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Thursday, December 30, 2010

A letter from the CEO

As the year comes to a close and we take a moment to reflect on the last 12 months, I am almost overwhelmed at the changes that came with 2010.



The economy finally seems to be on an upswing, and while we've heard wonderful stories of success and perseverance, we recognize that many of our merchants struggled through this last year. Because we believe in the power of Main Street merchants, it remains the daily mission of our team to provide local business owners with free online resources and a community of support.



Pulling that off, however, has been quite the endeavor.



This year we've almost doubled our headcount. Our crowded little office of almost 40 people is a testament to the rapid growth we've required to continue with our "Merchant Success First" mission. We've added new features and products to further empower our users as you compete with big-budget big box stores. MerchantCircle is committed to helping merchants Generate Success Daily.



With the additions of Time Bridge and Bloglines to the MerchantCircle family, we have even greater hopes for how we will be able to serve you in the coming months. We're confident that by offering more local content and an appointment-scheduling tool, you'll be able to more easily connect with local customers.



Thank you for being part of the MerchantCircle community, we're looking forward to creating an even more successful 2011!





Ben Smith, Founder and CEO

Monday, December 6, 2010

The MerchantCircle Team- This is how we roll around here.


We rolled out a milestone release on Thursday, November 19th. It seemed to go pretty smoothly...



At first.



Within an hour or so, we noticed some "503" errors. (We know. You noticed them, too.) "Maybe we're under an extreme load and dropping connections?" Nope. We checked our system… and while there was a heavy load, it wasn't anything we can't normally handle with ease. 
 



First we did some research. Then we ran some tests. Then we analyzed data.
 
 



"At this point, I was pretty sure that we had characterized the problem correctly. Solving the problem is a completely different story, however. This is where the entire team really swung into action." Explains Wes Mitchell, VP of Engineering. "Some people started running stress tests on internal systems to try to reproduce the problem. Others started analyzing log files to try and figure out which requests were taking the longest. Other people looked at database queries to figure out if some were taking way longer than expected."
 




We have a very committed team with a bias towards action and we consistently operate under a sense of urgency. Debugging a problem like this on a heavily-loaded live system is extremely difficult and frustrating. It's easy to try to mask the problem by, for example, just putting in more hardware… But that's not how we do things around here.



Given the merchant/customer focus that is a critical part of who we are, the pressure to avoid a devastating hit for our customers was extremely high. Our team kicked it into high gear with aggressive contributions and teamwork to find, address, and permanently fix is issue. 




"I can't say enough about how the team handled this challenge. Lots of people worked a lot over a period of seven days. We progressively narrowed down the problem to a single request. We went over all the changes we had introduced with a fine-tooth comb. We tested various features by turning things on and off one at a time. We reviewed the code again, and again, and again." Said Wes.



We're a lean team of less than 40 hard-working (unusually cool) people and we're grassroots passionate about our company and the merchants we serve. But because we're such a small, invested team, we communicate constantly and pull together like a family- whether we're celebrating or struggling.



Wes continued, "Here's what I'm most proud of: my folks don't give up. They take it personally. They think things through. They all worked together. There was no blaming, no egos out of place. Everybody helped. They went after something really hard, and they beat it. It doesn't get any better than that."



When facing a major technical problem, our engineering team actually became more effective as they rallied to find the solution. Not one of the engineers considered giving up or passing responsibility to someone else. They approached it as an opportunity to look at the solution in innovative ways. They showed amazing commitment and focus, and that commitment paid off when they found the solution.
 




Director of HR, Juanita Lott noted, "We celebrated the fix as a company… and in the dozens of congratulatory emails that followed that day, not one member of the team focused on their personal contribution… they all called out the contributions of their peers. I love this place."



We have a secret little motto in the MerchantCircle office: GSD. It stands for "Get Stuff Done." We literally have it scribbled across white boards and it's occasionally posted to our facebook statuses. We even text it to each other- for a little extra encouragement, and a reminder that we're on the same team.



Founder Ben Smith said it best, "Our team shares a common passion to grow our business; we don't have time for politics or lip service. We GSD. Respect. Teamwork. Innovation. We value merchants above all and do whatever it takes to provide them with the best products and service. I'm proud of our talented engineering team for actively demonstrating our core values as they quickly resolved this issue."



We recognize that no one is above the occasional engineering glitch. But because over 1.4 million small business owners count on MerchantCircle, our team of perfectionists knows the most important things we can do when issues arise are fix them fast and fix them right… And having great take-out delivered, doesn't hurt.


 
 


 
 
  

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sneak Peak Into the New Bloglines!

Dear Bloglines Users,



As you have probably seen over the past few weeks, MerchantCircle will be transitioning Bloglines users to a NEW and improved Bloglines experience. As part of this transition we'd like to share some of the new features as well as the migration steps that you’ll be guided through to ensure you have continued, uninterrupted service.



Take a moment to view the short one-minute video for more details









Some of the major callouts include



- How you'd like to set-up your reader for Multiple views or the traditional Bloglines reader view, still available today.

- Mosaic View for a quick and graphical way to view your feeds

- Drag and Drop capabilities to organize your feeds

- Facebook and Twitter Sharing



As Bloglines users ourselves, we’re excited to roll out this improved version of Bloglines and look look forward to your feedback! (Twitter @Bloglines)



Your MerchantCircle/Bloglines Team

Monday, November 29, 2010

Your Bloglines service is here to stay!



