by Tim Jahn on September 24, 2010
Adam Weinstein used to travel a lot and never remember to send family members cards for their birthdays and such. He thought it’d be a great idea to create a place online for people to go to write greeting cards and schedule them to be sent at a later date.
When he worked at an email marketing startup and was put in charge of a team created to look into printing options, Adam resurfaced that idea of his and decided it was time to make it happen.
How did Adam start go about disrupting the traditional greeting card industry with his innovative site enGreet?
I’m Adam Weinstein. I live in Indianapolis; grew up there. Went to, started life I guess at Purdue and then ended up in Chicago. Was a consultant there for a long time with Deloitte Consulting firm and then came back to Indianapolis for a startup at the time called the ExactTarget. I left there last fall and started enGreet which is what I do now, which is a online greeting card company where you can go online, fill out a card and we print it and mail it.
Where did the idea come from for enGreet?
The enGreet idea came from a couple different things. So when I was a consultant at Deloitte, I was a horrible child. A; I was fresh out of college and b; I was just, I wasn’t quite in tune with keeping in touch with people. I missed birthdays, missed anniversaries, parents and otherwise and basically came to realize I was a horrible person and why couldn’t I find a way to send a card to somebody at minimum much less give them a phone call god forbid that said, “Happy birthday, happy anniversary” that fit with traveling four or five days a week.
So I said, “Well, why can’t I go online, fill out a card, made it look like I handwrote it and someone else print it and mail it in six weeks when it actually is supposed to go out?” And no one was doing it. I said, “Well, that’s a great idea. Tucked away in the back pocket, went on through life, kept missing birthdays, anniversaries.
Then at ExactTarget in Indy, we were an email company, but we actually did a lot of event management, event planning. So if you think about the event we’re here at today, there’s a lot of coordination at making sure people have schedules, and agendas, and badges, and that kind of thing. And a lot of our partners, customers wanted us to actually do print as well.
So here we are an email company being asked to print stuff. So I actually help lead, led the team that looked at going to do that. And we didn’t end up it ourselves, we ended up partnering with a bunch of other print companies. But that kind of was my introduction to the world of print.
I really had no knowledge of print; well minimal knowledge of print I guess you could say, going into it. And I realized that hey, that greeting card I had, not only is it potentially a profitable idea, but it also is pretty easy to do this day in age.
There are a lot of pieces of the idea that kind of — none of which had really reached really that kind of tipping point where they were being done repeatedly. One of them being printing unique one off greeting cards that are, and doing so cost effectively. So if you order a card that’s different than me, if I order a card that’s different from somebody else.
And being able to print one and sell it for $3.00 and have it be different than everybody else’s, and get it in an envelop and get it stamped and mailed; until very recently that wasn’t a cost effective or profitable thing to do. Learn that that was and then also learned kind of the dynamics of the fulfillment and the logistics I guess of that business as well.
So how did you actually go about executing your idea?
Went through the whole search of looking for an offshore team to work with. Tried to find one on shore but just cost wise it just ended up being very reasonable to do it offshore. And then they spent several months building it. So I — and I would every night and all weekend I’d look over all the work they’d done, review, critique.
And then we kind of went through this peeling back the onion process of refining the product and building it out. And so that was, that part — as far as planning it and whatnot, I mean, it was a lot of just, kind of blood, sweat, and tears. Right.
I mean, I went and I talked to local printing companies trying to figure out what the profit margins would be like. I went and actually looked at what presses cost just in case I wanted to buy a press and have a press. But it ends up that — I was pretty certain that wasn’t the route because they’re pretty high priced items. But at the same time, it’s something worth considering depending how they worked. So I looked at that. Understood the print side of the business.
And then I also kind of dove into the greeting card world that, from everything from going to independent greeting card shops, to greeting card trade shows just to get a feel for the dynamic of the business and get to know the major players as well as the independent players that we really survive on. So it —
You did a ton of research.
A lot of research, yeah. So I actually put together this business plan that really I don’t think has ever seen the light of day outside of showing it to a couple of friends to get their thoughts and feelings. But it, went everything from financials, to growth projections which as always you’re like, what’s it really going to be, right? But, you guess. And so we did all that. And then we just started toying around with ideas and ultimately went and built it.
Its kind of one of those moments where it’s like, okay, I can plan, and plan, and plan all I want. But if I can’t go do it, then what’s the point in planning? So tried it. Unlike a lot of other ideas I’d had, it wasn’t a crazy, expensive one to start. It’s like everyone wants to say, “Oh lets do ebay.” That’s a horrible example because it’s been done a few years back. But everyone else always wants to create the next cool big thing that’s big right now, right.
And well, you look at those companies and their path to prosperity, it’s usually many, many millions of VC and then they hit a good stride. But, I wanted something I could wrap my arms around on my own and could also explain to someone else very well. And go figure, I went from an email company to a greeting card company.
At what point did you know that your idea was going to be something sustainable, and something that you could really do?
Man, I think the day that — honestly probably not until we really launched and go orders. I mean, I think that, and that’s probably just my cynical nature to some extent. I mean, we — once I had, once it was built, once I had artists come onboard and there were, there’s was really traction in getting customers and whatnot. I mean, that was really obviously a humbling thing. But at the same time it was, I guess that should have said it.
But it’s tough to really to say when it’s going to work. Even today, it’s hard to say, are we going to grow to a point where this is a huge business or is this a lifestyle business and you may call it, right? Is it, at what point is the greeting card market online become a — is it going to be like a Shutterfly which obviously has tons of, or a Snapfish, right. There’s lots and lots of customers and doing their digital photos for the most part. But, does greeting cards go that route or is it just a convenience driven thing that some people are going to use and other people may not worry about?
Yeah, as far as being a big thing, I mean, I think it, probably are just working out. It was popular when we launched and we got coverage out of it, and I got to put my name next to it. It’s was kind of a humbling and rewarding moment. You built something and people are using it, and liking it, and reusing it. And that’s the joy in doing all the long hours and whatnot.
Was it hard to hire other people kind of take over other aspects of the business? I mean, for you, you already done it all yourself.
It was hard but not for that reason. I was actually almost, I almost made the opposite mistake. I almost hired someone and said, “Hey, throw it over the wall, you can do it all. You don’t need anything else other than here’s some direction.”
And what I had forgotten is that here, I had spent the last year and a half of my life, 18 months working on this night and day and I had all these things in my head that I hadn’t put to paper that as someone goes to help me with marketing, with development, whatever that they didn’t know. And so there’s this — obviously there’s a screening process in finding the right resource.
And then there’s also the piece of, how do you transfer knowledge within an organization which a gazillion dollar question that every company has whether you’re two people or 200,000 people. But, that’s been something that I’ve had a harder time doing than relinquishing control.
Because I’m — I love to relinquish control and focus on things. That’s — I tend to do very well when I can have ten things on my plate instead of 100. It’s just good for me to be able to focus and say, “Today, here’s what I’m going to do all day. I’m going to focus on it, get it done, and then move on to the next thing.”
Check out all our interviews with entrepreneurs!