Esther: Welcome to The BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio and online at thebusinessmakers.com. I'm Esther Freedman and my guest today is Dana Ostomel. She is the founder of Deposit a Gift. Dana, welcome to The BusinessMakers Show.
Dana: Hi, thanks, Esther, it's great to be here.
Esther: Great. Well, it's great to have you. I've heard a lot about your company and it sounds like you guys are doing a lot of exciting things. So tell me a little bit about Deposit a Gift.
Dana: Deposit a Gift is a cash gift registry service. So essentially what we do is make the awkwardness of asking for cash go away for any of life's moments where gifts are involved and cash is preferred, so think weddings, babies, birthdays, fundraisers, anniversaries, anything like that, really.
Esther: That's pretty cool. Especially, yeah, I just got married, and I know how awkward it can be to ask for cash even though, deep down, you'd really love just a nice check, that'd be great.
Esther: [Laughter] So that's really cool.
Dana: Congratulations. I didn't know that.
Esther: Oh, yeah, thank you. Thank you very much, yeah, so our listeners may not be familiar with the last Freedman but Steinfeld was my name like four months ago, so.
Dana: Got it, got it.
Esther: Yeah, so that's really cool. So tell me a little bit about how you came up with this idea.
Dana: Sure, yeah, no, it's funny. It was somewhere around 2012 and I actually thought of it at the end of '05 and I bought the URL in 2006 and just kinda sat on it for a couple of years while I was working and I'm actually kind of part of the first round of layoffs of recession in 2007 and then it happened to coincide with I was getting married. I got married at the beginning of '08 and it was just sort of like a confluence of things. I had this idea and now I had time. I had just gone through the wedding process myself and sort of experienced the whole aspect of gifting with registries and things like that, similar to yourself and sort of figuring out like what kind of gifts would make sense for you and how the gifting process goes down. You know the idea really happened when we had, like, three weddings to go to. My - he was my boyfriend at the time, now he's my husband - and we were sitting in our tiny apartment, going, "What are we supposed to get people," and, you know, because if you haven't been through wedding process, sometimes you're kind of clueless [crosstalk] -
Dana: about how to deal with the registry stuff, you know, what should we get them and if they didn't want stuff, how would we know? You know if they just want money, how would we know that, which is kind of a silly question because nobody ever returned a gift of cash. We were just kind of in a quandary and thinking, you know if you really preferred money as a gift but, you know, especially in North American culture, it's not acceptable to really ask for it. We do kind of this funny little dance around gifting, especially for weddings where everyone wants to get you a gift and they want you to have something that you really want and love and will cherish but you're not supposed to ask for anything and so registries have been around now for close to 100 years and, really, have sort of taken over that awkward thing and given you a mechanism to say, "If you wanna get us something, you know, this is what we'd really want" but to date, it had only really been used for stuff, for things that you can get in a department store and what I wanted to do is really take it to a next level and say, "Okay, well, if what you wanted was not the type of thing you can get in a department store, if it was a honeymoon, if it was a home down payment, if it was big-ticket items that you couldn't register for, like group gift type of things, you know, like a couch or a refrigerator or if you're a beer aficionado and you wanted a kegerator, how could people easily go on in on stuff and how could tell them what you wanted money for and how you'd wanna use it?" So I let that idea percolate for a couple of years, like I said, and then once I'd gone through my own wedding experience, I realized, you know what? I get it now. I understand, you know, having people say to us, "All the good gifts on your registry are gone so we got you this other thing."
Dana: But then a lot of people hear that - they hear that phrase - they started realizing, "Okay, there has to be a better way to communicate that you'd prefer money, what you'd want it for and also have it be like a gratifying experience for the gift giver because they wanna pick you out something special [crosstalk] --
Dana: that you're gonna remember them for, so this allows that to happen.
Esther: That's very cool. What a great idea.
Dana: Thank you.
Esther: How did being laid off from your job propel you forward? I know you had time on your hands but did it give you that needed emotion of, "Oh my gosh, I have to get something done," or did you just feel like you had time and you could easily go about it, now, or did you - how were you feeling at that time?
Dana: Yeah, well, you know what it is, this type of website, it's a huge site, and it's just not one of those things that you can create on the weekends or midnight after work, especially if you have an intense job, and I worked in advertising, I was traveling a lot and so it was basically I was laid off, also. You know obviously starting a business takes money and we've been self-funded to-date and one of the other things that happened in my life was that an apartment that we were gonna buy fell through and so we had our down payment money so we had an idea, a person, the funds to get started and then I think once I had gone through the wedding process myself, there was sort of this extra bit of motivation because I understood, sort of, what I call, like, "the psychology of gift-giving." I understood the emotional, psychographic part of it. I took that to bear along with all of my marketing and advertising experience, which was really important, because, at the time, the only thing that existed in this market, the niche that was sort of invented for cash-gifting online were called Honeymoon Registries.
Esther: Right, I'm familiar with those.