Dear Bloglines Users,


You probably already know that MerchantCircle has entered into an agreement with Ask.com to keep Bloglines running…


What you may not know is who we are. Well, here's the mini elevator pitch: MerchantCircle is the largest online network of local business owners, combining social networking features with free marketing tools to connect local business owners with their communities. MerchantCircle’s 1.4 million business owners and hundreds of thousands of consumers engage in our Community Forums, posting blogs about their areas of expertise, and asking and answering questions in MerchantCircle Answers.


We've been around since 2005, and with over 20 million business listings on our network- you can trust that we're not going anywhere- and neither is your Bloglines service. In fact, we're pretty excited to introduce this fantastic service to our current user base of merchants.


Our game plan is to bring you the best technology, with an easy transition, and avert the potential frustrations that can come with change. This does mean making some tough decisions, but our goal remains: Keep Bloglines alive and create the best experience possible for the largest number of users. 


Beginning around December 1st, when you log in to your Bloglines account (using your same id and password), you'll be transitioned to the NEW Bloglines experience. We'll be providing complete details on the almost-automatic migration process in which you'll just port your feeds over to the MerchantCircle-powered service.


 And no, it won't be IDENTICAL to the old Bloglines experience. We are going to provide better, more stable reader technology, with a wider range of user features, but some minimally used features in need of expensive updates didn't make the cut. Instead, we've included some helpful new resources that you didn't have before; and we'll continue to incorporate as many features as possible. Our own CEO has been an avid Bloglines user since 2005! He too wants the best, most familiar Blogline experience possible.


A perfectly smooth transition is ideal. But we do know it's a safe bet to expect a few bumps in the road. Should that happen, we apologize in advance and assure you that we'll be addressing any issues with a sense of urgency. We welcome your feedback and encourage you to reach out on Twitter. (@Bloglines)


Keep an eye out for future communication as we get closer to the big changeover day. We look forward to serving you!


Your MerchantCircle/Bloglines Team














Friday, November 12, 2010

MerchantCircle, Blogs and Bloglines

As you may already know, adding content to a blog you create about your area of expertise is what the new wave of personal publishing and reputation-building on the web is all about. Blogging your own short-format discussions about things you know about allows that information to get indexed by search engines offering a resource to others when they search for information on that subject. Do this periodically, and frequently, and you build a "content asset" that is authored by you, and builds your value on the web. The people who have done this for years now are among those recognized as relevant to the knowledge base about their subject on the web. Additionally, creating a track record in posts on a topic can result in you being seen and identified as an expert resource on the topic. Establishing yourself as an expert resource on a topic requires staying engaged, whether it be online or on the phone, as the go-to person in your community, easily found on the web with improving local search both online and mobile.



On MerchantCircle we have a platform for you to write a Blog, it’s easy to do and is the single most powerful thing you can do to improve your listing, your visibility on searches on the subject you write about, and your ranking when searches are done on your business category.



The MerchantCircle platform and network of merchants is designed to give our merchants easy tools to use that improve their posture on the web. By connecting to other merchants and consumers, adding information about their products and services, answering questions in our Q&A system, and writing informative short blog entries, our merchant users create attractive merchant-authored information that qualifies them as a resource to turn to for information about their business category.



Last week, we announced that we are now managing a one of the most popular blog and news reader sites ever called Bloglines. We took over this property because we believe in the future of personal publishing of expertise by people with experience, and have plans to make the Bloglines property one which features the best sources of user-authored content on a wide range of topics. Special attention will be paid to the topics which our merchant businesses address with their products and services. Bloglines is the granddaddy of "RSS Readers" (Really Simple Syndication on a user-defined Reader Page), and has been around since 2003. It makes aking it simple to subscribe to updates from personally selected Blogs and News sites, and have all those latest entries flow into one easy-to-read page. The Bloglines service fits in very nicely with the idea of fostering authoritative blogs and making it easy for users to digest the latest information about a subject. We will want to assemble great blogs on topics ranging from Plumbing to Healthcare Services, and would like our MerchantCircle members to contribute to that collection.



Look for more news in the first quarter of 2011 about how the Bloglines Reader service will be used at MerchantCircle to help you stay on top of your business but for now please enjoy the introduction to a service you will certainly value



Andy Halliday

 

P.S. You can contribute to the growing library of content discoverable on the web, and get attribution for that work, by answering questions in MerchantCircle's Q&A system, in forums online, and in Q&A sites with multiple categories that are designed to expose knowledge from both experts and the masses. A couple recent examples of the Q&A model of collective knowledge are Formspring and Quora. Quora is getting much on-the-web press and is attracting high quality contributors of content on a wide variety of subjects, though the subjects are currently focused around technology and internet startups given their roots.





--



Andy Halliday



VP GM Local Content



andyh@merchantcircle.com

Thursday, November 4, 2010

MerchantCircle to Take Over Operations of the Popular Bloglines Platform



We have some exciting news to share today that we think is going to make the experience on MerchantCircle even more valuable for our users. We’ve reached an agreement with Ask.com to assume control of the RSS reader site Bloglines in order to rejuvenate and integrate it with the MerchantCircle experience.



For those of you who may not be immediately familiar with Bloglines, it is the world's most popular free online service for searching, subscribing, publishing and sharing RSS feeds, blogs and rich web content. Bloglines was a pioneer in bringing RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds and rich content to mainstream Internet users. It’s been touted for excellence around the world with many awards and accolades, including Time Magazine's Coolest Websites for 2004 and Search Engine Watch's "Best Blog/Feed Search Engine" award.



Ask.com, which has owned the property for the last few years, had decided to retire the service to focus more on its core offerings. This provided a wonderful opportunity for MerchantCircle to acquire the operations to reinvest in the platform and enhance it for its 2.7 million users.



