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The Gratafy team allows friends to send drinks and food to Facebook friends

A few weeks ago, I wanted to buy my good pal and business partner, Todd Bishop, a couple of drinks to celebrate his wedding anniversary.

I knew where the Bishops were dining, and so I called the restaurant to try to line something up. Unfortunately, the restaurant wouldn’t handle the request over the phone, so I was out of luck (unless I traveled across town to make the purchase in person).

Ugh. It never happened.

But a new app called Gratafy, developed by University of Washington grads Brian Erke and Ryan Halper, could help alleviate that problem.

The app allows users in Seattle to buy drinks, desserts or other menu items from about 40 restaurants (Purple Cafe, Barrio, SeaStar, Tom Douglas Restaurants, etc.) for Facebook friends who may be celebrating anniversaries, birthdays or other special occasions. We caught up with the Gratafy founders to learn more in this installment of Startup Spotlight.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it : “Gratafy is a new experience-based social gifting platform that lets you send specific food and drinks from local restaurants, bars and nightlife venues to Facebook friends as gifts. It’s a quick, easy and instant way to send a personalized gift to celebrate a special occasion.  It also allows our merchant partners to finally offer merchandise outside of their four walls through social media.”

Inspiration hit us when: “We noticed the trend in social commerce and an opportunity to carve out a niche in instant, experience-based gifting. How many times have you wanted to celebrate a birthday or special occasion with a friend but couldn’t be there in person? Gratafy was created to solve this problem. We started with the places most conducive to celebrations: restaurants and nightlife establishments. Our goal is to ultimately make sharing experiences through gifts something that people can do easily and on the go every day.  There have been previous attempts at solving similar problems, but Gratafy is different because of the way we have integrated with our merchant partners – we’ve made the gifting and redemption process seamless and mutually beneficial to all parties (no pun intended).”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap (Why):: “All three. Ryan and Brian bootstrapped the alpha MVP of the product to prove that the technology was feasible. Given the many facets of this product – merchant partnerships, POS system integration, app development, sales process, onboarding process, etc – there was a high bar to garner investor commitment and capital.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Our relationships with merchant partners and our gift redemption technology. We spent an enormous amount of time refining the benefits we provide to our merchant partners, deciding on how to price our product, and developing deep point-of-sale integration that makes server training a snap. We’ve gone to great lengths to ensure merchants are happy with the product and aligned with its success, which in turn ensures that our consumer users have the best experience possible.”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Not taking shortcuts. The technology we’ve built, especially around merchants and gift redemption is quite valuable, but it was incredibly difficult to cultivate. In the beginning we received a lot of feedback to pursue the easy routes and saw other startups taking those paths which leave a disconnect between the consumer and merchant when someone comes in trying to use the product and gets turned away. We considered those to be shortcuts – weak attempts at a real solution to the problem we’re solving. At the time it was scary to pursue something so uncertain and challenging, but now that we’ve made it through to the other side we’re very glad we took the road less traveled.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Not focusing 100 percent of our time on mobile. The way our concept works, mobile platforms are a must, while a fully fleshed out website is not as critical. In retrospect we would have been better suited to start there and work up to a website after we were able to understand user behavior a bit better.”

Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Zuckerberg. Facebook is the social network where most celebratory conversations take place, and they have an unbelievable grasp on the data behind these communications. As we know, Facebook also just launched a gifting platform focused on shipped goods. While Gratafy differs from Facebook Gifts in that we offer local, experience-driven gifting, clearly we would benefit greatly from harnessing Zuckerberg’s expertise and vision.”

Our world domination strategy starts when:
“We see positive feedback from our consumers. We’ve been really fortunate that our merchant partners have given us such wonderful feedback, but this is only half of the equation. Now it’s our job to uphold our end of the bargain and make sure our consumer users are as thrilled and excited to use the product as our merchant partners. If and when we see confirmation of user adoption and engagement in metrics and data, the scaling engine will start and we will proceed rapidly.”

Rivals should fear us because: “We don’t really think anyone should fear us – we’re really nice people!”

We are truly unique because: “Our core ideologies and culture support our product. Gratafy has built what we consider to be a really amazing product and unique technology that solves major consumer and local merchant problems end-to-end. We truly believe in what we are doing, and why we’re doing it. We come into work every day for reasons above and beyond a paycheck and the dreams of a big exit.”

The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “Gaining the initial momentum needed to propel a startup into a virtuous cycle. Whether it’s finding a powerful ally to be the mouthpiece that helps you gain advisors and investors, or finding the initial team members willing to make a leap of faith and join your (what was then) concept, it’s difficult to get moving as first-time founders. But once you get that initial investment or find that first team member, the momentum starts to build. Then you just have to sustain that excitement and reach the next milestone. Over and over!”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just
starting out: 
“Niche out your product. There’s a tendency to start really broad in the ideation phase because as an entrepreneur you see so much opportunity, and you dream big. But in reality the more you try to do early on, the harder it is to finish your MVP, release your beta, and get that precious feedback you need to rapidly iterate and tweak your product.  Also, the more you focus, the less chance there is of colliding with a competitor. Start dead simple, measure your feedback, and learn from it. Read books by Eric Ries and Steve Blank before you start!”

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