If You’re a Small Business Owner, You Need to Know About This Company
Within moments of meeting Rohit Prakash it’s clear that he’s a methodical, deliberate thinker. These sorts of attributes are quite helpful when you’re launching a business, or if you’re studying to become a physician—both of which Prakash happens to have experience with.
Prakash currently presides over Townsquared, a company he co-founded last year with Nipul Patel that essentially aims to create a network for local, local business owners across the United States. Though it can be classified as a social network, Townsquared is not merely Facebook for the local business community.
Townsquared’s local business owners are vetted, Prakash says, and the site is structured so that it helps facilitate connections among companies and people who can create mutually beneficial relationships. Because the companies are carefully chosen, members can be confident that the people they reach out to from the site will have a similar mindset when it comes to growing their businesses.
Besides his work at Townsquared, which, according to Venture Beat, raised more than $5 million in funding earlier this year, Prakash also happens to be an MD/PhD candidate at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Since 2006, when he began his graduate studies, Prakash has co-authored a number of papers, including a 2010 report, “Cholinergic Interneurons Control Local Circuit Activity and Cocaine Conditioning.”
Yet Prakash doesn’t like to talk about these sorts of accomplishments or himself, for that matter. He’s firmly concentrated on building Townsquared, and he and Patel want the focus to remain squarely on the company—not themselves. They both have special relationships with small businesses, Prakash says, and their mission is rooted in helping local business owners succeed.
“Both of our parents come from small business families,” Prakash says. “Nipul’s family was more in the hospitality and then the real estate business, and my mom runs her own practice—she’s a physician. I think through those experiences we just saw day over day the hardships that small business owners face, which led us to want to try to figure out ways to help them.”
After talking with hundreds of small business owners, Prakash says, he and Patel discovered that the problems facing them were pretty straightforward. Unlike large companies, small businesses can’t scale effectively; they also have to take on a range of responsibilities, from accounting and human resources, to operations and marketing. “When we figured that out, we saw an opportunity to simply connect people, and see what would happen if they worked together,” he says.
Townsquared addresses both of these issues, Prakash explains, depending on how it’s used. A small business owner could, for example, easily find a qualified, vetted accountant to help with a financial issue. Townsquared members can also discover opportunities to grow their businesses by working with other, local companies. While it may seem counterintuitive that seeming competitors would work with each other, it’s actually perfectly rational, Prakash argues.
“Small businesses are surrounded by other small businesses, and that’s the beauty of any given community—that different people have different expertise and in theory can help each other out,” he says. “It’s really in their best interest to make sure that all the businesses around them are doing well. If everyone is doing well, then that’s great. If one business is doing well and nine around them are doing poorly, then it’s not good—not only for the community but also for that one business, because inherently more better businesses will bring more people to that area.”
Though still in the very early stages of development, Townsquared has already built a strong presence in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the company is headquartered. It has also signed up local business owners throughout the East Coast and the middle part of the country, Prakash says, as well as elsewhere on the West Coast. These local business owners, he explains, range from people who own physical stores to consultants and designers who work from home. “Townsquared is not just about the brick and mortar, though we absolutely focus on that segment,” he explains.
“We definitely do believe in the next gen economy, as well. I mean the people who work from home—from the Etsy shop designer all the way to a web professional—anybody who’s involved in building businesses we’re thinking about. They might not necessarily have brick and mortar shops, but the richness of the community includes them, so we’re acutely aware of those people. We want Townsquared to be that place where people are able to get the best information to run their business and make their businesses better.”
Even with the long days and late nights that come part and parcel with running a business, Prakash and Patel are excited remain energetic about Townsquared’s future.
“When we interact with small business owners, we see people who are truly passionate about something, because they have a drive that only entrepreneurs have, and we feel lucky that we get to serve them,” Prakash says. “It’s really amazing what happens when these enterprising entrepreneurs come together and solve problems. And that’s what we’re all about—empowering them so they can do just that.”