the basics of legal ownership, and intellectual property laws. And we’re adding more all the time. Just visit our events page for more.

Without making you play favorites, what are some local businesses in your neighborhood that you love?

I love to cook. It’s hands down one of my favorite things to do, and just up the road from my apartment in Noe Valley is Pasta Gina. The owner, Gene Ginsberg was one of our earliest members on Townsquared and has become a good friend, but the real secret is in the sauce. Literally, they make some of the best sauce in the city. They have incredible hand-made pasta and some of the best cannolis in SF, so I’ll stop in after work and grab some linguine or ravioli and a little dessert and I’m all set. Down the road from there is a really cool shop that I have been following from almost the day they opened (and am close to the owner) called Olive This Olive That – awesome olive oils, balsamics, and spices to accompany my cooking needs.

Olive This Olive That 'Olive This Olive That' Owners Janell & Mary | Photo Credit: Yelp

Since we're a local job board, I have to ask: what was your very first paid job?  

I sat at the front desk and worked behind the scenes at my mom’s clinic. I mostly just checked in patients and update files for the rest of the staff. Just helping out wherever I could. I do think that being exposed to that early, though, seeing people get help that they needed is what set me on the path through my MD/PhD program that brought me here, trying to make Townsquared helpful for people who need it.

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