Umm, I can’t figure this one out: 20% of the purchased gift cards last year alone have so far gone unspent or unredeemed, which is the equivalent of $23 billion in gifts just lying around. Huh? Turns out, no one has been able to figure out why the gift card system is so dysfunctional. Or has the Raise marketplace found the way to unlock all that paralyzed value?
Raise.com is an online marketplace for buying and selling gift cards. Snatch up discounts others don’t care to use or sell unwanted gift cards – sounds like a simple solution and pretty sweet deal, right? Like other ingenious online platforms that seem painfully obvious, this one came about by similar means – hard work. Founder and CEO George Bousis learned early on that there’s no such thing as a free lunch by working in the family grocery business. Here he shares more about how the nose to the grindstone approach is turning Raise into an impressive success:
Why did you become an entrepreneur?
I’ve always enjoyed challenging myself to create, innovate, and develop new ground breaking ideas that help change the world in one way or another. I’ve never looked at a problem without looking for the solution to issues we face in our every day lives. Entrepreneurs are go getters, they do not accept “no” or “impossible” as an answer. They’re willing to go to the extremes to finish what was started. Anyone can have an good idea, but it’s the entrepreneur that executes on a project through to it’s completion.
What inspired your current startup?
I worked for a family business that I helped grow into one of the largest privately held companies in the Midwest by developing an effective rewards and loyalty platform for customer retention. While in development, there was a lot of buzz around the coupon, daily deal, and gift card industries. Coincidentally, there was a customer service issue regarding a coupon redeemed by a customer of ours that got me thinking of the larger problem at hand. The deal, gift card, and coupon industries were broken. Fragmentation and a lack of understanding in regards to the consumer became the challenge, but provided the opportunity for disruption in the industry.
What makes your startup so killer? How is it different from the competition?
What makes our startup so killer is simplicity. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, rather we’re solving a real problem at hand. $115 billion in gift cards were purchased in 2012. 20% have gone unredeemed / unspent. With $63 million a day going lost in unredeemed dollars, Raise.com was created to put that money back into circulation. We let people sell their unwanted or unused gift cards or buy discount gift cards to their favorite brands. It’s all C to C, so Raise is the platform / marketplace that hosts the transaction. We take a commission from the transaction only when the gift card sells and brings real value to all users across our platform.
How do you motivate yourself and your team?
Transparency. Be honest and open about the performance of your company. Work together and help one another solve real problems. Reward your team for performance and motivate them with tangible things. Within our company, for every month we pass the previous one, we buy one thing we can all enjoy. So far it’s been a pool table, ping-pong table, xbox, kegorators, DJ booth, a chef, an oven, unlimited soda, new couches (the list goes on).
If the Internet didn’t exist, what would you be doing?
Figuring out how to invent the internet. Don’t we all wish…
Had the internet not existed, I would likely be involved with my families grocery business again. The fast pace of the business is a challenge most can not deal with. Tight margins, stress, potential food waste with perishable goods and the fact that your living depends on what you’re willing to buy and sell your inventory of food for is extremely overwhelming. It’s considered one of the most challenging businesses in the world for a reason.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are struggling to get their businesses off the ground?
If you think you’re working hard, work harder. The harder you work, the luckier you get sometimes. Failure is not an excuse because an entrepreneur wasn’t willing to work harder. The biggest regret entrepreneurs have today is that they could have worked harder, they could have been more frugal or made better decisions. At the end of the day, top line sales and “start-up fluff’” doesn’t get you anywhere. Bottom line is all that matters when running a business. I’d rather be a healthy $10M company than a $100M company riddled with debt, poor decisions, and unrealistic goals.
The magic is in creating a real business – a real revenue model with transparency, reality and hard work.
What has been the biggest startup surprise for you (good or bad)? Have you had any incredible/funny/challenging experiences that you can share with us?
The biggest challenge we had was starting the business and growing it to where we are today. We came from humble beginnings and started out of my apartment kitchen to keep costs down. We worked day in and day out, weekdays and weekends, because we believed in a bigger dream. We wanted to own our business and build a company for ourselves and our team, not for a group of investors. To this day, we have grown our company in two years from a small apartment of four to almost 40 employees in a new 8,300 sq/ft space in Chicago with no institutional funding.
How do you handle frustration or disappointment?
I learn from the mistakes I made and do everything I can not to repeat them again. We all make mistakes and many times fail in our endeavors. However, true entrepreneurs gets back up when they fall and fight for what they believe in. Keep learning and stay hungry. There’s no better feeling than when you take a lesson and turn it into a positive. When we first started, my father (to keep me hungry) told me that our odds of success were 1:1000. After all, 99.9% of start-ups fail for a reason. What made me any different? Today, two years later, he gave us odds at 1:1, so really, we’ve already won.
What are the top 3 online tools/websites/devices that you couldn’t live without? (And why?)
- Google Anlaytics – The heartbeat of our company as far as conversion, bottlenecks, optimization, etc.
- RJ Metrics – Dashboard that organizes your data and helps you put it to work. It’s helped us identify our most active users, most profitable products, and the growth of our business. It’s great for non technical individuals, to answer questions they may have without bothering an engineer.
- Campfire – Collaboration tool / Project Management
If you had $1 million and one year off, what would you do? (Other than work on your current startup)
Travel the world, donate the money and help others less fortunate / blessed than I’ve been.
How do you maintain work/life balance?
When you’re an entrepreneur you don’t. It’s been really difficult balancing a social life (which is nonexistent), a girlfriend (who’s amazing, supportive and understanding) and my work (which reminds me every morning I get up of what an amazing opportunity I’ve been blessed with).
Who would play you in the movie of your life, and what would be the theme song?
Tough question… It doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s made for entrepreneurs and not for Hollywood.
Theme song… Something electronic / melodic or again, there’s always Drake – Started from the Bottom
How has being an entrepreneur changed you for the better? How has it enriched your life?
It’s made me realize that there’s more to life than good times and partying. It’s changing the world, providing others with opportunities and coping with the challenges we face every day. When you’re 23, out of college, and have people working for you that depend on their paychecks to feed their families, pay their bills or manage their lifestyle, it’s a huge wake up call.
What is the tech scene like where you live?
It’s growing and very supportive of others in the industry. We’ve been fortunate enough to be in the great city of Chicago where it’s very entrepreneur friendly. Others are constantly trying to help one another out.
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