It’s Electric: The Tale of CitySquares’ Hairy Beginnings

One morning, Ben Saren was halfway through shaving his head with his electric razor when a schock from the mini appliance left him in need of a barber. Obviously, he wanted the nearest barbershop he could find near his Davis Square home in Somerville, Massachussets, a city just north of Boston. But searching the web at the time turned up fruitless. So, he did what any man in his predicament would dread doing – leaving the house half-hairy, half-bald in search of a barber at 8am.

It wasn’t just barbershops that Saren was in search of. It was, well, just about everything. Where’s a good local pizza place? Where’s a Mom and Pop hardware store? Where was anything in Davis Square and not 10 miles away?

Saren set out to start a bare-bones site of Davis Square businesses. Think Craig’s List for local, independent restaurants, shopping, and services.

But he realized he wasn’t alone. Residents of nearby Boston-area neighborhoods were in search of the same things (though possibly not always for the same, half-bald reasons).

Thus, CitySquares was born.

Saren felt lucky that the domain name was available. And he should. The name evokes the very concept of Saren’s site: Find out what’s available in your neighborhood. It’s the online version of your local community.

Another stroke of luck has been timing. Just as local search and online communities have begun to take hold, CitySquares started expanded nationally last year. The expansion, which was just completed in early March, came on the heels of being named the fastest growing search site last summer by comScore.

But don’t expect to find hockey stick traffic data for CitySquares. Slow and steady is the approach for the hyperlocal site. Their approach to national expansion was to roll out from region to region.

And while Saren got up at 6:30am to get his hands on the latest iPhone released today, he wants to make sure he’s got solid data and an innovative concept before launching CitySquares mobile apps.

That doesn’t mean CitySquares is in a holding pattern. They have plans to use tools like Facebook connect to enable easier login and sharing of CitySquares content. Saren also envisions opportunities for users to post community information such as school lunches and trash pickup schedules.

While the search industry has oftentimes struggled what to do with the “local search niche,” Saren has a clear vision for CitySquares and it seems to be paying off. In May, there were 2 million unique visitors. Not bad for a site, which less than a year ago, was just serving the New England area.

Saren isn’t simply following a trend or trying to game market potential. He genuinely seeks to solve local search problems and unify communities online. Companies who keep their eye on their customer instead of the competition seem to be the most likely to thrive. That makes CitySquares one heck of a site to watch.

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