Brendan Devlin, at top left with his children Jack and Ella, is surrounded by screenshots of his MarinSmallBiz.com platform, set to launch later this summer. Courtesy images.

Brendan Devlin, who has spent his 20-year professional career in the financial services industry, is about to make the entrepreneurial leap of a lifetime.

That he’s doing so in the middle of a pandemic is partly by design – there may be no greater example than the past several months of lemons needing to be turned into lemonade. Devlin’s BHAG is to successfully launch MarinSmallBiz.com, a digital directory-meets-”community shopping club” concept that seeks to both drive customers to small businesses throughout Marin AND incentivize those businesses to offer deals and discounts to club members.

“It’s a crazy time and I’m kind of a crazy person,” says Devlin. “In the period after I left my previous company, I took notes for two weeks on this idea, and everything started flowing in a way that has never happened in my life.”

PictureMarinSmallBiz.com founder Brendan Devlin.

Devlin, a Philadelphia area native who moved to the Bay Area nearly two decades ago and “never looked back,” says the concept has been driven in part by his personal experience as a consumer at small businesses throughout Marin, as well as his years of being a parent of young children in the Mill Valley School District and seeing how interconnected the business and school communities are.

For instance, the Business Partner Program of Kiddo, the Mill Valley Schools Community Foundation, is among the ways that the organization raises more than $3 million per year to support programs and teachers in the arts, elementary physical education, classroom and library aides, technology and innovative teaching grants from transitional kindergarten through 8th grade in the district.

“All of that interconnectedness creates that experience that when a neighbor’s house is on fire, you want to go and help put the fire out,” Devlin says. “We don’t want to argue about the price of a hose. So many small businesses in Marin that I love have been quietly and generously giving to schools and sports leagues and other causes for years and years. We’ve relied on them for so long and now we need to help the people that have been helping us for so long.”

PictureA screengrab of the directory of MarinSmallBiz.com.

Devlin plans to launch MarinSmallBiz.com in the coming weeks and is in the midst of his outreach to local business owners.
Devlin’s revenue model is based on businesses paying a fixed monthly subscription fee based, with potential premium “add-ons” available, but not required, down the road. Unlike so many tech-centric businesses designed to increase customers growth and retention, MarinSmallBiz.com won’t take a slice of the transaction revenue, Devlin says.

“There will be a great deal of flexibility and choice around this platform I’ve created,” he says. “And it all starts with a conversation. No two businesses are alike but nobody’s an original. I don’t know the business model for a toy store or a bike shop. Some may want to increase relationships with existing customers and some might want to broaden their audience, and some might want to do both. I want to understand what a business owner wants and tailor solutions to their needs.”

“The bottom line is that I want this to be a resource that puts business owners in a place where they get to effectively leverage this tool for their business,” he adds. “We want to understand the goals and strategy of each of our business partners and find ways to complement what they’re doing and build on it with our platform.”

The site will offer varied levels of directory listings for each business depending on their level of engagement, and ditto for consumers, who will get opportunities to redeem offers from local businesses like preferred reservations or gift certificates 
Devlin says the business owners he’s connected with to date have been asking him for feedback on products and services and that will be an element of the platform.

“But this won’t be a public forum or Yelp review site,” he says. “This will be focused on healthy feedback.”

Devlin says he’s looking to establish relationships with a wide variety of clubs and social groups interested in joining the community shopping club. For instance, he hopes to make a matching $1,000 donation to Kiddo! when he gets 1,000 sign-ups from an organization like the Edna Maguire PTA.

Devlin says MarinSmallBiz.com spans both the professional and the personal. He comes from a family of small business owners, and what he’s witnessed throughout Marin, with business owners innovating amidst economic devastation, have only strengthened his conviction to make MarinSmallBiz.com a driver of growth and sustainability for local businesses.

“This has been an absolutely crazy moment – I can’t wait to help,” he says.

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