Dana: Honeymoon Registry is really -- yeah, and I wanted to open up the universe on that so I wanted it to be that you could register for any type of gift, like write your own narrative, not just be about travel or for any type of event and nobody really had a strong brand in the marketplace and also no one was doing it on this level of breadth and depth and so I really feel like my marketing and branding experience in my ten years in the marketplace helped me say, "Okay, the first thing we need to do is like, you know, once you assess the competition and the landscape and what you think customers want," I also felt like, "Okay, I wanna develop a unique brand," and my experience _____ made it do that but I wasn't like in a situation of feeling desperate or it wasn't that that was motivating me and, in fact, I really pushed myself to make sure this is something I wanted to do. I even went on job interviews and I had a couple o f job offers and I really wanted to see, like, you know, where did I wanna be, because I could've gone the route of a job, which there were some nice offers and they would've been stimulating positions but I needed to see it on a gut-level what felt right and that would've been easier in some ways. I mean, you know, I would've had a nice salary and the risk, obviously, is completely different and so the risk then leaves to your personal discomfort because it's really hard to start a business but it seems, you know, I pushed myself, at times, like explore all the options and I realized I was really excited about this idea. I thought it had a lot of potential. The market seemed vast. I understood this consumer. I knew that I could connect with them, so I figured, you know what? Now is the moment. We don't have debt, we don't have kids. We don't have things that would make it harder. You know the more you have of that the hard it is to take risks, and so it felt like this golden moment in life where it was like, you know what, do it or don't do it but this might be your only chance.
Esther: That's really cool. That's a great - I mean, a lot of our entrepreneurs that we talk to seem to say a very similar thing that you have to take that risk and taking it early on does make it a little bit easier to shoulder that burden, should something to wrong, and that brings me to another question. Do you fancy yourself an entrepreneur? Do you think that you're kinda born for that or is it something you've learned over time?
Dana: It's funny. I - when you have to put yourself out there as like the head of a company, you need your own kind of a story and I needed to actually ask myself that question and even though this is the first company that I've started, I said, "You know what? I actually really do think I am an entrepreneur at heart. Just looking at what I'd done over my life, silly things from the little businesses I started as a kid, like a little babysitting business or I started a couple different businesses when I lived abroad during my junior year of college. I started a little aerobics-teaching business and then a year after college I took off to Spain and I ended up making an ____ teaching business and then really like taking a close look at even all of the professional positions I had had during my trajectory in New York, I realized pretty much every environment that I had chosen to put myself in, even though they were companies, they were entrepreneurial in spirit, so either it was a small company, it was a startup, I worked for a boss who gave me a lot of leeway to really lead my piece of a project and so I think you can be entrepreneurial in different ways and you can - it's about taking up those skill sets and being able to kind of cobble together your own story and I think, at the end of the day, I'm definitely an entrepreneur.
Esther: That's great, very inspiring for other people to hear that. I think a lot of people have a fear of taking the risks and looking back on your past and seeing where you've come may actually give people a little bit of inspiration to take that risk when you realize, "Hey, I've been doing this my whole life and I didn't even realize it."
Dana: Yeah, I mean a lot of it is like what they often call, like, I think in Human Resources, you know, the intangible skill. It's not necessarily like a résumé of checking off boxes as like specific duties that you've done but it's about, like, the spirit and tone of what you're doing and that's whether you're starting your own company or you want to just transition to a different line of work or you've been a stay-at-home parent wanting to go back into the workforce, you know, we all have responsibilities throughout the day. We all have a tone and way in which we lead our life and I think you can use that to transition even to different places and help you evolve differently, which is exciting. I dunno, to me, that's what keeps things interesting.
Esther: We're chatting with Dana Ostomel, the Founder of Deposit a Gift. We'll be back with more with Dana after this. You're listening to the BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio and online, at thebusinessmakers.com.
Esther: You're listening to The BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio and online, at thebusinessmakers.com. We're back with Dana Ostomel, Founder of Deposit a Gift. So you've also mentioned, a little while ago, your competition. You spent some time surveying the landscape and seeing what else was out there. So I'm curious to know how your company - Deposit a Gift - separates itself from the competition. I'm sure since you've begun; other sites have popped up that do a similar thing. So what sets you apart from those?
Dana: Well, to date, we really are the only site that is for any life event, for any type of gift.
Esther: Oh, great.
