Card Gnome Takes Greeting Cards Personally
Not too long ago I had a chance to sit down with Chad McGimpsey and Joel Wishkovsky to talk about their move to Boulder, co-founding Card Gnome, and what’s keeping them up at night these days.
We kicked back on their apartment patio, just off CU’s campus, to enjoy a bit of sunshine and to talk startups. Not a bad way for us all to take an afternoon work break.
I first connected with Joel a little over a year ago when he and Chad had just moved to the area. Chad summed up the thought process with “Every time I got on a flight, I’d think ‘If this plane goes down, would I be happy with my life?'” They had both left GE and the corporate world behind them, and Boulder had won out over Silicon Valley, Austin, New York, and Boston.
At the time, they were working on a marketplace to let consumers commission talent to create unique gifts – if you wanted a song written to impress a girl, for instance, Nudgems would have been the place. In the time since, they’ve shifted focus to personalized greeting cards, changed the name to Card Gnome, expanded the team, and started generating revenue. The Gnome has been busy.
Card Gnome is a great example of a startup taking a new approach to an old standard. Like their established competitors in the $11 billion industry, Card Gnome prints cards. You know, on paper. The difference is, they make the hardest parts of sending and creating a card a lot easier for everybody involved.
As a customer, there’s the usual convenience of being able to shop online in your underwear or at work (in my home office, it’s occasionally “and”, not “or”) plus the added bonus of writing your own message inside. Never again will you need to suffer through scanning the front of hundreds of cards in the supermarket to find the one or two that might work for you, only to reveal the cheesiest of poems lying in ambush. With Card Gnome, you can add a note to the original message or start with a clean slate. Here are a couple of other cool features:
- You won’t have to root around in your junk drawer looking for a stamp, since they’ll mail it for you at no extra charge.
- My favorite: the ability to schedule your cards in advance.
Card Gnome is so easy that even a forgetful guy like me can manage to look thoughtful.
Maybe more importantly, though, is that Card Gnome makes life better for artists. In an industry with two companies that dominate 85% of the market, artists have almost no control over the use of their work. Joel and Chad are artist friendly, and cite the artists as the happiest stakeholders in the bunch. Artist Shops showcase their work, and royalties that are considerably higher than industry standards don’t hurt either. The fact that Card Gnome’s selection has been doubling in size every month since November is a reflection of the company’s strong relationship with artists, with 2,000 cards to choose from.
Distribution is their next major challenge. We didn’t get into details, but Joel told me that they know the site converts traffic into customers at a predictable rate. They’re looking for volume, and are working on creating partnerships to help get it done. “We came from the GE world, were you push it out and automatically have a million users.” Joel said. These days the team is hustling to get users in the Card Gnome world.
Chad and Joel have applied for TechStars Boulder, and should know whether they’ve gotten in soon. When I mentioned that I thought there’s a void in resources for promising companies that don’t make the TechStars cut, Joel called bullshit. They were denied last year, but they didn’t miss a beat. They took a look at the list of mentors and started sending e-mails. “We got access to 9 out of 10 of them,” Joel recalls. An example of why I love this team.
So what can you do to help these guys out? Buy some cards, of course. If you need an excuse, Card Gnome has cards for Passover, Easter, and Mother’s Day, which are all on the horizon. If you’re still not convinced, use the coupon code “WeLoveBoulderMe” to save 20% on any order before December 31st. On the flip side, artists interested in earning a royalty on every card sold without giving up their copyright should apply for a shop.
Go on, start shopping. What are you waiting for?