It was at home, surrounded by a mountain of half-opened gifts, ribbons and wrapping paper that Premium member Marta Barbayannis came up with the idea for Giftwell. “We had just hosted my older son’s third birthday party,” says Marta, “Which left us with lasting memories, but also piles of excess presents, and a feeling of ‘stuffocation’.”
“It was an exact déjà vu of the two previous years, and I found myself wondering if we could ask for birthday money and put it towards one substantial present instead of getting loads of stuff we already have/don’t really need? Was there a nice way of doing this?”
“I remember feeling a bit guilty for responding to the overwhelming generosity of our family and friends in this way, but I couldn’t help but feel that everyone, including the planet, would benefit from being steered toward one big group gift, all made possible by one tidy, easy-to-use product. In that moment the idea for GiftWell was born.”
We sat down with Marta to find out more on how she started her business and continued to grow.
What’s your elevator pitch for GiftWell?
GiftWell is an app replacing cash-in-a-card gifting. It can be used for any special event where gifts of money are preferred. Think weddings and wishing wells; instead of making a special trip to the ATM and placing cash in a card, GiftWell provides the gifted funds with a personal message and are given safely and securely via the app.
Who’s your ideal customer?
Wedding couples who are planning to request gifts of money from their guests by way of a traditional wishing well and are open to making this process cashless, convenient and secure.
Plus, parents of kids who see the two-way benefit of requesting birthday money for their children’s birthdays. Their kids get a big-ticket item (the “big present”) that may otherwise have been out of reach and, equally importantly, less “stuff”. Guests are also saved the time and headache of racing around the shops in pursuit of the perfect gift.
Some of the simplest ideas are often the best, why do you think a concept like GiftWell hasn’t taken off before?
It’s hard to say… I think of GiftWell as the solution to a problem people don’t realise they have until they hear about the app. The need for a modern way to gift money has snuck up on us in the past few years because we are moving toward becoming a cashless society faster than we realise. No one carries cash anymore – we tap for everything. Bank notes and coins are becoming a novelty and wallets are becoming redundant…
We are comfortable enough requesting and gifting money for engagements and weddings, and the future will see us lifting the taboo on cash gifting for kids, too.
How did you go about creating the app? How did find a developer you could trust?
I was fortunate to know of an app developer – Chris Eade of Bugbean. I approached him with my idea and he undertook the relevant searches and reported that no app like GiftWell existed anywhere in the world. From that moment, it was a no-brainer to proceed with the app design, writing the code and creating what you see today.
What were your next steps from app creation to market?
My first step was a launch party – I used my own birthday to demonstrate the app and encourage friends and family to give it a go and provide me with feedback as users. This was a safe entry into a smaller representation of my target market and enabled me to assess user-friendliness and general reactions to the app.
Following that, some of the parents at my sons’ school used GiftWell for their children’s birthday parties, and the interest has grown from there. The early adopters’ enthusiasm really meant a lot to me. I am grateful to people for getting behind GiftWell and wanting to use it because they believe in it.
How did you first fund the business?
Personal savings, mainly. Sacrifices have been made and risks have been taken. Bootstrapping is definitely not the easiest means by which to fund a start-up but the upside is that we have full control.
What marketing strategies are you using to get the word out there about GiftWell?
The more people who have the app installed on their phone, the more benefits GiftWell can provide to everyone. With that in mind I am casting a wide net in my marketing and promotional activity.
That said, having a strong online presence predominantly through social media is the main focus at this stage. Social media provides me with a wonderful way to engage with my audience on a level that goes much deeper than my product.
GiftWell is ultimately a lifestyle app – I’ve created it to make people’s lives easier. I like the idea of streamlining unavoidable processes to allow more time for the things we really enjoy. I like sharing my enjoyment of life and feeling the warmth of offering something more than just a product to my followers.
We have employed a mix of blog articles, Instagram and Facebook posts, magazine and newspaper articles, TV coverage and both paid and earned media.
We have been exhibiting at expos to tell the GiftWell story and educate people about the app. I am huge on sharing – I love chatting with people about GiftWell and hearing on-the-spot feedback about the idea. Truly believing in GiftWell’s potential and ability to make people’s lives easier and hassle-free when it comes to gifting for special occasions really gets me excited.
What are your Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) for the app?
Oh my gosh, I love that! My “big hairy” goal is for the GiftWell app to be on everyone’s phone and used the world over. We all have birthdays and special events and gifting is a big part of our society. My vision for GiftWell is being the go-to app for modern-day money gifting.
Who do you count as your support team – who’s your sounding board for ideas?
I have a very supportive (and clever !) husband who I can bounce any and all of my (sometimes crazy !) ideas off, and a close network of loving friends and family, all of whom have backed me from the beginning. In the interests of creating and growing GiftWell I have gratefully accepted feedback and ideas by anyone who cares enough to share. Sometimes the best little nuggets come from places we least expect. Open ears and an open mind are critical to progress.
You recently joined the Knowledge and Study Tour in the US with Business Chicks, can you tell us about your experience?
Being a part of the 2019 Knowledge and Study Tour is one of the best things I have ever done. The tour promised big things and delivered beyond my expectations. I knew it would be good, but gosh it really was excellent – I went to bed every night thinking holy moly, did I really see/hear/learn/do all of that today? The people I met, the conversations I had, the knowledge I gained all made for an incredibly worthwhile experience that I will never forget.
What would you say to someone thinking of going?
Do it! Oh my gosh, one hundred percent. Go!
If you’re seriously thinking about it then you probably need to go. When I got the email inviting me to join the tour my initial reaction after reading the information was, “Oh wow this sounds amazing but I can’t possibly do it right now”. When I found myself thinking about the tour for the whole of the next day I realised that in fact the opposite was true: there was no way I could not go.
Being open to opportunity and possibility is essential to personal and professional growth. If even a small part of you is telling you that this is what you need right now, listen to that voice. You won’t regret it.
We loved having you on the tour! One last question, how do you de-stress at the end of the day?
I love nothing more than sitting up at the bench with my husband, sharing a casual home-cooked (read: thrown-together) meal and exchanging news and stories about our days.
I can chat freely with him and totally switch off after a day of parenting/working/both when I know the kids are tucked up in bed and I am “off duty”…
After dinner I’ll leaf through food magazines (I am a huge Gourmet Traveller fan) or cook books/scroll food-related posts on Instagram, because when I am not eating food I am often thinking and reading about it!
Connect with Marta here, and support a female business owner by checking out GiftWell for your next big occasion.