Interview with Shaul Weisband, Co-Founder of the Gifting App, Jifiti
What is Jifiti?
Jifiti is an in-store gifting platform that allows shoppers to spot something they love, share it with the world, and have their friends and family purchase it for them or chip in for it directly on Jifiti.com.
Once that gift is purchased, the shopper gets a notification on his/her phone, shows it in the store, and walks out with the gift.
If we were in an elevator right now, I’d say, “Jifiti allows you to walk into your favorite store with a wish and walk out with a gift.”
How did you come up with the concept?
My co-founder and I had similar experiences around our wedding time. We were exposed to the traditional wedding registries of the world and realized that so much more can be done in the gifting space. With the traditional gift registry as an inspiration, we set out to offer a more instant and fun social gifting platform for the everyday shopper.
Our goal is to address the offline/online challenge––the big battle between the Amazons of the world and the brick and mortar stores. Jifiti was designed to create that synergy by encouraging the in-store shopping experience that inspires and sparks one’s imagination while offering the online convenience for buying the shopper’s gifts.
Whether it’s a jacket we just tried on at the Gap or a new game at GameStop––someone at home is not going to be happy that we spent our money on something new. So we wanted to build a tool to transform that ‘craving’ into a gift. Get the things you love, but have others gift it to you.
Today is a big day for Jifiti. Jifiti is now showcased in the Boston malls. How does that make you feel?
Exhilarating. Very emotional to be frank. It’s something that we have been working on for some time now, and seeing it alive and kicking is an incredible feeling. I think we get that added bonus by the fact that we’re not just a startup that hits ‘send’ from our garage and tries to get online traction. We’re all about the in-store shopping experience.
Seeing the physical outcome of your work––such as a 50-foot wall promoting your app in a popular mall during the holiday season––brings a sense of fulfillment and meaning to what you’ve been working on.
Do you consider yourself a Young Entrepreneur?
Absolutely. Simply because this is my first swing in the space. My age aside, (33, happily married with three kids, thanks for asking), I’m still new to all of this. I learned, along with my other co-founders, the hard way––building a team, developing cutting edge technology, working with investors and creating partnerships with leading retailers.
How do you build a winning team?
It all goes back to believing in the product. I realize that what we are doing is quite ambitious and it takes a bunch of super ambitious people to get the job done. Believe it or not, one of our lead coders has a masters in cognitive psychology. She never studied computers, yet she is one of the best coders alive today (my personal opinion). When your team loves what they’re doing, then you’re unstoppable. All I can say is that we were blessed with an awesome blend of over achievers who apparently don’t believe in sleep; and when you find people who prefer working over eating and sleeping, you have yourself a winning team.
You now have raised money, partnered up with some heavy hitters, and had your app debut in some of the most walked through malls in America. How does that make you feel?
Tired looking back and incredibly energized looking forward. We still have a lot to do and a lot more in the pipeline. We’re just getting started.
What did you do before Jifiti?
I was a marketing and a brand development consultant for multinational corporations and organizations based out of Israel.
What has the feedback from retailers been like so far?
The feedback has been phenomenal. That’s because we work with the retailers and not against them. We take the concept of showrooming and turn it on its head. Usually shoppers are encouraged to visit a store, view and experience the items that they like in person, and leave without purchasing. Only in this case, the user creates a nearly frictionless path for others to make the purchase within the store’s ecosystem.
Who is your target market designed for?
Well, our research shows that 100% of the shoppers celebrate a birthday at least once a year (we’re willing to sell the full report to anyone interested). So if you’re reading this, it’s designed for you.
That said we really see it as a great tool for the younger crowds who are snapping, sharing, tweeting, and liking anyway. This time, we just give their friends an opportunity to chip in for their favorite things––$5 if you’re a roomie or $100 if you’re grandma.
