Community Plus Commerce

Townloop is one of a handful of new technologies for everyone's benefit.

"Green" thinking is now a part of our collective consciousness, and the new Internet phenomenon of "social commerce" is in full flower. Many of us have signed up for Groupon, LivingSocial, HomeRun or some sort of Internet-based discount provider, right? Tada! I'm here to introduce you to coupon/discount Internet group that can help you be green, community-minded and save money, too. Drum roll, please ... enter Townloop -- a new player in the social media Internet discount universe.

Let me back up and share how I discovered Townloop. As an ardent supporter of personal safety education, I teach self-defense through the nonprofit IMPACT Personal Safety. I'm a board member and a kids' class instructor. I'm often appalled at how few people know about us, and when the kids who take our classes "graduate," the parents and the kids -- without any prompting -- declare how important the class is. Normal advertising is prohibitive for us as a new nonprofit and, while we do OK with word of mouth, we need to be more visible to more parents.

So it was a bit of a no-brainer to tell my colleagues at IMPACT I would get us onto Groupon, or KGBdeals, or one of the biggies. Ha! Are you kidding? After emailing, calling, etc., I just could not reach anyone. Nothing. So frustrating. I finally went to Facebook and put this in my status update: "Hey, does anyone in my circle know an ACTUAL person I could reach at Groupon or a service like that?"

The comments reflected my own experience. Terrible merchant interface; no response possible. Until someone piped up with an actual name and number of a person involved with Townloop. Within minutes, I was in communication with an enthusiastic Julie Ward ... how refreshing! What a relief.

Here's how it works, and here's how Townloop is green. Ms. Ward explained, "When I became a mom, I began to walk in my neighborhood. When I was working, I often did my shopping in the area where I worked, which is fine. But as a mom, I started to get to know the merchants in my own neighborhood. Then, as my kids got older and into school, I saw how much PTA parents had to scrounge for extra funds for their schools. I mean, a pancake breakfast may make some money, but it's a one time event ... and a lot of work!" Townloop has changed that for Julie and other PTA parents in the area.

How? Well, Townloop is a win-win set up for schools and local brick-and-mortar stores.

Julie, as a PTA booster, approaches her favorite local store and tells them about Townloop and how they can bring in new customers. Because Julie "acquired" the merchant for Townloop, Webster Elementary -- Julie's designated beneficiary -- will receive proceeds from the sales derived from the discount coupons.

The other social commerce discount providers are typically 50-50: 50 percent to the merchant, 50 percent to the company and its investors. Townloop's motto, "Community + Commerce," means just that: the merchant receives 60 percent. The remaining 40 percent is split between Townloop (20 percent) and the remainder to the acquiring and distributing school or community organization.

I spoke to Mark Goodstein, one of the cofounders of Townloop, who said, "We're not against commerce by any means. We simply had a vision of having a hyper-local discount voucher that benefits schools and merchants." He and his business partner, Erick Herring, have just launched Townloop and are initially concentrating in the Pasadena and San Gabriel Valley areas.

For schools, perhaps this is a way to stop the incessant selling of candy bars, wrapping paper, cards and magazine subscriptions, which would be a relief to everyone. I don't want to buy one more roll of wrapping paper, OK, kids?

Another Internet-based phenomenon you will be seeing more of is what's called "crowdsourced" funding or "crowdfunding." I now have direct experience with this since I'm raising funds to take my show, "Now That She's Gone," to the International Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, the world's largest theater festival. Without going into too much detail, lots of artists know their artistic vision doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of becoming a commercial venture. Nonetheless, it's a worthwhile project, and they need funding. Organizations like Kickstarter, IndieGogo, and Sellaband provide ways for artists to "pass the hat" globally. Visit any of those sites to get a sense of the future of start-up capital. (To see my vision, visit and search for "Snortland.")

I'm thrilled with the vision of Townloop and its commitment to Think Globally and Act Locally. I know there are Luddites out there who immediately dismiss the latest Internet versions of old concepts, but we need to exploit technology for good, not just gain. Frankly, I'd much rather "click" for a coupon than lick stamps or clip newspapers. Click beats lick any day!