Ex-MapQuest executive's new startup launches app

DENVER (AP) — A new smartphone app lets small-business owners quickly scan competitors' Yelp reviews, Internet deals, and Facebook and Twitter updates, without necessarily having to "like" or "follow" their competitors online.

The Denver-based startup Closely officially launched its Perch app Wednesday.

Perch operates much like TweetDeck, which helps people read and organize postings on Twitter and Facebook. It has a scrolling, personalized list of individual businesses' new activity on social media. Tapping an icon brings up details.

Perch will give small-business owners a bird's-eye view of how competitors are using social media, said Closely founder and CEO Perry Evans, formerly of MapQuest. The insight could encourage them to buy marketing services from Closely.

The free app also seems appealing to consumers, who could get a running compilation of discounts offered by their favorite businesses. But Evans said consumers are not the intended target.

While shoppers have embraced social media and mobile apps, small businesses sometimes have been playing catch-up, Evans said.

"The best thing we can do is help businesses save more time, feel more in control and understand who they think they're competing with, what's going on around them," Evans said. "They can understand what consumers are seeing when they shop and compare their business to other businesses. If we become their trusted lens to that marketplace, we'll have an advantage in taking that relationship into the right solution."

Senior analyst Greg Sterling of Opus Research, who has no affiliation with Closely, said that while there are tools doing some of what Perch does, the Perch app is uniquely positioned as a small-business competitive intelligence tool, with a unique presentation. Years ago, small businesses could buy one-time ads in the phonebook or newspapers, but today they might have an online presence that needs to be updated and monitored.

"They've got a lot of stuff to do and not a lot of time," Sterling said of small-business owners. "They have their business. Then there's this other thing which is learning how to do Facebook and search optimization and Yelp. ... It's just a lot to learn and master."

Sterling said Closely's challenge will be explaining what Perch can do.

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Follow Catherine Tsai at https://www.twitter.com/ctsai_denver

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