Got an idea for that empty storefront? 'Localize' aims to give you a say
If you've ever walked by an empty storefront and wished the owners were taking tenant suggestions, Alexa Baggio has just the thing for you -- or soon will, she hopes.
She's leading a team that's working to launch a start-up called Localize, which will offer a platform to vacant-building owners to let neighbors vote -- via text message -- on what sort of businesses should move in. (A "propertunity," as the team calls it.) Last weekend the fledgling company took second place at the Baltimore Startup Weekend.
The New York resident did an email Q&A with me that explains what made her want to give it a go, how else she hopes the tool can be used and why Baltimore.
Q. How did you get the idea?
A. I kept visiting my hometown and watching storefronts turn over to different variations of the same thing – a failed nail salon replaced by another nail salon, etc. I am passionate about creative small businesses and I wanted to find a way to ensure more of their success. In addition, I was fascinated by the idea of a local investing network – where local investors provide funds for ideas in their backyards that they are interested in. So, I wanted to create a platform to get the community involved in what businesses are created and use that community support to encourage local investment.
Q. When do you expect to launch?
I can't give you an exact timeline as we just demoed a prototype this weekend but the platform still needs a lot of development to be fully functional. We plan to continue working towards completion and will hopefully have completed the platform for at least one city by year's end.
Q. How will it work?
A. As of right now we have worked with Tropo to create a text voting system. So, walk by a vacant storefront in your community with our campaign on it, text a code to the property's listed number and vote on the ideas posted on the storefront. We are working to allow passersby to create new ideas and post them, both via text and via the property's web site. In addition, we would like to add Twitter and Facebook as potential voting mechanisms.
Q. What will it take for people to be able to start texting their suggestions for empty buildings? Will property owners need to sign up with you first? (Do you have any expectations as to when people will be able to start texting, i.e. later this year?)
A. Later this year for sure. We have already created the ability to start texting and now it's up to the property owners to sign up for the campaign. They have the option to work with Localize on a per-property basis to collect this information. We are looking for our first customer and as we build out the platform to incorporate all the voting features, etc., we will be ready for every location in the U.S.!
Q. Is the business operating specifically in Baltimore to start?
A. We would like to. I think Baltimore is the perfect place for this to launch as there are a significant number of retail vacancies in the area and in addition I think it's a place with a lot of growth potential where the residents are passionate and loyal. The goal, however, is to reach every town across the country.
Q. Will there be an outlet for people to text suggestions for buildings and/or houses (lots of empty houses in Baltimore) even if their owners aren't participating?
A. Hopefully. We are still in the preliminary stages of our business model but we would like to position Localize so that it can be used for community development wherever necessary. We are starting with local storefronts, but ultimately we are crowdsourcing community development on the whole. Localize can be scaled to public works projects, community programs, etc.
Q. What's your background?
A. I'm a recent college graduate who moved to NYC right after college to take a job on Wall St. However, I have been working on this idea for some time now and came to Baltimore to find a passionate team to help me build it. My brother lives in Baltimore and I believed the people would be much more receptive to my idea vs. for instance NYC. I was worried the NYC event would be more tech focused and my idea would be lost amongst people looking for the next Facebook – retail vacancy in NYC is also a very different beast. I thought a social startup with community development at its core would resonate much more in a place like Baltimore. I could not be happier with the outcome of the weekend.