Dana: Right so what you see is that time and registry is really established this part of the industry. We were the next ones into the market where we say, "Okay, well, we're gonna be for any life event, any type of gift," and then, yeah, you're right. I mean, during these last - I mean, I've been working on a business now for about three and a half years. We've been live and functioning for customers for two years. In that period, there have been more businesses popping up and really most of them are focused on weddings. You know obviously even for us that's a huge chunk of our business. So many constantly are getting married so you're serving a global marketplace and it seems that's where a lot of businesses have chosen to focus so some are for any type of gift but only for weddings and then you still see like a lot of focus on travel and then, also, you see a lot going on, in the last year, there's been a lot of trend towards, like, fundraising sites so you've got, like, fundraiser sites that are for personal projects. You've got fundraisers are there more for like non-profit but they're all, like, similar in the sense of how they're raising money and then you also have this third-party social-gifting thing going on and those companies are also siloed and the thing with Deposit a Gift is that my goal, when I built this, is I set out to build the most flexible cash-gifting platform out there and what's gratifying to see is that people use it for all of the different things that we see, like these different splinter businesses happening for it, Deposit a Gift is used for everything and so, A, that tells me I did build very flexible cash-gifting platform but also another big difference is that we're built for repeat business, unlike a company that is owned for the purpose of a wedding, with us, it's not all about weddings but most of it starts with weddings but if you sign up and you create your registry with us for your wedding and have a good experience, you know, you're going to be coming back for a fundraiser or you're gonna be coming back for a group anniversary gift for your parents, you're gonna be coming back when you're gonna be having a baby. Like me I just had a baby a few weeks ago and I have a registry that has been awesome because people have been able to contribute to activities that we're gonna do together, to furniture, which is like big-ticket items and that we've needed, things like that, and that's the idea, is that people just keep coming back and coming back and they don't have to create an account over and over again, they just add more registries.
Esther: That's great. Wow, it sounds really exciting. I'm actually excited to check it out myself, since we're always putting group gifts together and we're always doing fundraisers and things like that. It sound like it has a lot of uses, and even though, you know, this is very exciting, tell me about some of the challenges that you have faced as an entrepreneur in this business particularly.
Dana: Yeah, well, I mean, I think you're always gonna face a challenge because nobody is a jack-of-all-trades or people who are then really you're - what is the phrase - jack of all trades, master of none.
Dana: You know we all have things that we're strong at and then things that we're not strong at and I think the challenge is, especially when you're building a business and especially when it's entrepreneurially bootstrapped, on a budget is you have to find other resources to do parts of the job that you don't know how to do and I think that's really - it has been challenging and it always will be. It's in the beginning it was more about finding people from a technical perspective. My background is not technical. My background is in marketing, even though I had the whole vision for the site, I wrote the technical spec document and, at the end of the day, I needed people to execute on that and finding the right resources, as the project master site grew, was definitely challenging. It's harder to vet someone that it's not your area of expertise but now, you know, we're in a place where, you know, I know a lot more from a technical perspective, I've got more people around me that I can trust and rely on and so now, looking forward, the challenges really are about growth. The one thing I've been spending a lot of time on is looking for funding for the business and trying to find the right match for our ethos and for our goals. We are self-funded, we have been doing well, on our own, but I think, in order to grow, you know, you need additional resources, so that's been one of the biggest challenges, to date, is figuring that piece of the puzzle out and also adding to the team, as we've brought on different people, when you're an entrepreneur and the thing is your baby and you're doing everything and then, in order to grow, you realize that you can't do everything and you need to bring on other people, you know, figuring out who's the right person, how train them, how to let go, those things have been hard but I've been doing it and I've been finding some of those right people and so it's been a positive experience. It's just hard.
Esther: Yeah, exactly.
Dana: It's hard. You have to be honest.
Esther: Exactly. That's exciting. It sounds like everything's going really well and we're excited to see how the business grows. We'll be watching you for sure, and this is my last question for you today. What would you say to a budding, aspiring entrepreneur? We'd love to hear your advice.
Dana: Okay well I think the first thing is that you really need to get your idea, so you need to do a lot of research competitively and you need to know if you really do have something viable and then, depending on the type of business, I mean, obviously tech is different than a tangible product, and different things cost different amounts of money but, especially in the online world, which is where I live, a lot of things that you hear these days are, "Oh, it's so easy to get a site up-and-running," so when you got to talk to investors or whatever path you're taking, you know, people expect that you can create something now, right, that you're not just going off, like, an idea on paper, which is probably good and bad but, for us, what's been nice is that we've got the product out there and I've been able to build traction on my own and build value for the company and show that this is something that people actually want and will use and I think that's something that's hard when you're trying to decide, like, are you gonna go forward with an idea because it takes an investment whether it's your time, whether it's your money, whatever it might be, and you wanna make sure that it's something that people really want, so I would try and figure out the quickest way to determine if your idea is viable enough to proceed and also, obviously, you need to assess like your personal risk situation and figure out, make sure that this is the right time and can you commit, because I think one of the hardest things about being an entrepreneur and I think what I find when you talk to a lotta different people is that most people with an idea don't finish, and so if you really want to - you know, they don't get their idea launched and so that's the whole - that's like the biggest hurdle of all and so you need to make sure that you're in a situation where you can do that.
Esther: Awesome, well, thank you so much. We really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us today. Tell us where people can find your website.
Dana: Absolutely, they can go to depositagift.com. That's to address the homepage, you can learn all about us, you can take a look at testimonials and see different peoples' registries, get ideas, and you can also find us on Facebook, just facebook.com/depositagift and the same thing on Twitter.
Esther: Awesome well thank you so much, Dana. We really appreciate it. You've been listening to The BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio and online at thebusinessmakers.com. I'm Esther Freedman and we'll see you next time.