Toledo social gifting app set to expand nationwideWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | email@example.com
A social gifting application developed by a Toledo startup harnesses the simple yet revolutionary way consumers are interacting with businesses in today’s social media-saturated world.
Givt allows users to send free electronic gift cards to their friends via a website or free smartphone app. Recipients can redeem the gift cards, worth between $3 and $500, at participating local businesses.
Businesses pay a fee to Givt only when offers are redeemed. There is never a cost to users, who also earn credits toward gift cards for themselves every time an offer they gifted is redeemed or a friend they referred starts using Givt.
“The more you give, the more you get back, so it pays to be generous,” said COO Josh Cooper, a Sylvania Northview High School and University of Toledo graduate.
It’s a win-win arrangement that sounds almost too good to be true, said founder and CEO Justin Blanchard.
“Probably our biggest barrier to overcome right now is people are just like, ‘What’s the catch?’” Blanchard said. “There really isn’t a catch.”
Idea into reality
Givt is an offshoot of digital technology incubator Whisper Labs, which Blanchard founded in 2011 and Cooper joined soon after.
The partners soon realized Givt needed to be its own company. Local venture capital group Rocket Ventures and private investors provided the startup funds this year.
“In March we incorporated, in May we closed on our funding and in June we started building our team,” Cooper said. “We hired a staff, built the product and turned an idea into reality.”
Givt’s iPhone app launched Nov. 28 and the Android app is coming this month, Cooper said.
“The exciting part was within a couple days when you started seeing somebody we don’t know and have no connection with give it to someone else we don’t know and have no connection with,” Cooper said. “That’s when you’re like, ‘All right, this has gotten some viral element to it’ and that’s exciting.”
The app will soon expand into markets around the country, including Ann Arbor, Los Angeles, San Diego and Austin, Texas, Cooper said.
“We’re starting to bring on one city at a time,” Cooper said. “We’re going to be a national company based out of Toledo. It’s just a matter of a couple weeks before you start seeing Givt popping up all over the country.”
More growth initiatives are planned for 2013, Blanchard said.
“We’re still a pretty young company right now, but from a product perspective, I think we have a lot of our ducks in a row,” Blanchard said.
“Dec. 1 marked our first bigger push from the sales perspective, bringing on more merchants and more markets, so the next three months will be pretty big in terms of growth in both users and merchants.”
The phenomenon of social gifting is relatively new.
“Social gifting emerged out of the Groupon era and, with the emergence of smartphones, it’s changed consumer buying habits. It’s a new delivery system for gift cards,” Cooper said. “It’s kind of where advertising is going. It’s honestly just this new frontier of advertising that’s now available because of the changing face of the modern consumer.”
Toledo area businesses using Givt include 7 Little Cupcakes, The Art Supply Depo, BadDog Fighting, Balance Pan-Asian Grille, Barr’s Public House, The Blarney Irish Pub, Bleak House Coffee, Burger Bar 419, Computer Discount, Definition Fitness, Dooley’s Irish Pub, East of Chicago Pizza, HomeBody Xtreme Fitness, Interior Channel Basement Waterproofing, The Kitchen Store, LAPuTOPia, Manhattan’s Restaurant, Maxwells Brew, Nedley’s Ice Cream & Coffee Cafe, Papa G’s Pizza ’n Grill, Perretti’s Auto Detailing, Picture Perfect Painting, Rooter Pro, Shakin’ Street Records, Stikki, Studio 14 Tattoos, SylvaniaVET, Toledo Indoor Garden and University Computer Repair.
“Givt allows people to truly share their favorite local places with others. It’s one thing to say to your friend, ‘You’ve got to go check out Manhattan’s or Balance Grille’; it’s another thing to give them money to go there,” Cooper said. “The goal is to drive traffic to local businesses. We want to be supportive of the local economy. We want users to experience, to rediscover their city and discover new and unique places.”
Givt helps “level the playing field” for small-business owners, Cooper said.
“With Givt, they don’t need to have a $5,000 advertising budget to reach people,” Cooper said. “They just need to have a great product and a passionate fan base.”
Givt removes the hefty upfront cost of traditional print mailings and also aims for a better return rate thanks to personal referrals, which creates a positive branch image, Cooper said.
Plus, since the gift appears on a recipient’s Facebook wall, companies get free advertising even if the offer isn’t redeemed.
“Even if the card is not redeemed, you saw it, other friends on your Facebook wall saw it. There’s social media chatter, which is a really valuable thing in and of itself,” Cooper said.
The gift cards typically expire after about 14 days, allowing unused offers to be gifted to someone else, Cooper said.
“Daily deal sites are going to give you a big run of traffic all at once and then it’s going to die off,” Cooper said. “Givt can drive you traffic consistently, 365 days a year, because somebody’s always having a birthday, an anniversary, a baby and gift cards are always available rather than only available once every few months.”
Balance Pan-Asian Grille, with locations in Maumee and Sylvania, has partnered with Givt from the start.
“I’ve seen it all come together,” said CEO and Creative Director Prakash Karamchandani. “It’s definitely groundbreaking. It’s going to be a game changer. One of the main reasons Givt will work out is it’s 100 percent brand focused. You are putting your brand in front of customers’ faces and promoting yourself the best way possible and it’s all done through social media.
“Why it’s going to grow fast is there’s no payment involved, no hurdle to push someone over. You just download the app and send someone a gift for free,” Karamchandani said. “For a merchant, with traditional advertising you’re just throwing money in the air and seeing what comes down on your side of the fence. With Givt, it’s clean and easy. There’s no out-of-pocket expense. I’m not paying any fees until I get a customer through my door.”
The Blarney Irish Pub in Downtown Toledo was another early Givt merchant partner.
“Givt has helped bring new folks through the pub,” said general manager Bill Kline in an email to Toledo Free Press. “We’ve redeemed quite a few so far and, from what I’ve heard, people like the idea of sending a Givt to their friends and/or relatives and it doesn’t cost them anything. People are evolving from paper coupons to smartphone coupons that can be redeemed with one swipe and we’re glad to be in on the ground floor with Givt.”
The Givt team is excited to officially launch in Toledo and kick off its national expansion.
“This is the season for gifting so we’re excited to launch here in Toledo in December,” Cooper said. “You can share with your friends cool, unique places and help support local businesses at the same time. What a win-win overall.”
For more information, visit givt.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.