Entrepreneurship, Features, On Campus

HBS Startup giftplum Takes Care of Christmakkah


Celebrities have personal shoppers.   Thanks to giftplum, now you do too.

giftplum is an online gift shopping “concierge” brought to you just in time for Santa season by Jono Schafler (OF), Krista Nylen (OF), and Noah King (Hill Holliday).  The site went live the week of Black Friday.

giftplum takes the stress and guesswork out of finding the perfect gift for any occasion.   Plum, whose name was inspired by Gwenyth Paltrow’s son “Apple,” is a quirky chick who bears a striking resemblance to Zoe Deschanel.  Her job is to walk you through gift-shopping gauntlet, start to finish.  Plum taps your giftee’s facebook profile to gather some basic info, then asks a few simple questions to curate custom recommendations.

According to the giftplum team, the main problem with gift shopping online is an overload of options.

“We started giftplum to help people who either stare blankly at the google search bar or log onto amazon and sift through millions of products that aren’t right,” says Krista.

Of course, this process only works if Plum has the right “inventory” of gifts to begin with.  If you’re wondering how a couple of HBS kids went about stocking giftplum’s catalogue … well, they didn’t.  The site’s ~4,000 gifts are sourced from “tastemakers” across the web; mostly specialty blogs focused on a particular product category or lifestyle.  I recognized a handful of the names, including Design Sponge, DWELL and a few others that I’m embarrassed to admit.

Saddled with a ridiculously long list of Christmakkah obligations, I decided to unleash Plum on my own shopping list.  Turns out giftplum does work.  More importantly, Plum is my new BFF.

The fruity concierge pushed me to think “out of the box” about my gifts.  We started off in the “golf” section, but Plum promptly changed into a chef’s hat (which was adorable) and whisked us off to the “food” department.  There, we sorted through “grilling gadgets” and an intriguing smorgasbord of “adventurous eats”.   I couldn’t pass up the decidedly unkosher Bacon of the Month Club for my dad.   Fortunately, since he doesn’t read The Harbus, this article shouldn’t spoil the surprise.

giftplum monetizes it’s traffic through SkimLinks – an affiliate aggregator that pays ~5% commissions on purchases through roughly 18,000 different merchants.   “Most of our transactions take place through well-known merchants, like Williams Sonoma and Amazon,” says Jono.  To date Plum has sold “hundreds” of gifts.  The team sees big growth opportunities through floral network partnerships and gift cards.

The initial idea for giftplum developed while Jono was birthday shopping for his older brother, “Michael is enamored with a design blog called CoolMaterial.   I discovered it was a jackpot of gifts that perfectly match his tastes.”  Shortly after, Krista and Noah joined Jono to turn this initial insight into a robust gifting platform.

There have been some shocks along the way.  “We fielded a lot of emails the day Facebook launched their gift shopping business,” Jono admits, “but we’re operating in a highly fragmented, $300 billion dollar market.”  The giftplum team explains that most of their traffic to date has come through unpaid (organic) web searches, which makes its customer acquisition model more similar to sites like Amazon than Facebook.

So what’s the future of giftplum?  The team is focusing its resources its resources on mobile.  CTO, Noah King, explains the vision for an integrated service “We’ve gotten some great feedback about the wide range of gifts on the site and how helpful the guided experience is, but our analytics show an opportunity to connect with mobile users on the go and provide an even faster and easier experience.  Additionally, we’re looking to incorporate a reminder system that helps plan for gifting occasions beyond the holiday season.”

King concedes, “If I try to give my wife another nerdy tech product as a gift, she might return the favor by getting me matching wool socks and a sweater.”

December 24, 2012