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Here’s the traditional model of group gifting. Illustration via GiftStarter

Arry Yu arrived at Seattle’s Startup Weekend in March armed with little more than an idea and a 60-second pitch. Over the course of the weekend she found a team and garnered the necessary votes to win first place. Three months later, with backing from Startup Next Seattle, was born.

Giftstarter CEO Arry Yu.

The three-person startup aims to personalize and simplify the process of purchasing gifts as a group. One person finds a product from GiftStarter’s select retailers (which already include Nordstrom, REI, Filson, Brooks, and Costco), and creates a GiftStarter page. Group members can log on and contribute until the retail price is reached. Once all the funds have been raised, GiftStarter sends the gift with a personalized “Contributor Card.”

The site’s mission, as Yu explains, “is to bring back the humanity, personality and the joy of real-life interactions, using technology as an enabler – not a focal point.”

Last month Yu left her job at business and technology consulting firm Logic20/20 to commit to GiftStarter full-time. She described the departure as “bittersweet” on her blog but is excited about the future of her new endeavor.

The company has since joined 9MileLabs, a Seattle-based accelerator focused on B2B companies. We caught up with Yu to learn more about the company for this installment of Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “GiftStarter is the gifting platform that makes it easy for friends and family to come together and purchase a gift for a loved one – and we capture the personalized messages in a card that is delivered with the gift.”

Inspiration hit us when: “We’ve each had our own personal experiences with regards to the intersection of design, social networks, e-commerce, and technology in the realm of
gifting that we bring to the table. Arry with her own personal experience with weddings and registries; Christie with her personal experiences with baby registries and her military family background; Stuart with his very close knit large family and extended family and friends — all of these experiences are ones we aim to reinvent, together.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “We’ve started with bootstrapping as we all went diving in full time into our startup. Since then, we’ve been invited to join 9Mile Labs, Seattle’s B2B startup accelerator. We believe that through the partnership of our GiftStarter team and the 9Mile Labs team, we’ll be able to find the right kind of acceleration to get to that next stage.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Design — the design of how our team fits and works together, the functional design of the business, the design thinking employed in our technology choices, the connectivity and the execution of the design experience in everything in our product. We spend a lot of time focusing on prioritizing the right pieces of not just the product, but also inclusive of the company, each of us as individuals, and the team as a whole.”

giftstarter logoThe smartest move we’ve made so far: “Spending a lot of time talking with all kinds of potential customers, clients, partners and learning about their perspectives. We’ve gone and visited gifting stations in the malls, the Hallmark and Papyrus stores, policemen and firemen, soon-to-be brides and recently married ones, soon-to-be mothers and recent mothers, … each time we go thinking about making sure we are keeping an open mind and focusing on creating a great interaction with the person we speak with.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “We just launched (soft beta launched) to the public, so it is hard to measure at this point. We are continually learning and overcoming challenges and obstacles, as with any startup, so we will continue to push the learning, growing, and adjusting that needs to happen. For example, we tried to bring on some additional part-time help from friends — we quickly learned that additional people hindered our agility to react and so we went back to being a focused team of three. We also learned that having the knowledge of what is going on with the product and the market research also helped us team more effectively together.”

Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Jobs. He led Apple to
really take human and centered design to the next level and set the standard that revolutionized the entire industry. He taught his designers to say no and focus on making one or two things really well. That user and human-centric thinking and innovation is what we find inspiring.”

jobsapple-150x150Our world domination strategy starts when: “It starts when the world of retail and e-commerce embraces our technology as a way to combine and take social buying. We want to be the company that brands turn to when faced with how to make a shopping experience more human — especially in the world of gifts.”

Rivals should fear us because: “Of our commitment to quality — in experience design, in embracing and leveraging a wide range of knowledge and skills, in taking into account human emotion and nature. We are constantly and respectfully challenging each other and the norm — going where others would be uncomfortable.”

We are truly unique because: “We are not afraid of a challenge and we are not afraid of the unknown. We aim to take the world of business, design and technology to the next level by being the most human-centric company in the world.”


The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “Building and strengthening the team that we are today in such a short time and over distances. It is an ongoing and personal process to commit to each other and the company every day. We’ve embraced a lot of tips and tricks from other entrepreneurs, like Kyle Kesterson, around teaming best practices that have really taken our team to the next level.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Team — the immediate co-founding team, but also the support system of family and friends who will gently nudge you along, sometimes slowing you down to share some perspective and bring you back to reality, and sometimes giving you a ton of space so you can just get things done. The team in the greater sense is so critical to us individually and as a whole.”

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