LTP recently had the pleasure of interviewing Gerry Goldstein, Co-founder and CEO of Wonder Technologies. Gerry has spent the last 15 years building and leading innovative companies in the mobile, loyalty and commerce industries. Prior to Wonder, he was the founder of Yoohoot, a mobile loyalty and commerce platform that was acquired in 2011. Earlier in his career, he held executive management, product and business development positions at several early-stage venture-backed startups including Appconomy, Mformation Technologies, Networks in Motion and Critical Path.
LTP: Why did you co-found Wonder?
Gerry Goldstein: The idea for Wonder came while dining with my wife at a local Laguna Beach farm-to-table spot called 370 Common. They have a ‘drink board’ where you can prepay to buy your friend a drink, and the drink gets written up on a chalkboard behind the bar for all to see. To claim your drink, you tell the bartender and they check the log to verify your name against your ID, then serve you your drink and erase your name from the board. Very cool community-level social gifting program. I was working on a different startup in the payments and loyalty arena at the time and this sparked a lightbulb moment where I realized we could create a super cool social gifting platform that could work at any business. Living near Laguna, I love local businesses as well as great national brands, and the notion of developing a company that can provide more cost-effective access to technology and data to businesses large and small was very exciting to me.
LTP: What are some lessons learned/biggest challenges as a founder of a startup?
GG: Startups overall are hard. It typically takes twice as long and twice as much capital than expected to get started. Those challenges are amplified in the FinTech arena where regulatory and legal issues are more complicated. You need to work with very large financial institutions that work at a different pace. It may sound cliché, but I have learned that having a great team, investors with domain expertise, a passion to network and hustle, and a lot of perseverance are the key factors to getting a product like ours to market.
LTP: As of 2016, what are some of big deliverables/milestones that Wonder Technologies has achieved and what are the expectations for rest of the year and 2017?
GG: We’ve been fortunate to have some great industry recognition in our relatively short life. Based on our vision, we were selected as the top startup in Southern California by CrowdFunder. Shortly after that, we participated in and won a Citi-sponsored hackathon. That enabled us to build relationships with Citi, which ultimately resulted in a joint product launch that allows Citi cardholders to purchase gifts on Wonder using ThankYou Rewards Points.
We also entered into a strategic partnership with Visa, and then launched an innovative digital incentives program with a top ski resort in California. We are actively working with other high-profile credit card issuers to expand our reach even further, and have several interesting customers that we will be announcing through the remainder of 2016 and into 2017.
Now that we’ve proven out Wonder’s value proposition and have established some product/market fit in certain verticals, our expectation is to develop more successful partnerships with our clients while building an innovative company with a positive culture.
LTP: How does Wonder Technologies maintain its culture of innovation as the business becomes bigger?
GG: That’s flattering. Currently, we’re still a small team and we have more ideas than we have the capacity to execute on. Our biggest challenge is saying “no” and staying focused on the opportunity we’re focused on because we see so much opportunity for our platform – we feel we’re just getting started. We expect to maintain the culture of innovation we established from the company’s inception by hiring great people, listening to ideas from all parts of the company, and staying close to our customers to understand how they want to use the product in the future to help them grow their business.
LTP: What are your views on the overall gifting industry? Can you elaborate on some of the challenges that the industry currently faces?
GG: The gifting industry continues to grow, and each year more consumers indicate that they prefer gift cards over alternative physical gifts. Still, a very small portion of the overall industry is digital, and what we see is that today, existing gift card companies have essentially taken physical gifts and put them on your phone. You have to show your phone to redeem or print a paper voucher. The redemption process is not seamless and there is very little that comes back in terms of analytics, which limits remarketing opportunities. Anonymity and fraud are also huge problems that need to be addressed. In our view, current digital gifting solutions have really just kicked the can a few yards down the road. This industry is clearly ripe for disruption and we firmly believe Wonder’s approach is the future of the digital gifting.
LTP: Can you share some unique insights and challenges with consumer gifting behavior and your view of established players in the gifting industry?
GG: We have found that at the end of the day, consumers just really want to have the best redemption experience possible. With many digital gifting solutions, there is an inherent amount of friction required to redeem a gift. For example, printing out paper vouchers, remembering to dig a barcode out of your inbox, or even showing something on your mobile phone. Wonder removes the pain associated with redeeming a gift because the consumer doesn’t need to remember to carry a card, print a voucher, or find their barcode. They link their gift to a favorite credit or debit card and then simply pay with their linked card at the time of purchase. Once you have a seamless redemption process, the biggest challenge is staying top of mind with the consumer and intercepting them when they have an occasion to send a digital gift. We look forward to the day where consumers no longer have drawers full of gift cards at home and merchants aren’t left with unredeemed gifts (where when redeemed customers typically spend 30% more than the gift value and buy full-price, higher-margin products). We’re working hard to fundamentally change the way gifting is done so consumers and merchants alike have a more convenient, automatic and smarter experience.