Timing is what makes us different

Almost anything you build on the web has already been tried in one form or another. This should not deter you.

-Chris Dixon on “Timing your startup

We are asked a lot of questions about CardGnome everyday. My favorite is “how are you different.” To which the answer is not a litany of product features or marketing strategy, although both do differentiate us, but rather a conversation about the timing of the market. We’re not the first to try “we mail it for you” greeting cards, but unlike the previous companies, the printing technology is finally good enough that we can print one-off cards as cheaply as large companies can print in large runs.

Current print-on-demand presses, like the one we use, can print thousands of unique cards in a single run and can be programmed to work alongside other machines to automatically stuff the envelopes and stamp them. Its cheap. This is how Barack Obama printed personalized appeals to you for money and votes during the election. The systems have improved so much in the last few years that the cost compared to factory presses is comparable. Previous companies could only feasibly offer bulk customized cards at a reasonable rate, so they weren’t able to do the mailing of just one card for you.

So why doesn’t a large company switch to our model? To be successful in the greeting card market today means being great at choosing the right mix of cards to offer. Stores have about 250ft of card space to offer you cards for hundreds of occasions and personal tastes. Psychologists, market researchers and retailers work together to maximize the space with the cards that will sell.  They leave money on the table because some customers will not like the options offered or didn’t go to the store because it was a big pain in the butt. eCommerce sites like ours solve this problem by offering hundreds of thousands of cards and the tools to quickly find the ones that fit what the customer needs exactly. On top of that our site can schedule cards to be sent at a later date and set to remind you of important dates in time to send the card.

Can our established competitors learn to operate in this new model? Probably, but changing the company culture from large scale printing of a few hundred cards to the lean print-on-demand model demanded by an eCommerce distribution model will not be easy. In my experience, old-school factory managers don’t readily give up their budget or adopt new methodologies. It will take them some time just like it did with Blockbuster. In the meantime we’ll build our content library and customer list.

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Timing is what makes us different

3 thoughts on “Timing is what makes us different

  1. So you’re like Inkd for consumers. 😉

    Seriously though… a big issue you’ll have to tackle is the curation of the content / cards. For you to be really successful, you’ll have to float the best cards to the top of the page so people buy immediately. Wading through 000’s of cards / pages can be brutal and will cause most people to just give up. This can be solved via personalization (Hunch-like recommendations based on tastes of ‘people like you’) and through the community (most popular cards purchased over the past month). Get that right and I’ll come begging for a job. 😉

    1. Jon, we couldn’t agree more. Our back-end is setup for the relational curation you are talking about.

      I don’t want to divulge too much about our front-end navigation plans, but suffice to say that 95% of our focus on the UI is on this aspect of the experience.

  2. Great post Joel. So many things are about timing: a pass in a football game, a great joke, etc. Why should startups be any different? Facebook succeeded because it came at a certain point in time. Friendster was too early; MySpace was sort of in the middle but turned out to be a stepping stone to social networks, kind of like Foursquare and Gowalla are right now.

    Late mover advantage can be just as advantageous as First mover advantage. It all depends and it’s all about timing.

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