Think MySpace, but for Local Businesses

MerchantCircle provides a search-optimized Web site where business owners can advertise and network free. The company's next task? Figure out how to make it pay

When tech entrepreneurs Wayne Yamamato, 43, and Ben Smith, 38, met back in 2004, they decided they would start a business together one day. Their 'aha' moment arrived at one of their weekly brainstorming meetings at a Palo Alto (Calif.) coffee shop, after spotting a sign advertising both a hot dog hut and a bike shop across the street. They figured that a similar agreement between local business owners would be difficult to reach online because a destination where owners could meet and get to know one another's businesses simply didn't exist. Creating an online place where owners could post business profiles, advertise, network, and endorse one another for free, thought Yamamato and Smith, would result in the introduction of millions of businesses not currently online to the Web (see BusinessWeek.com, 2/14/07, "Dialing for Small-Biz Dollars").

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