How The Pandemic Inspired Me To Bootstrap A $180K/Year Online Greeting Card Business
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi there, my name is Dayana Doncheva and I am the founder of EcardForest. We create greeting cards that can be signed by multiple people and sent online. The product is quite straightforward - it’s a digital greeting card that a person buys and shares with others so that everyone can enter their wishes.
As there is no page limit and a lot of people can sign, the greeting card ends up looking like a small book of wishes. Receiving a surprise like this on a special occasion is heartwarming and that’s what drives us. We have incorporated interactive elements like gifs, colors, and text styles to offer many options to express emotions and share love no matter the distance. That’s exactly what makes EcardForest special since we enable people to celebrate special moments even when they are far away.
Our customers are mainly businesses and our ecards are predominantly used on two occasions that people celebrate in the office i.e. birthdays and farewells. Shortly after the launch of EcardForest in March 2021, we discovered the demand for greeting card packages for bigger teams. That’s how we started offering bundles as well.
Two special things define EcardForest: We care about the environment and our user’s privacy. We take a part of the revenue generated by each purchase and invest it in tree planting, supporting various NGOs around the globe. As we have clients from many countries we found it to be fair to support multiple organizations and not just one local NGO.
Next to environmental protection, we invest a lot in privacy. Our product is private by design - we use highly secure tokens instead of user accounts. We don’t ask for names and emails, don’t track our customers, and don’t show them ads. This was incredibly important to us since sending a greeting card can sometimes be very private and we wanted to offer a platform for that.
It looks like our efforts pay out well, as we already count more than $15K in monthly revenue.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Driven by the pandemic and the mandatory working from home, I found myself in a situation where a dear colleague was leaving the company but we couldn’t organize a proper goodbye party and a thank you greeting card. That’s why I looked for digital solutions and after quite a thorough research I was still not convinced with what I found.
The products available were much more relevant for the US market and didn’t meet the needs of a European user, neither in the payment settings nor in the currency. Honestly, I didn’t like the available designs either. That’s when I thought I could do it better.
I have a strong background in marketing and specialize in digital. I knew the first step was to get some numbers. I quickly checked the market situation and the demand and started talking to friends to assemble a team. I was lucky enough to convince a graphic designer and a developer from my close friends’ circle that the idea is worth it.
Still, as we didn’t know if working from home would stay for much longer and how returning to the office would impact the demand, we decided to launch as soon as possible with a viable but not too shiny product and improve as we go. It was challenging as all of us were fully employed and we were working on EcardForest in our free time. Luckily everything worked perfectly well. This was the proof of concept for us.
The overall product design hasn’t changed a lot since the launch, yet we had only limited personalization options. We added text styles (bold, italic, etc.) as well as text rotation, a font library, and different font sizes only later. Additionally, we included the possibility to schedule the ecard sending, upload images, and lock the card following clients' feedback.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The design of the product went through multiple reviews with a lot of usability testing in parallel, as we wanted to kick it off as a viable product right away. This went smoothly as we all reported issues properly, allowing our developer to work on them quickly. At the same time, I was preparing our advertising set up so that we are ready to spread the word right after the launch.
The full tech architecture was built very efficiently with some external support by freelancers we commissioned on Fiverr, which allowed us to excel quickly. All the time we followed the premise that we can add extra features at a later point in time if we see there’s a need.
That’s what happened to our card selection as well. We started with birthdays, farewell, and maybe only two wedding cards. Today, our ecard catalog includes a great selection of birthday, farewell, and baby greeting cards. Additionally, we offer a growing range of designs covering all other important occasions in life: wedding, get well, retirement, new home, and many more.
We are always on the lookout regarding important key occasions and add them as we go. That’s what happened before the latest holiday season - we didn’t know if people would send Christmas group cards and were cautious to not invest too much effort in the first place. We ramped up the resources as we realized there is a demand and could deliver on it quickly.
Being agile and looking for external support when our resources come short was what allowed us to grow quickly.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Our product and our website are extremely closely connected since the product is used via the website only. Thus we had to make sure that our website matches our product design and our brand identity.
We went for a clean and modern design with a very clear structure and call to action. To visualize and explain the product we integrated animated elements. The design was created by our team and led by our creative director Ivelina.
Similar to the product design our website had a proper look and feel for the launch, yet leaving room for improvement. Everyone on the team had ideas on what and how to improve it, that we added to our backlog for some time later.
The initial website design took around 3 weeks and was built from scratch. We didn’t use any templates to stay flexible and be able to fully adjust the design later. Another reason to build everything on our own was that we wanted to excel regarding website optimization and speed, which we knew would help us rank well on Google and avoid losing clients who might drop because of the load time.
We kept optimizing our website as we went, currently rating 100% performance and reaching phenomenally quick load times according to Google’s Page Speed Test.
