I Sell Digital Greeting Cards And Make $35K Per Month

Published: June 30th, 2022
Valentin Hinov
Founder, Thankbox
from Edinburgh, UK
started May 2020
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hiya! My name is Val, I’m 30 years old and I live in Edinburgh, Scotland.

For the past 2 years, I’ve been running Thankbox - an online group card and gift collection service. My main customers are teams within businesses that want to celebrate someone’s occasion. A colleague’s birthday, retirement, or farewell are common use cases. It’s also often used by remote groups of friends and even families - basically any occasion that you’d use a regular old paper card you can use Thankbox for. You can even collect cash that the recipient can claim as a gift card. It’s got really simple pricing - $5.99 for a standard Thankbox and $9.99 for a premium one.


Since its launch, Thankbox has been used to send over 40,000 cards and has issued over $2 million worth of gift cards. On a typical month, it now pulls around $25k in revenue.


What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I’m originally from Bulgaria but I came to Scotland in 2010 to study games programming. I was a big gamer in my teens and I wanted to pursue a career in game development. After I graduated in 2014 I ended up working in gaming for about 2 years - even created a couple of games that won Editor’s choices on the Appstore.

Bootstrappers should aim for markets that aren’t winner-take-all. Instead, pick a market where there’s variety in the demand. I only need to win a small slice of the market to have a profitable business without having to worry about the looming shadow of a big company destroying my position.

My passion for gaming faded though and I transitioned into working on general mobile apps as I saw an increasing need for that skill set. I released my first Android app in 2015, called Bargain Bytes - a simple app to track when stores like Steam have discounts on games. It ended up getting to about 50k installs with me just talking about it in a few gaming communities. It was my first experience building something on my own and promoting it. I loved the taste of it. I then tried my hand at doing a social network app, called Curated. I spent two years on it and made all the mistakes you make when doing your first startup. I spent months building it without validating or marketing it. I didn’t have a clear monetization strategy. It was an expensive lesson that made me realize there was a lot more to learn about startups.

During all this time I was working as a contractor for different companies around Scotland. I noticed an issue with organizing a card each time someone in the team had an occasion. The card would usually be bought last minute by the person’s manager. Then they’d have to chase people around the office to (discreetly) sign it. People that weren’t physically present in the office couldn’t contribute at all. If there was an envelope cash collection, people would have to run to the ATM to get cash to leave in there because who uses physical cash anymore, right?

In November 2019, just as my previous product was winding down, I thought to myself “there must be a better way to do this, online”. I did some research and found that there was nothing that covered both aspects of this – the message and the cash collection. That’s when a lightbulb turned on – this is something I can do! I started planning out the initial design and settled on the name quite early - Thankbox. I was progressing slowly and then March 2020 lockdowns started happening - everyone was going to work remotely! That lit a fire under me and I thought “there will never be a better time to release Thankbox”. I kicked my efforts into high gear and the first version of it went live 2 months later in May 2020.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

With Thankbox I got very lucky early on because I found two key people to help me get it together - a great designer and a kickass full-stack web developer.

My designer, Barbara, is someone I had worked with before and was the first person I shared the idea of Thankbox with. She loved it and got on board very early on. She was able to very quickly turn around designs and brand assets that clicked. Within a couple of weeks of back and forth, we had the first version of all key screens designed. Paying for her time was my biggest upfront cost but well worth it. Barbara is still on the team and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Early screens of Thankbox. We don’t have that weird yellow background anymore but a lot of the core feel is there - the “Add a message” screen has hardly changed since the start

While I am a coder myself I hadn’t had any experience with web or backend development at the time. I needed help but I didn’t have enough funds to pay for an expensive developer. This is where I got lucky again - a full-stack developer I had worked with before, Joe offered to build the Thankbox MVP for free in exchange for a profit-sharing agreement.

A lawyer helped us draft an agreement. It stated that once the product started making a certain amount of consistent revenue each month he’d get a percentage of it for a year. This took away a major initial financial burden off me and also made me extra motivated to make Thankbox a success since I wanted Joe to make more money from the agreement than he would’ve if I’d just paid him (spoiler: he did!).

