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How GiftStarter is Disrupting Social Commerce

Posted on 9.22.2015

Most people know the pains of trying to collect money from others – whether it’s for a restaurant bill, a trip, a fantasy football league or a gift for a mutual friend, coworker or family member.

This is why payment-sharing app Venmo has become so popular – processing $700 million in payments Q3 2014, up from $141 million a year earlier. There's a startup out of Seattle looking to make a similar dent in the social-commerce space. It's GiftStarter, and it has the potential to change the way consumers purchase big ticket items for friends or themselves. 

Started by Arry Yu and Christie Gettler, GiftStarter allows consumers to break up any gift into pieces (that co-gifters can purchase), handles all the money, sends a personalized card so the recipient knows who helped buy the gift and ships the gift (free). 

Website Magazine caught up with Yu, GiftStarter’s CEO, to learn more about her company, her co-founder and how the company is disrupting not only the social commerce space, but also the workplace:

1. What backgrounds are you and your Co-Founder bringing to GiftStarter?  

Having complementary backgrounds and perspectives is integral to building a holistic values-based company from scratch. Arry comes from an immigrant family and with an intense drive to build legacy that has been ingrained with her from childhood. She comes from careers as a musician and artist, and then a 12-year career in IT management consulting building teams and enabling change. Christie comes from a hardworking middle class family in Ohio where she studied communications and design. She comes with a background deeply rooted in creative thinking and a passion for solving problems.

2. What industry gap(s) is GiftStarter filling? 

Social commerce has been a moving target for several years, and it may still seem like an ambiguous, Unicorn-like concept to many. Countless approaches and schools of thought have emerged, yet not one example stands out as transforming commerce or filling any meaningful gaps. GiftStarter is bringing a fresh approach to the experience of giving, receiving and fulfilling amazing gifts online - where the digital interactions are with real people delivering joy instead of just transacting in shopping carts.

3. Why did GiftStarter choose a Holacracy environment? 

This came about after exploring our current setup as a company and the discovery of a transformative book titled Reinventing Organizations. Since we are an early stage company with a small team, we decided to reinvent GiftStarter taking some inspiration from the book and using Holacracy as a framework to get started.

There are no managers and everyone on the team is encouraged to work freely on projects they are most compelled to work on. Everyone is responsible for bringing their brains, their own expertise and skills to what they feel GiftStarter needs at any given point - always creating value for our customers.

At its core, our reasons to be a fully self-managed, self-organized team, is to bring holistic purpose to what we do, a sense of wholeness in how we do it, and to encourage everyone to be authentic and feel safe with their contribution to the company. As a result, our team brings forth levels of unprecedented intrinsic energy, passion, and creativity - and that’s our primary intention.

4. How is GiftStarter a positive disruption of the e-commerce experience? 

The sheer kinetic power of social media is still young and in the early stages of its impact. Social media has yet to transform commerce, the human act of how we buy and sell goods. In Marrakech, Morocco, the process of buying sandals for a loved one is built around a multitude of social interactions. Even the marketplaces are interconnected. It creates a lasting, meaningful experience for both the giver and the receiver, and the gift of the sandals is a symbolic representation of the relationship between the giver(s) and receiver. Quite simply, we bring the same meaningful human experience of giving and receiving to anyone with an internet connection. It’s a literal attempt to bring joy to people through the act of giving.

5. Why is GiftStarter committed to holding hackathons at least once a year? 

Hackathons are a way for our team to align our energy and motivation to extend our innovation and connect our ideas to actions in a hyper productive environment. Participating in hackathons fosters a sense of comradery. When teams collaborate on projects outside their normal routine, happiness and satisfaction levels flourish as new and interesting opportunities are uncovered. Unique, fun, and useful solutions are a long-term effects when we tap into these short-term creativity boosts.

6. Aside from holacracy, remote workers and hackathons, what other disruptive business operations is GiftStarter bringing to the table? 

We’re in the adventure of a lifetime, using a company and its culture in the pursuit of joy - for as many people as we can reach - our people, our partners, our families and friends. As designers, developers, entrepreneurs, technologists and all around creative types, we make up a peer group united by skill sets that produce change. For now, we’re creating that change by focusing on an amazing culture and a community that people are drawn to and want to participate in, for years to come. You’ll just have to wait and see what other positive disruptions we have up our sleeves.

From smart-homes to smartphones, technology is being developed at a rapid clip to make our lives easier and to, hopefully, reduce painpoints. GiftStarter's technology, paired with its mission to provide pain-free gift giving, is providing a solution to do the same - solving a decades-old problem of co-gifting and finding the perfect item.


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