But what does that mean for you? There are a lot of exciting plans on the horizon, but we can say for now that you will soon see Bloglines integrated for your use on your account dashboards. From there you will have the ability to organize and follow online information about your business, your community and your industry.



There’s so much potential and we are excited about the next steps. For now, please see our press release and news story on TechCrunch about the changing hands of Bloglines.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Results of the Q3 2010 Merchant Circle MCI Survey are in!



Below are the results of our quarterly Merchant Confidence Index (MCI) survey for Q3 of 2010. The survey is designed to track trends in local business sentiment over time and was presented to a random sample of MerchantCircle members between October4th and 8th, 2010. 9,635 completed responses came in during this period and there were no incentives offered to complete the survey.



You can read the full press release on the findings here and take a look at all the data broken out below.









































Wednesday, October 13, 2010

MerchantCircle In Your Living Room for the First Time

For the first time in the five year history of MerchantCircle, we are running TV commercials! As traditional with our strategy we've decided to take a very local approach with the first ones airing over the last three weeks in just San Francisco proper on CNN, ESPN, Bloomberg and other popular cable channels. We also took advantage of a big local sports interest and aired our ads on Comcast Bay Area during the last month of the San Francisco Giants baseball season which culminated in a NL Western Division title. We decided to extend that to TBS during games 1 and 3 of their divisional playoff series last week. That proved to be a good move as very fortunately for us, the games broadcast on TBS were two of the top thre highest rated programs that have aired on cable tv in the Bay Area in the past six years for Adults 25-54





Our commercials featured three of our favorite local merchants in San Francisco: Dr. Nancy Lam of Embarcadero Dentistry, Keith Wilson from The Boardroom in North Beach and Dr. Mike Le of Le Chiropractic in the Sunset District. It was definitely exciting to get them in the studio and hear them talk about the advantages of being a MerchantCircle member on camera. We were also excited to help them promote their businesses because, after all, that is what MerchantCircle is all about. We hope to expand this program across the country soon, so you may hear from us to be featured in our next installments!



The ads will continue over the next 10 weeks and considering we are airing over 90 commercials per week, hopefully you'll see one of them soon (at least, if you live in San Francisco :).  Big thanks to our friends at Comcast Spotlight who helped produce and air these spots for us.



We've received lots of great feedback from merchants, friends and family. If you'd like to see the three commercials in their entirety, you may do so below. Let us know what you think about them in the comments.



Thanks for watching!

 

Chris Brubaker

Director of Marketing

 







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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Greeting from new MerchantCircle CTO Yori Nelken

Hello MerchantCircle Community,



I wanted to send out a note to you all to introduce myself and let you know how excited I am to be on board with such an amazing company. You probably read that MerchantCircle recently announced they had acquired my company, TimeBridge, and I have decided to stay aboard with MerchantCircle assuming the role of Chief Technology Officer. This will allow me to keep TimeBridge running smoothly for the 600,000 plus existing users as well as engineer the integration with MerchantCircle.



A few years ago, I founded TimeBridge while an entrepreneur in residence at Mayfield, a venture capital firm, determined to help make the lives of busy professionals better by streamlining their scheduling process. At that time, the world was almost completely on Microsoft Outlook. Google Calendar hadn't been launched. Macs still ran on PowerPC processors-- no Windows software ran on them. There were no iPhones nor Androids. Seems like decades ago right?



Well, the landscape changed a lot since then and we changed with it. We chucked our investment in the product we launched at Web 2.0--- a thick Outlook client. We redesigned it to rely less on Outlook (which is tricky) and capitalize on an increasingly complex calendaring environment and a more web oriented world. So we hunkered down and built a new version of our application that tapped into Google Calendar and the increasing use of Macs in the workplace. That confluence was a natural extension of our service--- and one that held great promise for growth. We built a product, technology and a business that I'm very proud of, but as with many things in life we found need to evolve further. Enter MerchantCircle.



Ben Smith and I have been friends for many years and I’ve long admired the incredible network he has built for small business owners and the tools that have helped enable those merchants to spread their message. One of the key components that MerchantCircle had not made available to its network yet was scheduling. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of running any business, organizing your customer’s appointments or even better, providing your customers an online mechanism for them to schedule themselves. And that’s the vision for our unification, to build that interface that both merchant and consumer can use to book their hair appointments, tire service or house cleanings, all through your MerchantCircle listing.



We have a new opportunity to take what we've built as a calendar assistance to professionals, to a broader audience and extend our platform in brand new ways. The MerchantCircle team has taken on a bold vision to power local merchants' business--- acquiring TimeBridge is part of that. I’m excited to be part of the MerchantCircle team and know that together my vision for TimeBridge will now come to fruition but with an exciting added twist helping to power an even greater community.



Best Regards,

 

Yori Nelken

Chief Technology Officer

MerchantCircle

Saturday, August 28, 2010

MerchantCircle VP and GM Andy Halliday discusses the new Local Content Studio

In late May we launched a new content production system called Local Content Studio at MerchantCircle that adds targeted information to specific pages and pays the producer of the content via Paypal. We formally announced this program on Thursday to the public and I'd like to elaborate some more for our members here today. 



Our first effort was focused on adding descriptions with links and photos to each of the 30,000 U.S. city pages on MerchantCircle. Our growing team of paid freelance writers built production to over 5,000 city descriptions a week and in just a couple of days from now we will have completed all of those city descriptions. The best writers developed routines to research, compose, and add hyperlinks to their own personal format for a city description, and were paid $2 for each one approved. The top producer, Rebecca from Council Bluffs, IA, delivered over 350 quality city descriptions in one week! Editors return submissions for spelling, grammar, punctuation, and factual errors, and writers are calibrated by their approval rate, putting a premium on proofreading before submission. You can see an example of this work here.