Just recently we incorporated another graphic element in our website design as part of our forest theme, completing the EcardForest brand.
Back when we started, the night we launched was a Thursday and as planned we prepared an advertising campaign on Google search to start right away. We were quite cautious in the beginning as we didn't want to spend too much.
Our first week’s advertising budget was maybe only 100$. It was certainly not a big bang launch. Luckily we could profit from some starter packages from both Google and Microsoft, covering the first week, while we collected data on the average click prices and the competitor’s landscape
On the next day, at the office, there was already a colleague getting married over the weekend. Right away I suggested organizing the greeting card and that’s how EcardForest naturally got adopted by the team and slowly by the whole company.
In the beginning, we called the product E-GreetingCard. After one month or so we realized that it’s a safer bet to go for a brand instead of a generic name. That’s when we had an intensive brainstorming session and came up with EcardForest. We liked the name specifically because it corresponded to our eco-friendly focus but also suggested a rich choice.
A month later, we started working with creators, which was part of our original upscaling plan as well. We could profit from their exposure and offer even bigger choices of designs to our clients.
We started seeing success already by the end of the first month. That’s when we increased our advertising budget and hired our first full-time developer to take over the integration of additional features and customer support. With that our starting costs reached about 30,000 USD but luckily we could cover it all from personal savings.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We knew that if we deliver a good quality product and keep our promises, people would keep coming back. That’s what happened indeed and we could see the conversions growing. Of course, we also increased our advertising budget. Unfortunately, our competitors did as well. And by the way, since our launch the market got so crowded as some additional companies decided to invest in online greeting cards is worth it as well.
As a result, we had to increase our bids on Google and Microsoft ads, we had to make sure we cover the right keywords. Additionally, we reviewed our setup to not go too broad, as this was not generating quality results.
We would usually look at metrics like the impression share on our most important advertising keywords on Google ads. That would help us see if we show our ads to the majority of the users searching or maybe still miss out on some of the traffic. And maybe even more importantly, see where our competitors stand.
Based on the insights we would decide if we need to increase our bid prices or even remove irrelevant keywords. We always use Google Keyword Planner to check the search volume over time.
Besides lower funnel channels, we tested some consideration activations as well. Specifically, we activated ads on Facebook and Pinterest, yet without investing too much in creativity, which might have been the trouble-maker as the results were not particularly good on either of the channels.
Additionally, we explored partnerships with magazines and blogs like Love Em, and those worked much better for us. Partnering up with related businesses like Party Kit Network turned out to be a great idea too since it’s a win-win for both sides.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are happy with our current position and growth. Of course we are very ambitious and keep exploring optimizations and improvements of the product. Additionally, we bundle our efforts around customer acquisition. We are also looking into our customer lifetime value. As we are still fairly new, we can’t estimate precisely how high the actual customer lifetime value is going to be, but we are very optimistic.
Currently, we have monthly fixed costs for servers, tech architecture and licensing, and personnel costs. Of course, we invest in advertising and tree planting on top. When that’s covered we evaluate what to do with the profit for the month - either to cash it out or to reinvest and grow further.
If you are thinking about a better version of an available product, make sure to map the features that you think you could do better.
At the moment we have good coverage of multiple markets. We intend to look for further expansions too. In the long run, we want to onboard more creators and hopefully grow further via their networks.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Starting as soon as possible was maybe the best decision we made. The only thing you might say was equally important was that we invested in quality. That allowed us to stay efficient but also grow fast.
It was an excellent decision to increase our advertising budget although we were uncertain how much it would bring. You never know until you try it. With this in mind, we are still on the way to exploring what kind of partnerships would work for us in the future.
The only thing we could have done better is to come up with the idea sooner. I have the feeling that we missed out on quite some market share during the first months of the pandemic when people were desperately looking for options to send greeting cards online.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
In terms of tech, we have quite a simple setup. We use Stripe for our payment processing. Wise is our bank of choice for both corporate and private usage, as we can easily handle multiple currencies there. We trust Trustpilot as our review tool, though we need to focus on asking for feedback more frequently as we have only a couple of reviews so far.
We have created all the usual company accounts: Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and TikTok. Growing our followership there is a big project that we are working on, as it's not finished in one day only. Whenever we need an extra hand we look for specialists on Fiverr, which allows us to upscale while staying agile.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
When exploring ideas that you would like to grow in a business, it’s crucial to check the market beforehand. If you are thinking about a better version of an available product, make sure to map the features that you think you could do better. Check that with your friends to get their reactions, while asking them to behave as your customers.
If you are trying something new, don’t forget to set clear goals. How long would you try selling the product before you decide if it works or not? You might end up creating a unicorn, but if not, you better know when to proclaim it a failure and continue with something else.
And the most important part: Thinking of ideas that would make you rich usually won’t work. It should come naturally to you and the more you believe in your idea, the easier it’s going to be.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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