Let’s not forget the honorable guys who take one for the team and get dragged along to all the Macy’s and Bed Bath and Beyonds with their fiancé so they can agree on china and towels. Jifiti is a great opportunity for guys to break away and chip in for a new game console or a set of golf clubs.
How did you meet your other partners, who are they?
I went to school with Yaacov, our CEO (he hates the day we drew straws and he got that title), and we’re both neighbors of Meir, our CTO. Yaacov comes from the retail space and founded a company in Israel that specializes in sourcing, importing, and marketing of specialized optical wear for retailers. He also founded a school and built online platforms to support their unique approach. Meir is the founder of Israel’s largest database service company and is a Microsoft MVP. We simply got him infected with the startup bug––building a product from scratch, eating cold food, and sleeping on the office floor.
Recently you raised a significant amount of seed money. How did you know where to go?
We didn’t. We were one of the SeedCamp winners in the Israel Contest. We literally had an idea on a napkin back then, but a good idea. So we got some attention thereafter and raised some pre-seed angel money that was used for the development of a prototype and some marketing to retailers. After a couple meetings with VCs, we came to realize that in the retail space, strategic partners are the way to go. Retailers are a different breed, and when working with them, you need the backing and support from players in the industry. They immediately realized the value and potential in Jifiti and we were happy to partner with them and bring this thing to life.
Were you nervous when they first said they will invest?
Investments split into two stages:
- The moment you all agree on terms––after which you are ecstatic and focus on building the most amazing product.
- The moment the money is in the bank––after which you realize you’re using other people’s money and you can’t sleep for a week. Today, we travel as if every penny is our last.
Did you ask them to invest a specific amount?
One of our early investors was an incredible partner and worked with us, almost on a daily basis, building our operating model and understanding what we need. We are the first to admit that we have a lot of leg work ahead of us, and planned accordingly. One of the best and most comforting lines I ever heard was from an investor of ours who said, “You have to make sure you have enough to make mistakes, because you are going to make mistakes.” Those are the kind of investors you want on your team.
How do you know if you are successful with the launch?
The launch is more about learning how people are using the app and platform. There are multiple ways people can use them and we’re prepared to accommodate all of these. Success for us now is to see people using it and learn how we can improve before our nationwide rollout starting in early 2013.
What will you do if things fail? Is there a plan b?
Well, the right answer here is to say, ‘We don’t think about failure’ or ‘not a chance’. If it’s ever time to move on, the first thing I’ll do is get some sleep. Yaacov, my partner, always says that we have created such an incredible team (we have about 10 additional team members besides ourselves) that we will simply think of the next idea and get everyone working on it the next morning.
Any further advice for (did you want to use Young here?) Entrepreneurs?
If you have the opportunity, choose the investors who like what you’re doing. The first thing you should always ask is, ‘What do you love about what we’re doing?’ If you don’t agree with their answer, thank them for the coffee and move on. An investor or partner who loves what you’re doing and looks forward to your progress is the right partner.
And, of course, the team. We’ve built the most incredible team here at Jifiti. They simply do magic. I can’t count the number of times we were told that our issues were not solvable and in every instance so far, our team figured out a solution and presented it to those naysayers. Our team goal is to live up to the expectations and prove everyone else wrong. So far, we’ve done an exceptional job at both.
Don’t avoid professional conflict and arguments within the team. If you’re all grownup and have the same goals, you will only benefit from those disagreements.
We have to ask: Facebook recently launched Facebook Gifts. What do you do about that?
True, we’re approximately one billion users behind Facebook. But what I like to say is that if Facebook is the mammoth of the web today, Simon malls is the Facebook of the real world. And that is the world we want to conquer. We are all about the true in-store shopping experience. Bring that to the plate and you have once again transformed the way people go about their lives.
Our aim is to let our customers continue to have fun shopping in their favorite stores while tapping into the power of their social graph to receive the gifts they want. We’re all about bridging online catalogues with offline brick and mortar shops––giving shoppers the best of both worlds.