CityVoter Gears Up for “Best Of” Voting Push, Looks to Cash In on Daily Deals and Rewards

It’s good to know that the dive bar around the corner from where I used to live for seven-plus years has spawned at least one intriguing tech startup.

The bar is Joe Sent Me on Mass. Ave. in North Cambridge, MA—and it’s not a dive anymore (hasn’t been for years). The startup is CityVoter, which makes software to help media companies and local businesses create “best of” competitions and user-generated city guides across the country. Cambridge-based CityVoter has been around for a few years, but thanks to the shifting winds of the market, its business might be about to pop.

The story goes back to 2004, when Josh Walker and his brother hatched the startup idea while drinking mugs of beer at the venerable neighborhood pub. “We wrote stuff on napkins and all that,” says Walker, who is the CEO. (His brother, Jeremy, is still chief technology officer of the company.)

Walker, a native of upstate New York, had gone to college in Vermont and worked as a journalist at Boston-area papers including The Beacon Hill Times and Patriot Ledger in the 1990s. He became an analyst at Forrester Research and spent six-plus years there during and after the dot-com bubble, focusing on software (including e-commerce, travel, and other sectors) and rising to vice president. He then served as an entrepreneur in residence at General Catalyst, the Boston-area venture firm, for about a year before starting work on CityVoter.

The startup was inspired by some friends of Walker’s in England, who were launching a company similar to Boston-based DirectoryM (now nSphere), a paid directory of businesses online. Walker thought, “Let’s make something cooler than a directory—a voting platform.” The idea was to collect consumers’ recommendations and votes online, and encourage local businesses—bars, restaurants, laundromats, stores—to compete in annual “best of” competitions. Revenues would come from providing the voting platform for big media companies to host these competitions, and selling corporate sponsorships.

Walker incorporated his startup (originally called A-List Businesses) in early 2005, and raised $2.4 million from Dace Ventures the next year, followed by a $2.6 million round from Allen & Company and Dace in 2008. His team has worked to sign up media partners like WBZ-TV (the CBS affiliate) and NECN in Boston, KING5 in Seattle, the San Francisco Chronicle,, CBS Radio, and McGraw-Hill Broadcasting. And yes, Joe Sent Me won “best burger” in 2006.

Fast forward to 2010, and CityVoter is now flirting with profitability while staying … Next Page »

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