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Moontoast, a 'social commerce' start-up spawned by Nashville's music scene, heads to Mass.

Posted by Scott Kirsner  September 1, 2010 11:10 AM

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moontoast.pngWhen a Tennessee start-up hires a Massachusetts-based chief executive, as Moontoast did last month, it means one of two things: either the new leader is going to be racking up scads of frequent flier miles, or the company is soon going to set up an office in the Bay State.

In the case of Moontoast, the second scenario is playing out. New chief executive Blair Heavey is subletting space for the company in Andover, and company co-founder Marcus Whitney has moved north from Nashville. The company is also hiring for a handful of marketing, infrastructure, and user experience positions.

The "social commerce" start-up aims to make it easier for entertainment and media companies to find fans of their properties wherever they may be spending time online; deliver content; and ideally, entice them to buy stuff. "It's a huge pain for a musician or a magazine to be able to keep fans and subscribers engaged both on their own sites and throughout social media sites," Heavey says. "And they also have revenue problems. They want to be able to monetize their content, wherever a fan base is, with things like exclusive offers and special member benefits."

The company describes its three software-as-a-service offerings as "branded communities, embedded stores, and private sale clubs."

Last month, Moontoast announced a partnership with Big Machine Records, a Nashville label whose roster includes Rascal Flatts, Trisha Yearwood, and Taylor Swift (whose Moontoast-powered Web site is pictured above.)

Heavey says the company has "funding commitments" of up to $5 million, but that they've been collecting money in "seed increments" of about $1 million at a time; most recently, the company pulled in $780,000 last summer.

Investors so far include country stars Vince Gill and Wynona Judd, according to Venture Nashville. Other Moontoast backers include the Martin Companies of Nashville; Stephen Collins, formerly CFO at DoubleClick; and Joseph Glaser, founder of a Nashville company that makes and repairs musical instruments.

Heavey says the company plans to maintain an engineering presence in Nashville, where about seven people work. Moontoast will likely move its Massachusetts headquarters from Andover to Boston or Cambridge within the next six months. At some point in 2011, Heavey says the company might seek additional investment from a strategic investor in the media or entertainment sector, or a traditional venture capital firm.

Heavey was an early executive at OpenMarket, the pioneering Cambridge e-commerce firm, and BeFree, the affiliate marketing company; both went public back in the dot-com era. More recently, he served as an entrepreneur-in-residence at North Bridge Venture Partners and CEO of My Perfect Gig, an online recruiting service funded by North Bridge and Commonwealth Capital Partners.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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