Halifax’s vLife, an online advertising platform for local businesses, has seen its customer count nearly double during the pandemic, thanks partly to a deal with the Halifax Partnership.

VLife Chief Executive Melanie Little said in an interview that feedback from businesses using vLife has been positive, and with the success of the Halifax Partnership project, she hopes to sign similar agreements with business groups elsewhere in Atlantic Canada. Under the terms of the Halifax deal, the economic development organization subsidized subscription costs for entrepreneurs in the city

On the back of strong user growth, Little has also borrowed about $68,000 from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, funding 75 percent of the salaries of two new hires, a digital marketer and a content creation lead, who bring vLife’s employee count to four people.

“We have a bootstrap path, and then we have a partially funded path, like with ACOA,” said Little of the fundraising options she is considering for vLife. “And then we have an investment funding and partnership path, where we would have different growth trajectories.

“With investment funding, we would be able to target larger city markets soon, outside of the region as well, but our current path is to have more presence in Nova Scotia and throughout the region.”

Co-Founders Melanie Little and Riaz Khan started vLife’s parent company, Quantum Link, in 2017 and launched the website in December 2019. Users can sign up free and browse local ventures, with vLife either redirecting them to a different website or to a physical storefront.

To advertise on vLife, businesses can choose from three subscription options: a basic $10 per month tier, a $30 per month option that comes with promotional content on vLife’s social media accounts and a $300 annual subscription that includes the same services as the $30 price point. Black- and Indigenous-owned businesses receive a 20 percent discount.

Those price points could change as vLife grows and is able to deliver more value to clients, Little added, but existing customers will be grandfathered in at the lower rates.

“We're very flexible,” she said. “Sometimes people's businesses are seasonal … so we can pause their subscription if they need to, and we just retain their landing page until they're ready to go live with it again.”

Little said vLife’s comparatively low price points were chosen to be affordable to independent businesses with thin margins, and she aims to offer subscribers a tenfold return on their investment.

A key part of vLife’s value proposition, she added, is tied to increasing the company’s own online following, including via a carefully curated blog.

“We're very strategic about our blog writing and making it really useful and relevant to not only locals, but people coming from away and … wanting a local experience,” she said.

Under the Halifax Partnership deal, the organization bought a year’s subscription for any of its members that were interested. Little said vLife gained 65 new subscribers between the summer of 2020 and December of last year. 

With the aim of retaining as many Halifax Partnership subscribers as possible after their first year ends, she said she is allowing them some flexibility about when they begin paying fees — a decision that has the added benefit of accommodating for the impact of COVID-19 on the retail and hospitality sectors.

Outside of Halifax, vLife has a handful of client businesses in rural Nova Scotia communities like Digby and Antigonish. As Little looks to cement her company’s presence outside Halifax, she plans to eventually add a geolocation feature to the website, allowing users to search specifically for businesses in their surrounding area.