I was introduced to GiftRocket co-founder Kapil Kale by Toby Scammell, whose startup Womply I previously covered. As Scammell told me, Kale is someone I should talk to, and after interviewing Kale last week, I am glad I did. Kale’s experience launching GiftRocket with co-founders Nicolas Baum and Jonathan Pine are great lessons for any would-be startup founder, as it proves that all you need is guts, a good idea, and determination.
If you are not familiar with GiftRocket, bookmark their site. They take the “card” out of gift card – you can buy a gift to any business and then GiftRocket’s platform transfers the money to the recipient via bank transfer, PayPal, or check.
Here are excerpts from our conversation on how to start a company:
Tech Cocktail: Where did the idea for GiftRocket come from, and how did you get the company off the ground?
Kapil Kale: Me and Nic left our jobs in the summer of 2010 to start a company together. I moved in with him – he was living at his parents, so I was in the guest suite. We were brainstorming a lot of ideas, and Nic came up with the idea of virtual gift cards. I remembered that when I graduated from high school, I got a ton of gift cards, and probably 10 or 15 of them just disappeared. We decided this was the one idea to pursue.
We were accepted into Y Combinator, and they want you to launch your startup with a MVP [minimum viable product]. So we put GiftRocket together in 3 months and pushed out a bare bones site in March 2011 and started getting feedback.
Originally, GiftRocket had a check-in component, but users complained it was too complicated so we removed that.
We also originally built the platform to work only with PayPal accounts but found that a lot of people didn’t have one, so we basically turned the money transaction into a money transfer. Right before the holidays, we launched a new design with the money transfer idea. It was super successful, so our focus is on growth now.
Tech Cocktail: How did you meet your co-founders?
Kale: Nic and I went to Dartmouth together, and Jonathon was Nic’s best friend growing up – he went to Stanford. After graduation, Nic went to work for a VC fund in Boston, Jonathon went to Facebook, and I went to Bain, but we all kept in touch.
Tech Cocktail: Wow, a bunch of Ivy Leaguers – nice! What are your roles at GiftRocket?
Kale: Like any startup, we all do everything. I do more design and marketing, we all do code, Jonathon does more front-end dev, Nic is CEO and has been doing a lot of back-end coding and payment stuff.
Tech Cocktail: Do you have funding?
Kale: Yes, we do – from Y Combinator and a few angels in the Silicon Valley/San Francisco area.
Tech Cocktail: Gotta ask – what are your favorite drinks?
Kale: I drink Guinness and Nic and Jonathon drink the popular hipster liquor Fernet.
Tech Cocktail [laughing]: What on Earth is Fernet?
Kale [laughing]: It’s this thing they drink neat. I don’t know, I need to look it up on Wikipedia. OK [reading from Wikipedia], it’s a type of amaro, a bitter, aromatic spirit. Fernet is made from a number of herbs and spices which vary according to the brand, but usually include myrrh, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, and especially saffron, with a base of grape distilled spirits and coloured with caramel colouring.