It’s amazing how fast this summer has flown by. Even with my new home state New York’s very late back to school dates – some districts start mid-September! – it still seems that there wasn’t nearly enough time this summer. I suppose, however, that this is the everyday reality of life – of launching a business, of being a mom, of being human. There never seems to be enough time to do everything one wants to accomplish.
For many years, this has been my excuse. I’ve been holding on to an idea for an online gifting company that I know will solve the conundrum of gift-giving for so many consumers. Yet, everytime a friend or family member would ask me, “Have you started the company?”, I would say, “No, not yet. I haven’t had the time.” But at long last, this year I did find the time and I’m now the CEO and co-founder of To&From, an online gifting startup and retail concept I have been brewing for some time. I am also, at age 52, continuing to embrace my role as a mother and a wife – just a few things to juggle!
On the surface, launching a company now may seem a little (or totally) crazy. Some say that rather than launch a new business, I should be saving for retirement, enjoying this prime-earnings period of my life, and reaping the rewards of a pretty terrific career, most recently as CMO of RetailNext, a technology company focused on bringing online style analytics to brick and mortar retail. Others say I should be spending this pandemic recovery era focused on my family: After raising my amazing son as a single mom for the first several years of his life, I met and married the man of my dreams last year and while he is incredibly supportive of my idea, he is also an entrepreneur, so I understand my friends’ and my family’s concern that starting a company may be “too much” or that I should “relax and enjoy myself.” Here’s the thing: I love being a mom, and a wife, but I also really love working – creating, leading, problem solving all bring me tremendous satisfaction. So no, now is not the time for me to settle into the status quo. In fact, it’s exactly the right time to go big!
When I set aside my personal motivations and push past any doubts or doubters in my path, there are at least three trends/truths that make me dead certain that embarking on this new adventure is exactly the thing I should be doing at this very moment in time.
- DIGITIZATION OF RETAIL: It’s easy to blame the challenge of gifting on the digitization of retail. Search engine algorithms don’t consider the history or preferences of the person for whom you are trying to find searching for the right gift. Furthermore, many new brands are discovered via social media which is a one-sided experience: One person searches for what they are looking for, and the brands return in kind with items that that same person may like. There is no consideration of who the item might be for. Finally, there are so many new brands that it’s very hard to sort the good from the bad online. Yet, online shopping aside, the reality is that the problems that make it so hard to find the right gift for the right person have always existed – they are simply more pronounced in today’s retail environment. People looking to buy gifts don’t always know the brand or and product preferences of their intended target. Those on the receiving end sometimes feel awkward and unfulfilled by off-target gifts that make them think, “Does this person even know me?!” Finally, and remarkably in this digital age, brands still have a very hard time connecting with that customer who is looking to purchase a gift and, more importantly, staying in touch with the gift recipient after the gifting occasion passes, missing a golden opportunity to build lasting value with a raving fan.
Unfortunately, even with all of the technological advances of our lifetime, the existing tools to support gifting are very one-dimensional. The gifter, or gift giver, can opt for a lazy hack such as a gift card to fulfill the gifting occasion (think gift cards) or the giftee (recipient) has to search and discover what they want, pre-selecting the items through a registry, or gift list, or even creating a shared document with their own curated idea list. These one dimensional gifting solutions have served consumers’ needs for many years yet there has been very little disruption in the model.
To&From solves these problems by bringing the desires and preferences of the giftee together with the intent of the gifter. By connecting this data with the best Direct to Consumer (DTC) brands we can shift the gifting paradigm to a new model that brings joy, delight and even successful surprise back to the gifting process.
- OUR EXPERIENCE: My co-founder, Kristina Eastman, and I each bring a wealth of expertise to the To&From having worked for some of the best retail brands in the world as well as for two of the most innovative retail/consumer technology companies to emerge in the last decade. Kristina and I initially connected professionally over the subject of the future of retail: what does it look like, how is it enabled, and what will its value to consumers ultimately be? Kristina helped build a Future of Retail hybrid at Enjoy, a company which brings brands into the home for a full retail experience, complete with a salesperson who makes house calls. I worked on the Future of Physical Retail at RetailNext, helping retailers leverage data to evolve their physical stores to meet the needs of today’s consumers. To&From builds on our collective know-how to dial into what the next generation of retail should be in the context of gifting. We delve into important areas such as personalization, contextual search and longitudinal intelligence to power recommendations for the right gift the first time, the next time, and every time thereafter.
To&From will deliver a better retail gifting experience to consumers, but that’s just the start. Kristina and I are equally excited about building a company we are proud to call our own. The combined experience we bring to To&From is powering a culture that starts with grace and generosity, but expects strong, data centric outcomes, reflecting what we believe is central to the future of the workplace.
- THE DESIRE FOR DEEPER RELATIONSHIPS To&From focuses on the complex problem of finding the perfect gift that can’t be solved by technology alone because gift giving is all about interpersonal connections. To give the perfect gift you have to bring the right knowledge of the person, the best access to brands and products, and full knowledge of the relationship and context. To&From leverages technology to bring these three key, interrelated, pieces of information together in a meaningful way, helping gifters and giftees win at gifting. When we talk to friends, family, prospective investors, or even random strangers we almost always hear something like, “OMG. Please launch this company and save me from another bad gifting experience.” This has been incredibly encouraging and pushed us harder to solve this problem. We are thrilled to introduce To&From as an effective and fun platform for gifting and as a new retail model.
It’s no secret that the Covid-19 pandemic has reshaped our lives in ways that we are barely beginning to understand. From my point of view, one of the big changes coming out of this shared experience is a renewed focus on intentionality. I see this happening with my own family already – more thoughtfulness on how we spend our time, money, time with friends and family, and more. Gifting falls squarely in the middle of this trend. I believe that people want to gather, give, and celebrate with purpose and that people want to make important events more special than ever. This is our broader mission of To&From: help create these moments of joy, surprise and delight between people and to ultimately deepen their relationships through gifting.
Doesn’t it feel like the time is right to do just that?
To&From is an online gifting company that solves the universal problem of finding the perfect gift for that perfect person by uniquely considering the giftee preferences, the gifter’s intent, and matching them with the right brand/product fit. Using style and preference data collected about the giftee, relationship and intent data from the gifter and offering a curated selection of the best direct-to-consumer brands, To&From delivers a targeted list of gift recommendations from brands the giftee is sure to love.
Founders Bridget Johns and Kristina Eastman have spent their careers focused on delivering the best premium retail experiences to consumers and are passionate about helping them find the perfect gift, for that perfect person, every time. Most recently they have each held executive roles at RetailNext and Enjoy, respectively, helping to build those companies from the ground up. To learn more, visit www.toandfrom.com or follow us on social