Imagine a Somerville where every small business owner—from the crafty cocktail concoctors at the Boston Shaker to the dynamic duo behind Chicken and Shakes Automotive—were connected on a platform that let them share insights with one another without even needing to leave their storefront.
That’s the idea behind Alignable, a local startup that wants to make it easier than ever for small businesses to engage with one another. Their theory—which is being tested every day by the hundreds of thousands of business owners in communities across North America who have signed up for the online platform so far—is that the people behind local businesses want to connect with and know each other, and that it’s beneficial for them to do so.
“If you go to Main Street in any town, business owners … they kind of know the business owner directly next to them, and they might know the business owner across the street,” says Dan Slagen, Alignable’s CMO. But, Slagen says, the further a business owner gets from own front door, the less likely it is that they’ll know the proprietors of other local shops and restaurants.
Alignable lets entrepreneurs connect with likeminded individuals around the country; a baker on the East Coast can swap recipes with another in California, thanks to the ability to sort by industry or area.
But now, they’re focusing on answering a new question: “What does it take to really saturate a community?” Slagen asks. “What if every business owner in Somerville was connected across this platform?” In Salem, Alignable just kicked off a one-of-a-kind pilot initiative that starts at city hall and aims to get every locally owned company in the city using their network. The hope is that businesses will benefit from being part of a truly “connected city.” Building and then fostering relationships with other businesses means owners can refer customers to their stores, sponsor co-promotions or ask questions—”Should I do Facebook advertising, or Twitter?”—of one another.
Already, Slagen says, stories are emerging from business owners who have benefitted from the service. And while some of the connections have been obvious—people like contractors and plumbers, naturally, have found ways to collaborate—not all of Alignable’s advantages have been so obvious. (In fact, there might even be ways for the Boston Shaker and Chicken and Shakes teams to work together.)
“It’s less likely when you have, say, the tennis coach and the nail salon who do a promotion together because they share the same customer base, which is women age 45 to 55,” Slagen says—a real story that was recently shared by two entrepreneurs in Acton.
“I don’t want business owners in Somerville to have thousands of connections,” Slagen adds. “I might not even want them to have hundreds. Who are the ten people that you really really care about that you’re going to work with in the next six months? The concept is focusing on getting the right people, instead of more.”