Take a look at your own local city page, which you can find by searching on the city name and state without any text in the first search box….or you can simply click on the city name in the “breadcrumb” in the space below the search box on any listing page--which looks like this: Top > MO > Saint Louis.



While we quickly produced basic information for each of tens of thousands of cities, the longer-term objective is to call upon the local expertise of our merchant members to provide unique local perspective on their towns, their community, the businesses and the recreation facilities that are part of that community. Today merchants can edit the city descriptions to add information that is missing or to add perspective that only local insiders would know. Here is a great example of a city description done by a local merchant: http://www.merchantcircle.com/directory/MO-Saint-Louis.



In the coming months, we are going to build several new content modules that will invite contribution from our network of local merchants, and give them an opportunity to share their knowledge about their town and their profession. It’s a win-win for merchants, who will get exposure for their business whenever their expert content is viewed, and they can be compensated for certain types of content, like specialty articles on their chosen profession.









The grand purpose behind this new content effort is to assemble the best local information online, in order to improve the quality of the search experience for anyone looking for information about our towns and cities and the businesses in them. Who better to do this than the merchants who host the retail and service offerings for a community, and who are locals themselves with unique views on the town? When MerchantCircle.com community members build out information about their businesses and professions, and contribute to collected “insider” knowledge about their community, the rich pages that result will bring more search traffic to these pages and expose more web visitors to the circle of merchants who make up that location’s commercial network.



MerchantCircle has merchant members in each of 25,000 cities and small towns across America with more than 200 residents. So this approach to collecting local insight onto MerchantCircle pages on the web can reach to what we call the “Long Tail” of local information. We don’t just concentrate on the major cities that are of interest to all advertisers because of the concentration of people in those places, rather we can reach out to collect information across the great spectrum of places in the U.S., from neighborhoods in the largest metropolitan areas all the way down to small town America where a few businesspeople serve a small community, like Talkeetna, AK: .



Look for more expanded information about every city and town in the U.S. and around the world coming from the new Local Content Studio. Be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to sign up yourself and become a contributor to this important “crowd-sourced” collection. Visit this link to get started: http://www.merchantcircle.com/contentwriter/signup





Thanks for reading,



Andy Halliday

VP, GM for MerchantCircle Local Content Studio

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Continuing Coast-to-Coast: MerchantCircle Customer Appreciation and Networking Events!

After a successful trip to the Twin Cities, the MerchantCircle gang took their nationwide Customer Appreciation and Networking Events tour to the home of Yale, the oldest newspaper in the country and MerchantCircle Community Leader, Gino! The August destination was of course, New Haven, Connecticut!



This week we're heading south to the glitz and glam of LA-LA Land. So Cal, get ready for another Merchant Appreciation Night of Networking at World Café in downtown Santa Monica!



But first, I'll share the scoop on our Ivy League experience…



After landing in Hartford, we shook off the shock of Connecticut humidity and our red-eye grogginess, picked up our sweet economy-class rental, and hit the most densely tree-lined freeway I've ever seen.  We battled some rain but managed to have a wonderful (and insightful) Indian dinner with Gino!



The following day, about 40 local merchants joined us at Kitchen Zinc for our networking event. In between glasses of wine and bites of gourmet pizza and salad, I shared some of Mark Munroe's famous tips on how to get the most out of MerchantCircle, followed by Gino's wonderful presentation on developing your MC listing AND network.



CEO Ben Smith was also on hand for some Q&A with our guests. (And they didn't hold back!)  Everyone snacked on Cookie Central's tasty treats as prizes were passed out in our MerchantCircle raffle. Winners received MerchantCircle gear, a flip cam, and prizes donated my MC members Cupertino Soap Company, Kitchen Zinc, St Anthony's Book + gift shop, EZ Campaigns, and HipPurse.com.



Connecticut will be hard to top, but our LA based merchants are showing up strong with over 150 RSVP! Stay posted for more news on these events!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

All for One and One for All: Bringing Facebook, Twitter and MerchantCircle together

If you're a Facebook fanatic, a Tweet-a-holic and a MerchantCircle member then you’ve been leveraging the most popular social media platforms to promote your business. Until now, any content you’ve built on MerchantCircle you’ve had to manually repost to both Facebook and Twitter. We know your time is precious, so we’ve streamlined the process to save you time.



We're excited to announce the integration of MerchantCircle with Twitter and Facebook enabling members to easily update all social media networks with one click directly from their MerchantCircle account.



Next time you post a blog, create a coupon, upload photos or send out a newsletter, we'll publish that information to your Twitter and Facebook accounts for all your followers and fans. It will also show up on our own MerchantCircle Facebook and Twitter feeds as well for added exposure. When you put in the work, we'll make sure that content lives on other popular social media channels where your customers and potential customers are listening.



MerchantCircle members can simply go to the "My account," "settings," "Twitter and Facebook" and easily link your accounts with one click.



Visit our YouTube channel to learn how you can leverage this new platform: http://www.youtube.com/user/MerchantCircle#p/c/0A2A5D8D0CCD83AB/0/dCgFXnSwANY









Thursday, August 5, 2010

Merchant Circle's 2nd Annual Trap Shooting Event!

Ammo and alcohol? It's usually a dangerous pairing, but last Thursday the MerchantCircle team turned this combo into a fun-filled networking event.



Cubicles around The Valley were abandoned early as MerchantCircle members, friends, investors, and associates headed south to the Los Altos Rod and Gun Range for MerchantCircle's 2nd Annual Trap Shooting and Wine Tasting Event.





