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Family-friendly social networking start-up lands VC, will hire 4

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CircleBuilder, a family-friendly church-oriented social networking site, has raised $800,000 from Great Lakes Angels and other venture capital organizations. CEO and co-founder Howard Brown currently runs the start-up from his Franklin home, having relocated to the area from Silicon Valley to be closer to family.

Brown, a veteran of the dot-com boom, took a sabbatical after the bust and founded a non-profit called PlanItJewish.com with the goal of building Jewish communities. The "nice" social networking site caught the eye of the Sierra Club, Red Cross and others who were intrigued by the concept of utilizing Web 2.0 concepts to grow their organizations.

Brown realized that he had unwittingly stumbled upon a for-profit business. He brought on a partner, updated PlanItJewish.com's code and launched CircleBuilder 18 months ago. Curing this pre-revenue phase, it has been quietly launched to about 30 churches and 100 users for BETA-testing and will be rolled out to more churches, synagogues and community centers this September. Brown says the company will enter a revenue phase in early 2008.

Brown says CircleBuilder will help church members find "golf buddies or a babysitter" by "creating the right touch points." Weekly emails will communicate events that matter to each individual member and allow them to communicate back to the church about what went well -- or wrong -- with an event they attended. "Feedback is missing," he observes. Other uses a church might find for CircleBuilder is to ask a member why they have not attended services in some time, to welcome a newcomer or to stay in good communication with best donors.

CircleBuilder will be family-friendly, with no objectionable advertisers and church- or organization-controlled content. Brown wants to empower religious organizations to reach a "youth generation who will carry on the mission of the church." He says that if this does not happen, "the church goes away" and that to do so, they must "compete against everything else secular."

Clients will utilize CircleBuilder as "software as a service." Space will be rented in a secure server and the CircleBuilder platform will get "mashed up" into an existing website. Brown is currently looking to hire an executive that does not necessarily have to be locally-based. He will, however, be building a local "worker team" that will include customer support, tele-sales and tele-support. "We'll start with four and go from there," he says.

Source: Howard Brown, CircleBuilder
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

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