Since the start of the pandemic, 60% of small businesses that have shuttered due to the coronavirus will close permanently, according to Yelp. A year later, L.A.-based entrepreneurs Negin Singh and Laura Barneham decided to do something about it: Cue Streetlet, an online platform with the mission of making it easier for people to shop the small businesses in their area, and help those entrepreneurs and makers continue to thrive.
Streetlet's first event is a virtual online Mother's Day market taking place from May 3 to May 9. Singh and Barnehama are curating about a dozen local vendors offering accessories, beauty, skincare, home goods, and other handmade giftables, and the founders themselves will hand-deliver orders to customers.
The lineup includes the Culver City romance bookstore Ripped Bodice, Silver Lake stationery shop Paper & Type, Chinatown-based apron makers Manahan + Co., wooden keepsakes brand Hereafter.LA, skincare label Elique Organics, Echo Park cheese store Milk Farm L.A., and many others.
With pop-ups planned for the rest of the year, Streetlet is aiming to launch a shopping and retail discovery app that makes it easier for people to find small businesses, regardless of whether they have brick-and-mortar locations.
Singh was previously the executive director of the Santa Monica Pier, while Barnehama hails from the tech world, where the duo met while working together at the augmented reality app DAQRI. Streetlet is the second company that Barnehama has launched, and Singh has had a history of curating some of L.A.'s coolest events. (Remember Broke L.A.? Yeah, that was helmed by her previous community-focused events company.)
Streetlet's only-in-L.A. story began when its founders brainstormed the idea while hiking.
"Laura and I were on a hike, and prior to COVID my life was much more in the arts and culture side of things," Singh tells UncoverLA. "And then COVID hit, and my entire job for the last year plus has been how to keep the local economy alive. And the crux of it was, our businesses were not set up to handle this and flourish. So I basically took all my learnings from the past year and took it to Laura and asked, 'How do we create something that serves all their needs and the consumer as well?'"
Adds Barnehama: "Where we spend our money matters, and as an entrepreneur I wanted to make it easier for people to spend money in a way that can make a positive impact. One of the ways that I like to shop for other people is to find local businesses, either near me or near them, and support them with gifts from their small business," she tells UncoverLA.
"Finding a business, ordering something there for pickup, finding the website, seeing if they even have one, and I realized that with COVID it has become even harder," Barnehama continues. "So I wanted to come up with a way that makes it easier to discover, shop, and get deliveries from small businesses."
We recently sat down with Barneham and Singh to find out what inspired them to create Streetlet, how they're hoping to support L.A.'s small business community and its customers in the future, and more. Check out our conversation and read on below.
How did your previous work experience lead you to Streetlet?
Negin Singh: Well, for the past year I was the executive director of the Santa Monica Pier. That immersed me in the world of Santa Monica and what it's like to empower a tourist and local driven town and the economics of that. And all the culture and logistics required to uphold a landmark that gets 10 to 13 million visitors a year.
But my work has always been around, How do you activate a space and community? We used to do this with Cartel before anybody even went Downtown. Community in general to me is the reason that sense of belonging happens. To do so now, via Streetlet, is just really exciting.
Laura Barnehama: I'd previously co-founded a tech company called Melon. We made a headband that used EEG technology to use biofeedback to track attention with an app. I ran that company with a few years, just out of college, and we sold it to an augmented reality company, which is where I met Negin.
At Melon, I was doing more of tech product development across product and software, but that solidified my love for being an entrepreneur. I knew with my next company I wanted to solve a problem that I was really passionate about. I got my master's degree at USC, and what I do for Streetlet is a lot of the technology vision and roadmaps that I'm passionate about solving.
What makes Streetlet unique from other small business platforms?
NS: We are taking a hyper local approach. We believe that people are more attached to their neighborhoods, even more so than their city, especially in Los Angeles. It means something to be from Venice, and something else to be from Pasadena. So often people who are attempting things like what we're doing overlook that difference. We want to take a regional approach and dial it into the neighborhood of people who don't want to shop Amazon. That's why we're activating our communities, and that's why shopping in Streetlet means making you a community member.
Tell us more about your Mother's Day event coming up.
NS: We are going to be selecting about ten or nore businesses and featuring between one and five of their products through a digital pop-up, and providing same or next-day delivery throughout L.A. so you can get it right to your door. It's really important to us to connect with our communities and neighborhoods, and businesses themselves.
Because it's our very first one, this one will have more of a general Los Angeles focus. But we will be featuring where these stores are in and connecting them to their community! The actual platform when it comes out will allow you to search through actual ZIP codes.
What kind of businesses are you looking to join Streetlet?
NS: A willingness to jump on board this journey with us, and people who want to have a connection to their community. And stuff like, hey let's write a note to the people who are purchasing from you! People who really know their products and what they love. People who have interesting stories to tell, and a real connection to where they live and where they work. I always think about it as like, when you live and work in a community, you always know those people that make their community better. Those are the people we want to feature.
LB: We're building out the first version of the platform, so the pop-ups are a temporary way for us to engage and grow with their communities before the platform is live. So we value any feedback and stories about challenges from small businesses in the past year and before that! These challenges aren't new in Covid: Covid has just exacerbated them.
Where do you envision Streetlet going?
NS: I'm the daughter of a refugee–my parents both had to run away to here. They would not have survived America without their community, and they were both small business owners throughout their life. I'm the first one of my family to have a job and not just own a small business.
For me, we really see Streetlet being a place that continues the tradition of people being able to do what they love, have their small businesses, and thrive within their communities. We really believe that Streetlet is not here to replace brick and mortar, but to be this bedrock for these stores. Like no matter what happens on this street today, we have this platform that we can count on. No matter what happens to our brick and mortar we'll have customers, visibility, and community marketing on this platform. We see ourselves as a companion to these brick and mortars to do more, better, and more efficiently.