To celebrate a wonderful year of merchant success, rookies with rifles and seasoned shooters turned out for a hot afternoon of drilling clays and networking over piles of shells.


After guests enjoyed a BBQ lunch provided by the locally famous Uncle Franks of Sunnyvale, they headed Saratoga's Savannah Channelle Winery for tastings, tours and tacos! Award-winning Pinots and the Mis Antojitos taco truck rounded out a perfect day!







Nothing tells the story of the day like the photos! Head over to MerchantCircle's listing page to see more of what San Francisco photographer, Michael Popso, captured.


We're already looking forward to next year's event! If you missed this one… start your target practice now!









Cheers,

Robyn

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

MerchantCircle Engagement Tour Visits Minneapolis, Up next: New Haven, CT

We announced it a few months ago. We kicked it off in our Bay Area backyard.



We took it on the road to Minneapolis in June. And now…



We're heading to New Haven, Connecticut this week. Get ready for another Merchant Appreciation Night of Networking!



But first, a bit about our trip to the great city of Minneapolis…



We made our way through downtown Minneapolis to the beautiful Nicollet Island Inn , where our MerchantCircle team settled in for a couple of days in the Twin Cities.



Some of MerchantCircle's most prolific Community Leaders joined us and about 80 other local business owners at Pracna on Main for an evening of networking, great food, new friends and loads of information from our two guest speakers.



In between glasses of wine and bites of Minnesota specialty Walleye, attendees were treated to feature speakers Mark Munroe of MerchantCircle and Marty Weintraub of aimClear, who shared their insider tips about how to increase web presence and develop a search-friendly listing page.  The evening also included raffles for prizes donated from local merchants, an iPad giveaway and even free horse drawn carriage rides. Ultimately, it was a great opportunity for our Minneapolis area members to connect in person with one another as well as meet some of the people that work to make MerchantCircle a better place for them to market their businesses.



Some of our major learning's included:



-MerchantCircle Community Leaders are powerful assets! These guys know their stuff, and other business owners know them! If you want more information on becoming a Community Leader in your area, send an email to Robyn.



-Big things are happening with small businesses. The enthusiastic bunch of merchants who came to the event were networking pro's! And they're excited to utilize the free tools and services offered by MerchantCircle.



-There's this thing called "Minnesota nice". And it is REAL! The people of twin cities were SO kind. Example? We got pulled over for speeding in our rental car. Instead of giving us a ticket, the officer gave us DIRECTIONS to our destination. (In our defense, the Minnesota freeway max is 55, much slower than Cali's recommended 65mph.)





We're looking forward to continuing our trek to MerchantCircle cites around the country! Stay posted for more news on these events!











Check out the rest of the Minneapolis photos here!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

MerchantCircle Q2 2010 Merchant Confidence Index (MCI) Results

Below are the results of our third quarterly Merchant Confidence Index (MCI) survey, designed to track trends in local business sentiment over time. This survey was presented to a random sample of MerchantCircle members between June 28th and July 5th, 2010. 9,874 completed responses came in during this period and there were no incentives offered to complete the survey.



Read MCI press release here

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

MerchantCircle Heads Down to Disney!

A couple weeks ago, Steamboat Ventures, an affiliate of The Walt Disney Company, hosted its annual Tech Expo at the Disney Studios in sunny Burbank, California. As one of Steamboat's portfolio companies, MerchantCircle was invited to participate in this year's festivities that included panel discussions on emerging technology and an all-day trade show to show-off new and upcoming products. We were happy to participate and share MerchantCircle's social network and new programs with investors, other Steamboat portfolio companies, and Disney employees.



We very much enjoyed our time with some of the other featured tech companies. But we did have some favorites…



We're an office of sports nuts, so of course, the team from ESPN just made us giddy! Disney Online had some noteworthy news and fantastic website to demonstrate. The Photobucket team was on hand to share some of their upcoming products and developments for the mobile space. (They were also quite entertaining!) The beautiful ladies of Scrapblog, another Bay Area based company, showed up with very cool custom business cards and an even cooler Facebook app! And ticketing service RazorGator was represented by former NBA superstar and Best Damn Sports Show host John Salley, one of the few pulling for the Celtics during the Game 7 networking event.







The two-day gathering was both informative and exciting. Steamboat Ventures continues to empower, connect and create great companies who are building the technology that shapes the way we work, play, and communicate. We're proud to be on their team!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

New MerchantCircle Product Releases Include City "Mayor" Program and Dashboard Redesign

We have exciting product news this month!



We are very pleased to announce MerchantCircle “Mayor” program, designed to help you build your brand and increase your network!



The MerchantCircle member in each city with the most connections will be declared “Mayor”. And when you're the mayor, we'll make sure that people know!



As Mayor, you'll be promoted to the top of your city's leaderboard and made visible to all local consumers searching in your city – and best of all it’s FREE! You'll also score the coveted “Mayor” badge, located on the top of your personal listing page.









Learn more about the MerchantCircle “Mayor” program by viewing this video overview

 

In addition to the new MerchantCircle “Mayor” feature, we’ve made two significant changes to the network that we think you’re going to enjoy quite a bit. Both changes come from the feedback we’ve received from our most active members, so be sure to visit the MerchantCircle forum to let us know when you have an idea for how we might improve!

 



New and Improved Dashboard



Over the years, we’ve added a lot of features to the MerchantCircle platform to allow you to express yourself online. As the number of features has grown, we’ve struggled to fit everything into a dashboard that was designed five years ago! That’s why we’re introducing our new dashboard design that provides simpler navigation and a cleaner look and feel, all created to make it easier for you to promote your business online. All the current features are still available, but they’re now easier to find.



