Gift’d – The Gift You Actually Want, In a Redbox

Gift’d – The Gift You Actually Want, In a Redbox

In a shopping mall in Oxford, England, Janet McKay Smith and Alison Gifford are running errands.

They’re in the middle of a two-week entrepreneurship program at the college—which, albeit they are ‘guests,’ isn’t unfamiliar territory.

Janet and Alison are seasoned classmates. Both women are enrolled at Salem College in Winston-Salem: Alison, as a full-time Nonprofit and Entrepreneurship double major. Janet, as a part-time Business Administration major—when she isn’t working a full-time job, or volunteering at Mixxer (the local makerspace), or raising her kids.

The cofounders first met in an entrepreneurship class. Thanks to encouragement from their professor, both opted into the Techstars global startup hosted by Flywheel. That weekend, Janet’s idea for a local retail-centered gift card kiosk was voted one of the seven projects that participants would develop over the course of the weekend. When the participants broke up into teams, Janet remembered Alison from class—her work ethic, in particular. Their team developed a 7-minute pitch for Gift’d and won.

The Gift of Self-Selection

Everyone on that team thought, We have something here. So they continued to pursue the idea. As lives got busier, teammates started dropping off. In the end, it was Janet and Alison.

Janet (who moved to Winston-Salem at age eight), comes from a family of ‘people who have always been able to monetize things.’ Many of her family members have their own businesses or side hustles. Her parents always taught her that she could do anything she wanted — whether that meant working for other people or working for herself.

Last year, Janet was in a CVS staring at the gift card options. She had three gifts for three different occasions that she needed—by that night. She knew she wasn’t going to have time to wrap anything, much less find three gifts. This was it, her best option. She left feeling disappointed in the restaurant and retail selection, but also in the balance options. As she walked back out to the car, she saw the Redbox and thought, Why aren’t there kiosks for gift cards?

Meanwhile, Alison (a Texas native) had earned a scholarship to Salem College. Entrepreneurship had always excited her—plus, her father owned his own company. Growing up, she’d filled in as his receptionist, and the business interested her.

Alison and Janet make a good match. (Alison focuses on sales and customer discovery. Janet focuses on development and marketing.) But the truth is that they both just kept ‘riding the wave.’ Their business, the youngest of New Venture’s graduating cohort, will celebrate one year in November. Alison and Janet’s partnership was founded by—and has continued to thrive because of—a kind of self-selection: two individuals who both operate with the mentality “We got this.”

As it happens, a sort of ‘self selection’ is the very thing that Gift’d plans to offer consumers. Here’s how it works:

You’ll walk up to a kiosk at your local grocery store or airport or neighborhood haunt (they’ve just secured a partnership with a local downtown coffee shop). When you go to select your gift card, you’ll see a long list of local restaurants and stores. While you’re at it, you’ll select the occasion for the card (birthday, graduation, etc.). Finally, you’ll upload a photo of your choosing. The card will then print on-demand.

Millennials want the customization piece, Janet says. In fact, this unique touch is exactly what made Alison love Janet’s idea—it gives people the opportunity to take something ordinary and make it special.

For the naysayers: If you’re of the mind that gift cards are really just about ease for the gift-giver, data shows otherwise. The 2017 National Retail Federation (NRF) Annual Holiday report showed that gift cards were the most requested gift, 11 years and running.

That said, Gift’d isn’t just intended for the consumer. Janet and Alison have some special things in mind for the local economy, as well.

Less Things, More Experiences

So far, the reception from local businesses has been extremely encouraging—which isn’t necessarily surprising. Gift’d essentially provides free marketing for local business owners, who are typically a one- or two-woman show and often don’t have time to think about gift cards. They also appreciate the up-front profit that gift cards provide.

But Janet and Alison have hopes to expand the scope of gift cards beyond boutiques, shops, and restaurants—to support even more local businesses. It started when they noticed a cultural shift: a desire for less things and more experiences.

While Janet and Alison work out the Gift’d app and kiosk programming/manufacturing, they’re anticipating partnerships that would allow Gift’d to provide gift cards for experiences—like a trip to the trampoline park, or an athletic event, or a city tour.

Thanks to Alison’s educational background in nonprofits, the Gift’d team is also thinking deeply about social responsibility. Gift’d has the potential to be a mechanism of greater generosity. You know that 30 cents left on your gift card? Through Gift’d, you could pick a local nonprofit and donate it.

Janet and Alison are still taken aback by the overall community support they’ve received—particularly from other startups, including those in their New Ventures cohort.

“The support from the city and the ecosystem has been amazing. We wouldn’t be here without it,” Janet says.

And though they’re enjoying their time honing entrepreneurial skills at Oxford, it’s nice to think of home—where, one day in the near future, they won’t need to navigate the mall.

They’ll just walk down the street to make that return.