How A Class Assignment Turned Into My Startup

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By Jessica Lachs (Founder, GiftSimple)

I never thought I would be an entrepreneur. In business school, I was the only person in my entrepreneurship class who didn’t raise her hand when the professor asked “How many of you hope to start a business within the next five years?” I didn’t think I was the type.

Entrepreneurs were mercurial, brash, took absurd risks and were men. Or so I thought.

GiftSimple started as a class assignment my second year at The Wharton School. After positive market testing and some encouragement from VCs involved in the program, I continued to develop the concept in my spare time. When I graduated this past May, with an MBA in Entrepreneurial Management and Strategic Management, I decided to continue working full time on it. I launched GiftSimple in beta after five months.

GiftSimple lets users register for gifts they want and tap into their Facebook network to pool contributions from friends and family. Our goal is to eliminate unwanted gifts and to make gift giving simple. Users are able to get the big-ticket items they really want and gift givers know they helped contribute to a meaningful purchase.

The idea came from my own gifting experiences and those of my friends. It started at college graduation when my brother asked what he could buy for me. I wanted new luggage, but it was too expensive for him to buy alone. So he organized a group gift from my family and friends to buy the luggage. He complained that the process was a hassle, and I thought to myself, “there has to be a simpler way.”

When my birthday came around last year, I was elated to receive so many good-wishes and birthday-drink invitations on Facebook. It occurred to me that if I could collect the price of a NYC cocktail from a few friends, it would go a long way towards paying for my new laptop. And GiftSimple was born!

Once I decided to pursue the idea, I researched a lot of gift websites, from honeymoon and traditional wedding registries to group gifting sites and saw that no one was doing exactly what I wanted to do. Group gifting is not a new concept; people have been doing it offline for years, and several websites have recently sprung up to facilitate the splitting of gift.

How GiftSimple will differentiate from competitors:

  • First, with GiftSimple, it is the gift receiver who initiates the process. We provide a simple tool for users to set up and spread the word about their own gift registry.
  • Next, it is completely integrated with Facebook, giving users seamless access to their entire social network.
  • Finally, we have very few restrictions on listing and giving gifts — we want our customers to have the flexibility to give as much as they like and as frequently as they like.

We often hear about success stories because they are inspiring. And we all hope that one day we will be one of those success stories. I know I do. But the journey to “success” is not easy. It can be lonely, frustrating and demoralizing. But it can also be exciting and fulfilling.

Here are some things I’ve learned on my adventure thus far:

  • Recognize the small victories. I am constantly thinking “What if it doesn’t work?” or “What if people hate it?” I have to make a conscious effort to congratulate myself on the little wins like getting a mention in a certain publication, passing 1000 visitors or just the fact that I am doing what I set out to do.
  • Sometimes you just have to do it. It’s easy to get bogged down with analysis — models, focus groups, etc. — but you just have to make a decision and move forward. More bad decisions are caused by indecision than from poor decision making, especially early on. Until you get your product out there, you will never know if it works.
  • Not everyone will like you. This seems obvious but I was surprised at how hurt I felt the first time someone told me they didn’t like my idea. Rather than taking disapproval personally, try to use the criticism constructively.
  • Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes. As I mentioned at the beginning, I thought there was a “type.” I am sure there are entrepreneurs who fit the stereotype, but there are plenty who do not. I have had the pleasure of meeting some incredibly generous men and women founders and I look forward to meeting many more.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.

About the guest blogger: Jessica Lachs is Founder and CEO of GiftSimple, where people register for gifts they want and tap into their social network to pool contributions from friends and family. She holds an MBA from Wharton. Prior to Wharton, Jessica was an investment banker at Lehman Brothers, where she worked with companies in the technology, retail and service industries. Jessica holds a BS with honors from Cornell University. Follow her startup on Twitter at @GiftSimple.