To get see the new dashboard in action, check out this short video we’ve created. We’d love to hear your feedback

 



Unlimited member connections



For all you social butterflies out there, we’re happy to report that we will be lifting the membership “cap” to allow you to connect with more members. So have fun! And remember inviting and connecting with new MerchantCircle members in your town will help get you elected “Mayor”!



Cheers,

Jeremy Kreitler, VP Product Management

Monday, June 7, 2010

MerchantCircle Announces Free New Tools and Product Improvements for Small Business Owners!

Drumroll please…



Several months ago, with our small business merchants in mind, the MC team hit the whiteboards – brainstorming how we could provide even better tools for easy online networking, increased productivity, and budget conscience marketing.



We've logged lots of late nights, ordered more take-out than anyone should reasonably ingest and our deeply committed engineering team had family members consider filing Missing Person's Reports...



And now, we're very excited to unveil the latest and greatest FREE MerchantCircle programs and improvements- designed just for you!



We've taken all of your feedback, product suggestions, and feature requests and created some pretty cool stuff. But you'll have to stay tuned to get all the info!



All this week we'll be posting blogs from different MerchantCircle team members detailing the bells and whistles of each new feature. And let me just tell you, these labors of love will make you happy!



Here's what to look for…



We went back to the drawing board to totally redesign our Dashboard page- making it faster and easier for you to connect to other merchants, create fantastic content, and engage your customers. Get excited! It will change the way you work. Keep an eye out for Jeremy's blog- he's gonna hook you up with serious specifics.



A new policy has been passed and the race is on. MerchantCircle Mayors is a new campaign that will keep you running to the polls. Win the office in your city and we'll make sure your constituents know. Elect to take advantage of this win-win program. (Here's a hint: Check your inbox for my Tuesday Tip!)



There's one more surprise up our MerchantCircle t-shirt sleeves. All I'm sayin' for now is that I know a few Community Leaders who will be VERY, very excited. (Yes guys, we're listening!) MerchantCircle staple, Mr.David Gwynn, will break this top-secret story later in the week!



See you in The Circle!



Robyn

Friday, May 21, 2010

MerchantCircle at San Francisco's Small Business Week

MerchantCircle helped sponsor Small Business Week in San Francisco this week is support of thousands of small businesses in the City by the Bay.



Highlights of the week include:



Monday night, MerchantCircle visited the Flavors of San Francisco hosted by Mayor Gavin Newsom and the SBA District Director Mark Quinn. This gala event was attended by thousands of local small business owners along with leaders from all of the top merchant associations. Some of our top participating restaurants picks include Ike's Place, Lotta's Bakery, Pacific Catch, and Gastronaut.





MerchantCircle's Julie Craft with North Beach Chamber of Commerce President Martin Kirkwood



Wednesday, the MerchantCircle team participated at the Small Business Conference at SFSU where thousands of small business owners attended workshops and lectures designed to provide them with resources, tips and practical advice from experts to help them launch and grow their businesses. The workshop topics ranged all of the way from online marketing to contracting to financial strategies to retirement planning.



The MerchantCircle team was instrumental in helping thousands of small businesses to set up a business listing at MerchantCircle.com as a first step in promoting their business online. MerchantCircle forged strategic alliances with many of the top San Francisco Merchant Associations including the SBA, SF Chamber of Commerce, BizTechDay, and North Beach Chamber of Commerce with the partnership goal of helping all of their members to stand out from the competition by utilizing the power of the MerchantCircle business networking platform.







Thursday night's 2010 Business After Hours Grand Expo at AT&T Park was the highlight of the week. Hundreds of small businesses came together for a night of networking, showcasing, great food and lots of fun! The MerchantCircle team was excited to meet so many local, small business owners.



All new businesses that signed up for FREE at MerchantCircle this week were automatically entered into the MerchantCircle iPad contest. Check back to our blog early next week when the 2 lucky winners will be announced!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bringing MerchantCircle Across Borders and Overseas

For many years we've been asked the question of just when we would see MerchantCircle's platform expand beyond the borders of the United States? We're pleased to finally be able to answer that with a resounding TODAY!  Well, in reality it was late last week, but today we are happy to formally announce our new beta versions of the site that are operating in Canada, the UK and Australia.  We are very excited for the opportunity that is present in each of these countries and are currently in talks with potential partners in each region to help maximize the exposure for the platform.



Consider the following statistics about the prevalence of small business in our new locations:



- According to the UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills, 99.3 percent of the nearly 5 million registered businesses are small (0 to 49 employees).

- In Australia, 96 percent of the 2 million businesses in the country have less that 20 people, as reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

- In Canada, 57 percent of businesses have only 1 to 4 employees based on reports from the Business Register of Statistics Canada.



We already have some early adopters that are pretty excited about us being in their country.  Lindy Asimus, owner of Design Business Engineering in Newcastle, NSW, Australia told us “Fantastic! MerchantCircle Australia! This is the very best news for small business owners in Australia. The tools that MerchantCircle provides are like nothing else available in this country for small business. Now there is absolutely no excuse for businesses not to be online.”



You can read our full announcement here. And this is just the beginning. Don't be surprised to see MerchantCircle sites for other major countries later in 2010.



MerchantCircle UK - http://uk.merchantcircle.com/

MerchantCircle Australia - http://www.merchantcircle.com.au/

MerchantCircle Canada - http://www.merchantcircle.ca/

Thursday, May 6, 2010

New Team Members Join MerchantCircle

We're excited to announce two new members of our team started this week. Mark Munroe has returned to MerchantCircle as the Director of Search Audience. Mark previously worked at MerchantCircle in the early days of the company's formation in 2005. He brings more than a decade of product management and product marketing experience to MerchantCircle and will work on helping smaller merchants gain more exposure online. Most notably, leveraging the enormous amount of unique content created on the MerchantCircle platform to attract more consumers to more merchants. During the last few years, he has spent time at RealTravel as Director of Product Management, as E-Commerce Product Manager at Dealix and as Director of Online Marketing at Vayama.com.



