[quote style=”boxed”]”When I make a mistake, or something doesn’t work, I figure out why not and I learn.”[/quote]
Cynthia is a co-founder of Gift Gather. Gift Gather is a web platform that allows people to create and share a personalized gift registry for themselves, or for a loved one, asking for one dream gift for those special celebrations life brings us. It’s like Kickstarter for your birthday, Christmas, wedding gifts, etc.
Cynthia’s background is in customer service and management at high-end resorts. After going back to school in 2008, she discovered there is more to life than climbing the corporate ladder. Since graduating she has helped strategize and plan the launch of another start-up out of Missoula, MT and has done some strategic consulting for small businesses in Montana. People also pay her to write business plans. She is exceptional at seeing and identifying big picture opportunities and formulating detailed plans on how to bring it about.
Cynthia recently rented out her mountain home, sold her skis, and moved back to San Diego in order to pursue Gift Gather full time. She is truly dedicated to bringing meaning back into the gift process.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on business development and building a content strategy for Gift Gather. We are just about to launch The Gift Chronicles, which is a campaign to learn about the best gifts people have ever received or given. Our hope for this is to learn as much as we can about what makes a gift special. Also we are trying to find our sweet spot in terms of how people can be better on-line ‘Gifters’; we are about to expand out of the wedding market and make it possible for people to ‘gather’ gifts for themselves or ‘gather’ gifts for their loved ones.
Where did the idea for Gift Gather come from?
It’s been a culmination of many moments. To start, giving gifts stresses me out, it feels more materialistic than meaningful and I usually spend hours trying to find a thoughtful gift in my budget. Additionally, I hate the whole traditional wedding registry concept. It was actually created by Macy’s way back in the 1920’s. I believe consumer stores perpetuated this tradition in order to increase sales over the last century. I went through a phase of giving relationship self-help books instead of items on wedding registries and writing notes in them that said ‘this book will help you a whole lot more than any item on your registry’. Then, a couple of years ago, my dad was very generous and gave me airline miles to Hawaii for my 30th birthday. I was living in Montana at the time, so this was my dream beach vacation. He was able to make this dream trip of mine possible by covering the most expensive part. And it really resonated with me. I started doing research on the whole gift industry, had some ideas on meaningful solutions, and just went from there. Also, when in Hawaii, I met up with some friends (also mentioned in Q #17) and we talked a lot about the possibilities to make traveling easier which is when I decided to take action on it (having an awesome time on vacation, made me want to make it possible for everyone).
How do you make money?
We are transaction based. We offer a platform for people to create a custom gift registry for one dream gift and share it with all of their social and personal networks. We handle all of the payment processing for them as well. So when someone gives a gift (‘gifter’), we add on a small processing fee to the transaction. We feel like it’s a win-win situation for the ‘giftee’ and the ‘gifter’. We think it would be such a bummer if the ‘giftee’ raised enough money for their dream gift and then we took our cut from it (to cover our costs). The ‘gifter’ is able to give right then and there. They don’t have to shop, there is no sales tax or shipping so they avoid the baseline hassles of traditional gifting.
What does your typical day look like?
I usually get up between 6a-7a and scan my phone for important emails. My day is easier and better if I can get some exercise and same for my dog so we usually head to the beach for a walk. After that, I’m back online monitoring our customer engagement, working on increasing customer acquisition, and creating content. A portion of my time (usually the lunch hour) is working with my mentors here in San Diego figuring out what I need to be doing, how I need to do it and who can help. Beyond all of this, I spend my time learning by reading books written by people a lot smarter than me, pitching at local events, giving product demos, and participating in networking events that have purpose. I try to go to yoga in the evenings, but don’t always get to. Most evenings, after dinner, I turn my computer back on and do more research, or work on creating content. We have this awesome chat-software on our website, so I can see if anyone is on it and what they are looking at. I can easily follow their trail through our site and chat with them if they have questions. I always have access to this chat, via my computer, iPad, or iPhone. I pretty much work all day and into the evenings if I have internet access but with a start-up, there are few typical days.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Once I have an idea, I like to first identify my potential customer and go talk to them. These customers are not my friends or family. Ideally they are new to the process and unknown to me. I put myself in front of these people and ask questions about the problem I am trying to solve without leading them. Getting honest feedback is key. By doing this I either validate my idea or invalidate it. But chances are I’m onto something so I need to figure out if my solution is the best approach and if that is really my target customer. This usually takes several rounds of strangers and questions. Once my idea is validated I am ready to take action.
