Boston Globe: The .boston Effect
Boston Globe: The .boston Effect
Originally published in The Boston Globe and authored by Jeremy Hartman, Vice President Venture Forward and Community Engagement
The opportunity to use Boston in a URL is just one way the city is encouraging a microbusiness boom.
Shortly after engineer Mark Schow decided to start a commercial HVAC company called Elevated Design Inc. in 2017, an ad on the T caught his eye. It invited local businesses to adopt website domain names with a new “.boston” extension.
It’s easy to see why Schow jumped at the opportunity. Elevateddesign.com was already taken, but Elevateddesign.boston was available. So was EDI.boston and SchowEngineering.boston. Schow grabbed all three. “I didn’t have to compromise on our URL,” he says. “Plus, anyone who looks at my email address knows I’m from Boston. Nobody wants to hire an engineering firm that’s six hours away.”
Online microbusinesses are defined as businesses with a discrete domain name and an active website. About 90% of these online businesses employ fewer than 10 employees, only 2 in 10 have an EIN, and nearly 31% of the more-than 20 million microbusinesses tracked in the U.S. were started after the onset of the pandemic, per Venture Forward’s latest national survey.
In recent years, the .boston domain extension has become increasingly familiar to Boston area residents. Thousands of businesses including consultants, landscapers, musicians, and at least one professional witch are using this “top-level domain” to stand out amid a microbusiness boom that’s been underway in the area and across the United States since the pandemic began.
That period saw the creation of roughly 30 percent of Boston’s 29,000 microbusinesses—loosely defined as companies with ten or fewer employees and an active website. Similarly, one-third of the 55,000 microbusinesses in the Boston metropolitan statistical area (MSA)—which runs from Strafford County, NH in the north, to Plymouth County, MA in the south—and one-third of the 20 million microbusinesses in the United States were also started since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Venture Forward, a GoDaddy research initiative launched to empower and support entrepreneurs of all backgrounds who pursue microbusinesses.
Micro Businesses, Macro Impact
This entrepreneurial boom isn’t just good for microbusiness owners. It’s good for everyone. Venture Forward research has established that as the number of microbusinesses per 100 people increases in a community, median household incomes increase and unemployment falls. On average, every new microbusiness founder creates two new jobs, not including their own. Schow has created ten.
In the past, this economic impact was largely invisible to policymakers and economists, since many microbusinesses owners don’t bother to officially register the business (that’s the case with 80 percent of those in and around Boston). As the largest registrar of domain name services and the leading provider of website services to small businesses, GoDaddy has been able to gather unique data through its customers. Venture Forward was launched to put that data to good use, and inform policymakers and others about an often missed economic development opportunity. The data is freely available through GoDaddy’s Microbusiness Data Hub.
The Boston MSA has been reaping the benefits of this stealth economy. The area ranks above the national average on a series of metrics developed jointly by Venture Forward and the UCLA Anderson Forecast to gauge the health of an area’s microbusiness ecosystem. According to recent Venture Forward surveys, 50 percent of Boston area microbusiness owners average more than $2,000 per month in income, compared to 39 percent nationally.
City of Boston steps up to help microbusinesses
The city government’s embrace of the .boston domain has offered singular benefits to the area’s thriving microbusiness ecosystem.
“The .boston domain is a public benefit that gives Bostonians the ability to connect with customers online and to align their business or brand with the powerful Boston city brand,” says Santiago “Santi” Garces, Chief Information Officer for the city’s Department of Innovation & Technology. The city is one of only four in the nation—along with Las Vegas, Miami, and New York—to offer its own domain extension. “I see it as a unique opportunity to create a digital community that mirrors all the diversity, vibrancy, and creativity that exists in the physical community of Boston,” Garces said.
Of course, many other factors have made the region a hub of microbusiness activity. The area is replete with innovation hubs where entrepreneurs can work and network in common offices. And the city’s Small Business Relief Fund helped businesses get through the pandemic providing them access to $10,000 grants.
But having a “.boston” domain can clearly make businesses more competitive locally. That’s especially important for the 32 percent of Boston microbusinesses who do business within the MSA or the 59 percent that have a physical presence in the area.
“If your company is based in Boston, it’s a great marketing tool,” says Derrick Teh, the chef and founder of Malaysian pop-up restaurant Sekali Boston. He believes the domain helped him spread the word about his inventive recipes, resulting in a Best Pop Up Restaurant award from Boston.com magazine in 2021. “We were already promoting ourselves as Sekali Boston, so it was only fitting! I mean, why not?”
Encouraging a diverse microbusiness boom
One striking characteristic of the microbusiness boom across the nation has been how diverse it is. According to Venture Forward, under-represented groups including women, people of color, indigenous Americans, and people without a college degree are starting microbusinesses at higher rates than the rest of the population. That’s true in Boston, where Black Americans, who make up just 24 percent of the population, created 14 percent of the area’s microbusinesses.
Policymakers in Boston are doing their part to support this trend. For example, the city’s Office of Economic Opportunity and Inclusion is working on a variety of ways to make city support services and contracts more equitable and accessible.
Of course, there’s always more to be done. According to the most recent Venture Forward survey, people of color are more likely to need help getting access to capital, and learning the skills they need to establish and grow their digital presence. To help fill these needs, GoDaddy recently launched GoDaddy Open, a program to work with city governments to train and upskill local entrepreneurs.
To learn more about Venture Forward, and the research about Boston’s microbusiness climate, visit www.godaddy.com/ventureforward
To register a .boston domain name for yourself or your business, visit GoDaddy.
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