Robyn Hannah has also joined the company to lead our community relations efforts. As Sr. Manager of Community, Robyn will work to expand MerchantCircle's national community of merchants by developing and implementing programs that increase merchant engagement. Additionally, Hannah will act as a merchant advocate to ensure continued customer satisfaction. She previously served as a marketing communications manager at YouSendIt where she was responsible for corporate communications, social media and promoting brand identity.



You can read all about their backgrounds and favorite local businesses on our official press release.





As our team continues to expand you might be interested in joining us. Visit our Jobs section on the site to see the opportunities we have to come aboard.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Calling all Developers! Build Local Apps with new MerchantCircle API feed

Yesterday, MerchantCircle announced that it has opened its first Application Programming Interface (API) to third party developers who can now develop applications on top of the company's database of valuable local business information from merchants nationwide. This has developers and merchants alike excited by the possibilities.



Said Dennis Mink, CEO of FootFeed.com, a check-in aggregator website, who recently plugged into the feed, "An open avenue to merchant-created data will be invaluable for us as we work to create greater value for consumers using check-in platforms."



With local mobile applications garnering so much attention from the development community, business owners are recognizing the value that these provide them for indirect marketing. Chris Rodgers, owner of Coral Cab in Pinellas Park, FL. remarked that “These days, everyone wants to access the internet on their mobile phones, and for a business that caters to so many tourists that access point is invaluable. I’m happy that MerchantCircle is working to find new ways to get the word out about my business.”



So if you're a developer and working on or considering building any application to leverage local business information then link up with us. More than 1 million businesses have information ranging from coupons to reviews to help populate any location based application.



To access the MerchantCircle API, developers can visit: http://api.merchantcircle.com/api/v1/docs

Thursday, April 22, 2010

MerchantCircle Named to JMP Securities "100 Best Privately Held Internet Companies" List

We were very flattered to learn recently that we were included in the inaugural edition of  JMP Securities' The 100 Best Privately Held Internet Companies. A vertible who's who of the Web 2.0 landscape, the list includes industry heavyweights like Facebook, Demand Media, Linked In and Zynga from various sectors including e-commerce, digital media, social media and games.  The 2010 "Hot 100" has companies at all stages of growth and maturity acknowledging the youth of the sector.  Within the report, JMP identifies the two major trends it sees emerging in the coming years with those being social media and its related ecosystem and data/monetization.



It's humbling for a small company of less than 30 people to be recognized along with some of the most recognizable names in the industry as a company also leading in innovation and development. We're so grateful that the work we've done to help over 1 million small businesses market themselves is being viewed as such a successful endeavor.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Give your city the locals only touch with our City Pages

At MerchantCircle we're constantly on the look out for ways in which we can bring local businesses any type of exposure to help them grow. During this time we've noticed that merchants care deeply about their cities, neighborhoods and their community. We've personally heard this as well as noticed the increased participation in our Answers feature, involvement in the forums and contributions to our city pages.





Because of this interest we've decided to take a step in the direction of allowing our merchants to start participating in building out the description and content on what their city is about. Things like what makes it interesting, the best places to shop, and local points of interest all to be composed by the people who we believe are part of the pillars/stalwarts of the community..local business owners.



It's still a work in progress but check out our first step.



http://www.merchantcircle.com/directory/CA-Mountain-View



Our Mountain View, CA page has already been edited. Feel free to expand what merchants have contributed by adding more about what makes Mountain View, CA special. Of course don't stop there, know that you can contribute to any city in the United States. Here's a look at those in CA alone! So if you have great things to say about your hometown then go for it!



As always we're constantly refining our product so check back often to see what improvements have been made. We already have some great ideas and will be expanding this feature to include additional areas where local business owners can contribute even more.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Answers Feature Expanding Through New Partnerships

Today we were pleased to announce two partnerships that will significantly expand the MerchantCircle Answers feature to two popular networks.  Our new realtionships with Answerbag.com, a Demand Media company, and HelloMetro, a global network of 1500 hyper-local city guides, mean that more questions will be routed to our one million plus members who are experts in every professional field, resulting in better distribution of their expertise around the web.



According to Quantcast, Answerbag.com is the 122nd most popular U.S. site with more than 8.5MM unique visitors monthly.



For Example: If you’re a landscaper, you now have one easy Answers destination to generate local business leads. When you receive a landscaping question in MerchantCircle and share your advice, your answer gets wider distribution around the web -- through MerchantCircle, Answerbag and HelloMetro.







Here are some updates on the growth of MerchantCircle’s Answers engine since it launched in September 2009.



• MC Answers has provided almost 100,000 answers to consumer inquiries in just 6 months.

• There have been nearly 80,000 questions submitted.

• More than half of those have been tended to with multiple responses from specialized merchants.



The complete announcement can be read here

Monday, April 12, 2010

SF Chronicle covers battle for local ad space highlighting MerchantCircle



On Sunday, the San Francisco Chronicle ran an in depth look at the race for market leadership in the local online ad space.  The report by James Temple covered a number of the hotter issues in the marketplace including mobile search, anti-trust issues and Google's dominating Place Pages. When discussing local content and databases the reporter leverages MerchantCircle co-founder Ben Smith's insights while highlighting the mark our company has made to date. 



