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  Kushal Shah, CEO, Product Management at Microsoft, MBA from University of Chicago Booth School of Business, startup experience. 2.      Sriram Subramanian, CTO, Developer at Microsoft, startup experience.
GiftGiv founder Kushal Shah, CEO and Sriram Subramanian, CTO.

Want to send a small token of thanks to a client, customer or friend? GiftGiv, a new Seattle startup, makes sure you don’t miss a beat.

As co-founder Kushal Shah sees it, the traditional way of sending gifts to folks is broken, especially as it relates to small tokens of appreciation in the business world.

“The traditional model of gifting where the sender has to know and remember the event, come to the website, select the gift and send it is I broken and needs to catch up with the mobile and social data available about your customers,” notes Shah.

We caught up with Shah, a former program manager at Microsoft, for this installment of Startup Spotlight.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “GiftGiv is an appreciation service for businesses and professionals. We make appreciating your customers simple and effective by finding the right occasion to send the gift; integrating business gifting as part of your daily workflows; providing analytics to determine the gift dollar value and recommending those gifts.”

giftgivappInspiration hit us when: As aspiring entrepreneurs, we attended many networking events and expanded our professional network. As we were getting advice and mentorship, we were always at a loss on how can we appreciate and thank them for their time and insights. Yes, email is good, but not enough. Doesn’t help us to stand out. This is when our idea started taking shape. We started talking to other professionals and businesses to understand how they build and maintain relationships with their network, customers and associates.

It was mostly maintaining an inventory of gift cards, movie tickets, greeting cards, etc. which often were not relevant to the specific customer. If not, either they went to web and sent the necessary tokens of appreciation or were so busy that they always missed out on sending these tokens of appreciation and further expanding their relationship.

With an initial prototype, we started with a realtor and asked him to send simple $5 Starbucks gift cards to 50 percent of his prospective clients. As results started trickling in and we got to see the conversion rates, we knew we had something on hand and decided to focus on businesses first and then for professionals to build, maintain and expand on their network.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “We bootstrapped the initial version of GiftGiv with our savings. With successful launch of version one, we are now looking for seed funding.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “We are solving a real problem for a large number of people. Embedding our service within your daily workflows. We are working with businesses who help with customer relationship management so that appreciation comes natural and in the path of their business development activities. We have challenged ourselves that any gift should be sent in less than one minute. We recommend the right dollar value and appropriate gift based on customer score and his likes and needs. Thus, businesses can send these tokens of appreciation as they think about it. Not later or not never.”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Focusing on businesses first and further targeting specific verticals – realtors and insurance agents locally within Seattle. We also have opened up our gift platform for other solutions to provide this appreciation and gift service within their applications. With few partnerships taking shape, this exposes GiftGiv to thousands of users already.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Our initial focus was a lot on mobile and ‘where’ our solution was running rather than the solution itself. Mobile is certainly a great and fast growing channel. However, ensuring our solution is available where the customer is today makes more sense.”

Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos
Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos

Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Well, we have not met any of them and for us it is important that we work with people we are comfortable with. Yes, they have to be smart and actually been an entrepreneur, which all of them are. So, if we had to pick – Bezos. His visionary thinking along with ability to execute are unparalleled. We want to be the Amazon of business appreciation and who better to have in our corner than the Amazon founder himself.”

Our world domination strategy starts when: “It already started. We are solving a real problem that impact many. Initial results from our pilot indicate that customers are seeing the power of being able to appreciate. As more customers realize the value of sending simple tokens of appreciation, we expect this to help grow our business and hopefully encourage new behavior. From a technology stand point, expanding on LinkedIn and phone contacts to dominant CRM systems such as Salesforce and Dynamics and then notifying small businesses about customer’s important occasions so that they can be in touch is next step in our conquest.”

Rivals should fear us because: “Rather than bringing a new app and building an audience for this new experience, we are focused on integrating into existing workflows for gift giving. The business model frees us from the expensive task of building an audience organically so that we can focus on the experience and technology and thus deliver a world class appreciation platform.”

giftigivlogo 362 - 180We are truly unique because: “Of all the gift services today, there is no single service that brings the power of technology and matches it with personal touch through customization, appropriate targeting based on recipient needs(Starbucks gift card for a coffee drinker, wine bottle for a wine connoisseur) and provides the simplicity to do appreciation within daily workflows.”

The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “Pivoting after the launch of Facebook gifts. We needed to ensure we provide a unique value proposition against our competitors. Focusing on businesses and helping them in appreciation of their clients and business network — not just within your social networks — in hindsight is the best decision we took.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Execute. Don’t wait for stars to align. They probably won’t ever. You got an idea, execute on it, validate it and then pivot and continue moving forward. Remember, you make your own luck!

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