Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.
Alex Robertson was working as an IT manager when, for a charity event, he visited some local retailers to have them donate gift certificates to raise money.
One by one, he would walk in and see every restaurant, every coffee shop, every boutique had a different method for gift certificates; Some took as long as 15 minutes to provide one.
“I saw it as really ripe to be automated,” Robertson said. “The whole concept needed to be redone. I was doing software managemnt for years, and all of those experiences made me think ‘I could do better than that.’”
Two years ago, Robertson “just quit the day job and decided to do it.” He launched GiftRocker, with no outside funding, and brought in veterans of the local retail scene — head of business development Michael Scruggs in 2011 and Vice President of Sales Michael Rosen a few months ago — to try and revolutionize the way small businesses handle gift cards.
Rosen and Scruggs are gregarious sales types with connections all over the area. While Robertson is engaging when talking about his company and product, he is most comfortable building the product itself, and letting his work do the talking.
“As a technology guy, building the product, that was fun for me,” Robertson said. “It’s like a long crossword puzzle.”
GiftRocker is a tool for businesses to create customizable gift certificates, sold online, on mobile or in store. It can also be used for pre-selling event tickets and designing and creating promotions, among other services. The biggest distinguisher between GiftRocker and well-known sites that offer comparable services, like Groupon or Eventbrite, is each service is offered as an extension of the client’s brand, not GiftRocker’s.
“We just provide a service,” Robertson says. “Their customers are their customers.”
The GiftRocker icon is just subtly placed at the bottom of each gift certificate page, which, despite being hosted by GiftRocker.com, are designed to strongly resemble the client’s website.
The GiftRocker team has already brought its services to about 30 Arlington businesses, and approaching 100 in the greater Washington, D.C., area.
One of the businesses Robertson has partnered with is House of Steep at 3800 Lee Highway in Cherrydale. Owner Lyndsey DePalma is about to celebrate her one-year anniversary of running the store, and started offering gift cards with GiftRocker last October.
“I tried traditional gift cards and it not work out for me,” DePalma said. She was managing a spreadsheet that was getting unmanageable. Now, about 30 percent of her gift card sales occur online. “I just remember reconciling my books after the first round of online orders and saying ‘where did all this money come from?’”
“The system is really a victory for consumers,” Rosen said. “There’s so much noise in the marketplace in this area. Cutting through it is very difficult, and we have a tool to do that.”
They’re still operating remotely — out of their homes in Arlington and various coffee shops — but nimbly enough to adapt to each client’s needs. GiftRocker’s next step is to expand nationally, but Robertson, Scruggs and Rosen are still deliberating over how to do it.
“When we figure it out, we’ll tell you,” Robertson said.