You can read the whole story here

Friday, April 2, 2010

MerchantCircle Family Growing

Today the company was pleased to announce our new senior members of the MerchantCircle team. Our member base has grown substantially over the past year and building our internal leadership is very important as we scale. Four talented invidivuals have recently come aboard to strengthen our marketing, business development and communications programs. They are, in alphabetical order:



Chris Brubaker, Director of Marketing Programs

Grace Chan, Director of Merchant Monetization

Julie Craft, Sr. Director of Business Development

Sean Pate, Director of Public Relations



You can read all about their backgrounds and favorite local businesses on our official press announcement.



We're very excited that these folks have decided to help us continue to build out the network for the local merchants across the country.  Their contributions have already been felt and we know that will result in a better MerchantCircle for everyone.



As our team continues to expand you might be interested in joining us..Visit our Jobs section on the site to see the opportunities we have to come aboard.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

“Top Merchant" Decal Program Exciting Members

Since 2007, MerchantCircle has been awarding its "Top Merchant" recognition to our valuable members who distinguish themselves as a reliable and trusted source on MerchantCircle.  A select group have risen above the masses to earn this distinction denoted as a badge on their MerchantCircle pages. But last month, in an effort to give recipients a chance to really show their awards to all customers our staff stuffed envelopes and mailed off thousands of new window decals to our Top Merchants to further recognize the finest merchants on the nation's largest social network of local business owners.



Some of our members who've received their window decals recently have been tweeting and posting to Facebook with their excitement. There's even been some of you like Frank Myers Auto Maxx in Winston Salem, NC and Mac Productions Inc of Cleveland who've put out formal press releases! This is great to see! We're so excited that you're excited and hope you'll continue to promote your business through our network and encourage others to do the same.





For those of you who aren't yet a Top Merchant you can click here to see the criteria needed to qualify. Its easy to do and helps you better market your business.  Every month we find all of our members who have completed the requirements and award them with a Top Merchant web badge for their listing page and now a decal for their storefront.



Enter to win in the Top Merchant Decal Contest! To commemorate the launch the window decal program we are inviting all of those Top Merchants to upload a photo of your storefront with your Top Merchant decal to your listing page. You'll automatically be entered to win unlimited invites and five additional free cities to help promote your listing.





If you don’t have a storefront then don’t worry. Upload a photo of your Top Merchant decal on your car or laptop or any place you feel best represents your business. Five winners will be chosen at random and we will announce the winner on May 17. We're looking forward to seeing all your photos!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Healthcare Reform and Your Business: Where Do You Stand?

The newly signed healthcare reform bill is perhaps the most controversial and debated topic in the last 50 years in America. It has stirred passionate responses from all sectors of the American public, from celebratory to calls of unconstitutionality. Earlier this month, nearly 12,000 MerchantCircle members responded to a series of questions on the current healthcare topic in the Q1 Merchant Confidence Index. Not surprisingly, a good majority of the respondents, roughly 65%, do not currently provide health benefits to their staff. And just about half of the respondents (49.2%) felt the U.S. government should indeed reform the healthcare system.


Questions between principle and practicality were covered in this article from USA Today on Tuesday. Clearly, the jury is out amongst local merchants, somewhat due to a lack of clear understanding of the impact to them and the nature of changes which are years down the road. Experts like Steve Strauss say the reform bill will help small business because many of the uninsured work for small merchants.


So we’re asking our members today. What are your thoughts now that this proposed reform is reality? Are you fundamentally in favor or insecure about the far reaching effects on your bottom line? Is this a windfall for the future of our domestic workforce and affordability through planned exchanges?



Let us and the MerchantCircle community know your thoughts. We look forward to hearing them!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

MerchantCircle Confidence Index (MCI) Survey Results - Q1 2010

Below are the results of our second quarterly Merchant Confidence Index (MCI) survey, designed to track trends in local business sentiment over time. This survey was presented to a random sample of MerchantCircle members between February 9th and February 16th, 2010. 11,013 completed responses came in during this period and there were no incentives offered to complete the survey. 

State of the U.S. Economy: a mixed bag
  • 27.8% of local merchants surveyed said today's economy is "somewhat" or "significantly" improved

  • 30.7% of local merchants surveyed said today's economy is "about the same"

  • 41.5% of local merchants surveyed said today's economy is "somewhat" or "much" weaker























Sales revenue expectations: local merchants are optimistic
  • Nearly 50% of local merchants surveyed expect sales revenues to "somewhat" or "significantly" improve over the next three months.  This represents a 23% increase over our Q4 2009 survey results (39.9% responded this way in Q4 2009)

  • 17.3% of local merchants surveyed expect sales revenues to decline "somewhat" or "significantly".







Marketing expectations: investment expected to remain flat
  • 46.3% of local merchants surveyed expect their marketing expenditures to remain flat over the next three months

  • 29.2% of local merchants surveyed expect to increase marketing spend (up 2.6% nominally from Q4 2009)

  • 24.5% of local merchants surveyed expect to cut marketing investment (down 1.2% nominally from Q4 2009)

























Hiring expectations: headcount inching up
  • 17.1% of local merchants surveyed expect to increase headcount over the next three months.  This represents a 16% increase over Q4 2009 responses (14.7% responded this way in Q4 2009).

  • 11.5% local merchants surveyed expect to reduce headcount over the next three months.  This represents a 17% decrease versus Q4 2009 responses (13.4% responded this way in Q4 2009).






What do you think?  Stay tuned for more insights as we dive into the data.  


In the meantime, if you're interested in survey data broken out by state, business category or business size, please email darren [at] merchantcircle.com.


Darren
MerchantCircle Marketing