The three of us quickly started working in March 2020 - we kept the scope very small and were laser-focused on getting the MVP out there ASAP. During that time I tried to learn as much as I could from Joe as I was going to be in charge of the codebase after the first few releases. I fondly remember those couple of months - the excitement of figuring out how the product would work, building the individual parts, and seeing it come together - it’s a thrill like no other.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Thanks to keeping our launch scope small the first version of Thankbox went live in May 2020. Throughout building it, I was posting about it on Twitter and LinkedIn - I didn’t have a big following but I got a few people interested in it. Thanks to this on the day of the launch I had my first sale!

An old university buddy of mine, who worked at Ubisoft, made and bought a Thankbox for someone in his team who was leaving. His team loved it! That gave me a huge boost of motivation!

I ended my first month with 6 sales and a whole lot of feedback. For the first few months, Thankbox was mostly used by companies in Edinburgh that found out about it through me or from others that knew me. This was great because these were all users I could ask for honest feedback - who wanted to see me succeed. They were keen to point out bugs or obvious missing features. It helped me polish up the product in those key early stages.

Knowing I had product/market fit was great but I quickly noticed that I was struggling to attract new customers. At the end of August 2020 my situation was the following:

  • I had made a total of $350 in revenue
  • I was losing over $1200 a month, not including my time

Before starting Thankbox I had agreed with my wife that we’d be ok spending around $1500 a month on it to get it going but that we couldn’t do it for more than a year without proven traction.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

At the end of August, I decided to try several different marketing experiments to see what would stick. I didn’t have a huge amount of money to play with but I knew that even with a small budget I’d quickly find out if something worked or not. So over the next month, I tried a few different things - Facebook Ads paid LinkedIn DMs, and even running a giveaway competition. I spent maybe a total of $500 across all of these but nothing worked.

It was disheartening - I knew the product worked because people were using it and coming back. In those first few months, I also noticed the network effects kicking in - someone would receive a Thankbox when leaving a company and then bring it into their new one. I needed more new customers to help kick that into high gear but I wasn’t getting any. That’s when my small team and I had an honest conversation about our branding and landing page - new people arriving on the page just weren't "getting it" quick enough and bouncing.

So we went about redesigning and clarifying the brand - I also spent $300 on Fiverr to get an explainer video created - it was a great bargain, the video is excellent. The result was immediate and fruitful - we synthesized the product offering and people immediately got it:

A before and after look of our landing page in October 2020

Just after that, I decided to run one more experiment - trying out search ads and that is when things started taking off.


Even with a tiny daily ad budget of $5/day Thankbox started seeing a steady stream of new users - and fast. Within 2 weeks in November, it had made more money than all previous months combined and it just kept growing.

The end of 2020 and most of 2021 was a wild ride as I tried to scale up the product to meet the rising demand. It was an exciting period with times of huge stress. One of the very first things I did was to hire a professional Adwords expert - I went all-in on PPC and kept increasing the budget each month until I started seeing diminishing returns.

If Adwords works well for your brand so will SEO. If I had started faster -with SEO- I might have been 6 or more months further ahead in my traffic than I am right now.

In the past half a year I’ve also heavily focused on SEO - increasing my content marketing and link-building efforts. The online card space is competitive with a lot of established players but I’ve already started carving out a nice bit of traffic for myself. With costs per click getting more and more expensive I wouldn’t be surprised if soon SEO becomes my dominant channel.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Thanks to its rapid growth, Thankbox was profitable just 8 months after launch. Within a year and a half, I could rely on it to pay myself more than any contract gig I previously had. In 2021 it grew sixfold from January to December ending with total revenue of $140k.

Having a solid traction channel to bring in new customers allowed networking effects to flourish. Every month we had new people coming in who’d either used Thankbox before as a contributor to a card or had heard good things about it from friends or colleagues. Currently, between 35% and 40% of sales, every month are from existing customers and around 30% of new customers each month come recommended. My biggest audience is in the UK and US and I’ve also started expanding in Europe.