With Gift Gather, taking action was all about surrounding myself with really smart and talented people that have skill sets I don’t. Tackling a problem alone is a huge undertaking. I don’t have coding skills or design skills so I built a team to complement my weaknesses. From there we built a basic product and put it in front of our customer. Then we solicit feedback, tweak it, and keep going. We just tackle it one day at a time.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
There is a rally for collaboration, in the tech start up world, here in San Diego. I am super excited by this trend! More and I’m seeing a growing number of people who want to get together, be inspired, and work towards their goals side-by-side and push each other up and over hurdles instead of going it alone. There is something powerful in helping each other and it is exhilarating to be a part of.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
After college (2004), I worked at a private ski resort as a concierge. It was this massive resort and was pretty new (2001) so there were many growing pains. The managers (they came and went with each season) used to give this speech about how the club was in its ‘infancy’. In 2008 a manager gave the ‘infancy’ speech (again), and I finally asked her if the resort was ever going to grow up and then promptly applied to grad school. The resort filed for bankruptcy later in 2008 (they restructured and got bought and it is thriving now). Through those 4 years I was able to hone my customer service skills, manage my first team of 15 people, and I experienced why companies go bankrupt (you have to make more money than you spend). Also, if you think about your business as an infant, it will act like an infant. I think about those lessons daily.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Absolutely nothing. I am where I am today more so because of the mistakes I’ve made than my successes. When I make a mistake, or something doesn’t work, I figure out why not and I learn.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Listen. By listening I am able to validate, learn, and adapt. My customers are everywhere and they are constantly giving me feedback. Listening on-line would be data collection. I try to collect as much valuable data as I can as early as I can and learn and grow from it.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I didn’t know enough about marketing, and I knew even less about content strategies, so I really failed to develop them early enough. I thought on-line ads would be really effective. They weren’t because I didn’t have a good story or purpose to them. Now I am busting my ass to get one set up and I’m reading about how to “Bake In” content to your marketing.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I just got done with Lean Start Up Machine Weekend and we validated that people want more healthy-food delivery options and personal chefs want more work. The idea is to connect the food vendors at Farmer’s Markets to people in their homes. If someone can figure out the logistics, they could kill it!
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
The gift giving process. The beauty of gifts is that you give something that the other person wants, but doesn’t have for whatever reason. It’s a double-sided emotional event. I really want people to think bigger with gifts, instead of consumer-based products. People don’t ask for big-ticket items or dream gifts such as: a dream vacation, help with a down payment on a home, sending their kids to summer camp, etc…because as individuals, their friends or family members can’t make it happen on their own. However, if you got all of your kid’s grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins to chip in for summer camp, your kid has a chance. I just want to reduce the meaningless clutter in people’s lives and fill them with memories, adventures, and meaning. I’m doing my part by starting the Gift Gather platform.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
I really like rollerblading. And my dog is so embarrassed by it, she runs into her bed if she sees my ‘blades’ come out and I can’t get her to come with me if I don’t plan it right.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
Olark. It allows me to stalk my customers, a.k.a. track their behavior in real time and reach out to them instantly if I need to.
Basecamp. Basecamp allows my partners and I to manage our projects, track each others progress, and discuss/add feedback to them without having a physical office. It keeps everything in one place, is easy to use and takes care of everything. It allows us to be successful even though I live in San Diego, Adam lives in Portland, and Colin lives in Missoula.
Mailchimp. I’m only now learning the importance of email marketing. Mailchimp is so easy to use and it’s got personality. They have all these monkey jokes and videos linked throughout their site. It makes the process fun. Maybe if Quickbooks had some monkey jokes I would enjoy it more.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Steve Jobs’ biography. It will inspire you, if you haven’t read it. I was hesitant at first because Steve Jobs was a notorious ass-hole, but the book tackles it head on and the story is just incredible. He set out to change the world, and he didn’t let anything get in his way.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why? (please don’t include yourself)
I think Twitter is best used as a customer service tool. Other than that it’s a lot of junk/noise to (t)weed through. (I just made that up, BTW, ‘tweed’ 🙂
But I will tell you my 3 biggest company crushes and you can read their blogs, Twitter, Facebook, whichever resonates with you.
1. Timbuk2 – I love their marketing and content strategy.
2. Airbnb – Turned my spare room into cash (on my schedule) and I met some awesome people. Their service is so easy to use and helpful. Brilliant.
3. Olark – The chat software I mention several times here. Real time customer info and sales tool.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
My best friends from Montana were just visiting and we were sitting on the beach for sunset after a long day of ‘touring’ and our friend Chad, also visiting, pulled up an SNL skit on his phone, The Sloppy Shuffle. We spent the rest of the trip busting out our best ‘sloppy shuffle’ at inappropriate moments. It was hilarious in the moment and for the rest of the visit. I am giggling as I type this.
Who is your hero?
I pretty much admire anyone who is brave enough to take action towards their dreams whether in their personal lives or professional lives.
Is there anything you attribute to your success?
Yes, my partners Adam and Colin. They make magic happen. Gift Gather wouldn’t be here today without them.
What is your favorite color?
Gift Gather Website:
Gift Gather on Twitter: @gftgthr
Cynthia Kellogg on Twitter: @cynthiakellogg
Gift Gather on Facebook:
Cynthia Kellogg on LinkedIn: