A Local Social Network That Stays Indoors

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6438800997_20eb99b2ea_zNowadays pretty much everything has moved online. You can deposit a check online, order groceries online, search for jobs online. Yet when it comes to communicating with your neighbors, we tack up posters on bulletin boards or in elevators.

One startup called MyCoop wants to help change that by bringing high-rise building communication into the 21st century.

The New York-based company has created an online platform for neighbors to chat and broadcast messages.  Each building can create a multipurpose chatroom that can be used to sell a couch before moving out or to announce a social event or to broadcast a safety alert. The platform can be used for anything; the point is that it’s online, more convenient, and more efficient.

Alex Norman came up with the idea for MyCoop when he was on the board of his co-op apartment in Chelsea, Manhattan.

“I soon realized that it wasn’t really the fact that we were just difficult people, but it was about the inability to communicate effectively and have a channel of communication for the building,” Norman said. “I’ve been in digital for so long and realized we were using all this wonderful technology in our work life and personal life but in our homes we were relegated to Post-It notes and intercom systems.”

At the time, Norman worked for a digital marketing company where he pitching a social media strategy for a home builder in Los Angeles. Norman pitched a similar idea to MyCoop, telling the client that they should create an online community for their homes. The client ultimately rejected the pitch, but Norman decided that someone needed to make it happen, so he quit his job and founded MyCoop.

Fast forward three years, and MyCoop is working with 342 buildings in the U.S. and Canada. It tends to start with what Norman calls a “power resident” who approaches MyCoop to get a platform set up for his or her building. The power resident then works with MyCoop to get other residents in the building to join the platform, verifying users based on their phone bill.

Residents are using the MyCoop platform for anything from finding a tennis buddy to getting advice on where to find good childcare. Norman says platform can also be extremely useful in emergency situations. For instance, if there is a fire in the building, residents can follow the news in their MyCoop platform to see when it’s safe to reenter the building.

For now MyCoop is not focused on monetizing. The company has already secured funding from a few angel investors. But the revenue plan seems fairly obvious to Norman—hyperlocal marketing. Neighborhood mom and pop shops can directly target consumers in their area by advertising on a nearby building’s MyCoop platform. On top of that, MyCoop users are asked to provide some information about themselves, including personal interests, so the advertising can be even more targeted.

Norman thinks that MyCoop will solve a huge problem for local merchants.

“The handoff in hyperlocal marketing is that at the moment when that person gets home, that’s it,” Norman said. “They walk around their building, to and from work and that’s really the end of the digital hyperlocal communication.”

The problem is that a local grocer is now competing with FreshDirect for the same customers, and that local grocer is definitely the underdog in terms of his ability to reach those people.

“That to me represents a fundamental challenge in hyperlocal, microlocal marketing,” Norman said. “How does an individual merchant not only have the visibility and access to the local customer but also has the ability to market to them at scale, which is going to continue to be a challenge.”

Rebecca Borison is a contributor to Street Fight.