I spend about $150/day on Google ads which is my biggest expenditure, followed by my staffing costs. I have about 5 part-time contractors helping me with design, coding, customer support, and marketing.

One exciting plan I have for Thankbox is to offer a physical version of a sent card to recipients. Imagine getting a quality photo book with all the kind messages people left on a Thankbox for your birthday. Customers are already asking me for this and I think it’ll make a great upsell. Dealing with physical products isn’t easy though so there’s quite a bit of research I have to do this year to get it going.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

One thing I realized retrospectively is that bootstrappers should aim for markets that aren’t winner-take-all. Instead, pick a market where there’s variety in the demand. There were many online card services before Thankbox and even more so after it. Each offers a slightly different format for collecting and showing messages. Some allow collecting cash, some don’t.

One thing that the market lacks is a clear player that dominates it. This is a great place to be as a bootstrapper since I only need to win a small slice of the market to have a profitable business without having to worry about the looming shadow of a big company destroying my position.

I must also mention the fact that releasing Thankbox during the COVID pandemic was a huge factor. The market for online cards was (and is) expanding massively and, once my brand and positioning were in a good place, I could rely on a steady stream of new customers actively searching for a product in this space. The right place and right time gave me a massive boost and one I am thankful for capitalizing on.

One thing I wished I did earlier was to focus more on SEO - I think that’s probably something a lot of founders have as a regret. As soon as I saw Google Ads working I should’ve put my search optimization efforts into high gear as well. It’s a no-brainer in terms of a channel to use - if Adwords works well for your brand so will SEO. If I had started faster I might have been 6 or more months further ahead in my traffic than I am right now. Better late than never though, right?

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

As a solo tech founder, it’s super important to me that my tech stack is simple and geared towards productivity. I want to focus on my product, not the technology behind it. That’s why I was super happy when Joe, who build the MVP, introduced me to Laravel and its ecosystem. It’s a beautiful framework that helps me build new features quickly - it has a huge community so there’s always someone to ask for help, too.

One key thing about Laravel is that it has a lot of first and third-party paid tools that make your life easier. An example is Nova, a slick admin panel that takes a day to set up. With Laravel I often feel like I have several developers working for me - it’s such a joy to work with.

For help with my content marketing I’ve recently started using Embarque - they are an amazing agency that has helped me produce most of my recent content. I’d tried several different freelancers before but never had much luck. With Embarque I get it all professionally managed so I don’t have to worry at all about fresh new content coming in.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

For a technical founder who has to learn to think more as a product person, there are two books I can highly recommend - Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller and Obviously Awesome by April Dunford. I keep coming back to them as I build Thankbox. They force you to think about your product and brand from a user-centric perspective. Anytime a user sends me a review like “even I, as someone horrible at computers, was able to use Thankbox” I smile and think of these two books.

Recently I’ve been loving the Indie Bites podcasts, hosted by James McKinven. They are short, punchy interviews with indie founders and I always find at least one actionable tip in each one. Can highly recommend it to anyone looking for business inspiration in their podcast feed.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

I want to be real here - accept the fact that you’ll learn a lot of lessons the hard way. You can read all the advice in the world, and listen to every business podcast but you’ll still inevitably make mistakes. Even if you were warned about them. You think you’ll know better and you’ll be humbled later. A lot of the startup advice I was given only made sense in retrospect, after tripping up a bunch of times. Don’t be let down by that – it’s part of the journey. It’s how you grow.

On the back of that, remember that building a business can and should be fun. You are allowed to have fun making a startup even if it doesn’t turn out to be “successful” (however you define that). I wrote this on our team Basecamp board just 2 weeks after starting work on Thankbox:


So don’t forget to have fun, it’s the only way this works long term.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

My development workload is starting to be a bit too much to handle at the moment. I’m on the lookout for a part-time freelance developer with experience in Laravel and VueJS.

If you’re a techie and want a front seat to a bootstrapped startup’s journey please reach out to me on Twitter or email [email protected].

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!