Moontoast launches social commerce network

Company shooting for global reach

The team at Moontoast officially launched its social commerce network last week, embarking on plans to build an online community with the magnitude of social media's most successful social names.

But Moontoast is not a community like Facebook, which aims to connect its 350 million active users with their friends, colleagues and former classmates. It’s designed as a knowledge-sharing marketplace and community – connecting members with the people and brands that share their passions and interests and may provide related expertise, education, services and goods.

The company was founded in 2008 by Bucky Baxter, Joe Glaser and Chief Technology Officer Marcus Whitney, a former partner at Emma Inc. and chairman of Remarkable Wit. Several private investments, including a $780,000 round of seed capital secured in June, helped get the concept off the ground. At about that time, acting CEO Stephen Collins, a former officer at Juris and DoubleClick, joined the business.

Whitney and Collins use the analogy of a shopping mall to illustrate the Moontoast model: With Moontoast serving as the building itself, the large stores within the mall are Moontoast’s “branded communities” — sites created for corporations, organizations or celebrities who already have a strong following but are looking for a way to build a community, better interact with their followers, and potentially attract new ones.

Individuals can then enter those communities from the brand’s Web site, then navigate to other Moontoast communities.

Also in the mall is the equivalent of a flea market — individuals who have expertise or services to offer who are called guides. The “shoppers” are Moontoast members who can create profiles to catalog their interests or services/expertise they can offer, browse various branded communities, interact with other members and guides through chat, video and messaging.

To make money, Moontoast collects a percentage of all transactions. Collins explains that the company is essentially trying to create an economy: Much like the U.S. economy has a Gross Domestic Product, Moontoast would have a “Gross Moontoast Product,” he said.

“Our success is directly related to the success of our economy. Our job is to help our citizens explore their passions and help guides find those people so everyone is happy,” Collins said.

The tricky part of the plan is balancing supply and demand (guides and their would-be followers or customers) as the network grows. So to start, the company has approached businesses, associations and individual celebrities to start building branded communities before any major publicity efforts aimed at growing membership.

So far, the company has one branded community, a magazine called Hybrid Mom with which Moontoast conducted the network’s beta test. If its full pipeline of branded communities comes to fruition, Moontoast will have a network of more than 2 million people.

“Two million in the first year is ambitious, but it’s exactly where we need to be,” Whitney said.