People 25 February 2019
It can seem rare when best friends team up, go into business together and build something successful. For Gabi Koshgarian and Catherine Wang, CEO's and Co-Founders of blankbox, this decision came naturally.
Pictured above, are Founders and CEOs, Gabi Koshgarian and Catherine Wang. (Photo Courtesy of blankbox)
They met their senior year of college and remained best friends beyond the walls of College of the Holy Cross. Having both worked in finance and living four blocks apart they figured there was nothing else to do besides getting in to business together. The pair, who specialize in “ready-to-Gift" gift boxes, are using blankbox to create an “elevated experience" for their customers, especially those who love gifting, are looking for something personal, customized and easy to buy. In three simple steps, one would choose a box design, select crinkle cut or tissue paper and wait on its arrival. Whether they want to celebrate the big or little things in life, Koshgarian and Wang hope to provide a resource for them to do so.
This six-month old company provides everything needed to send a “chic and customized gift" minus the gift, of course. These female co-founders sat down with SWAAY to share with us their journey into entrepreneurship, overall goal of blankbox and what they hope for in the future.
Behind the scenes of blankbox...
1. What was the inspiration behind the company's name?
We both love giving gifts, and will put in effort to make our gifts thoughtful. Unfortunately, that makes gifting somewhat of a hassle: toddler-style wrap jobs, “crap! the card!" last minute sprints, and uninspiring department store gift bags when we're really desperate. We wanted to bring a gifting experience to market that essentially solved all the hassles of gifting that we ourselves had experienced.
The name blankbox actually came to one of us in the middle of the night. Not kidding! We had been trying to find a name that captured the essence of our box, which can be used for any occasion from traditional holidays to the little things: “will you be my bridesmaid?", “congrats on your promotion", etc. We kept saying to ourselves, okay it's a ________ box' and filling in the blank, so it finally hit us: blankbox!
2. You explain how you'd both been searching for a better gifting experience prior to launching this company. How does your brand differ from other gifting services? What do other companies lack, that blankbox offers?
Before blankbox, if you wanted to give a gift you had a few options: traditional gift wrap, company branded wrap (think department store gift box), or a pre-curated gift box.
With traditional gift wrap, you get to thoughtfully choose the gifts, but then struggle with creating an elevated presentation and the inconvenience of going out to buy the wrapping supplies (does anyone actually know how to wrap well besides my mother? Also, once you become a mother do you magically gain the skills to wrap? Need to know).
With packaging, like a department store gift bag, you again get to choose the gifts but are limited to that one retailer. Giving a box [that is] branded with a company name doesn't exactly scream personal. Lastly, you have numerous companies offering pre-curated gift boxes that offer the opposite experience: elevated presentation and convenience, but lacking the personal and thoughtful gift choice.
That's where blankbox comes in.
We solve for what each of the above options lack by giving gifters the convenience and elevated presentation of a pre-curated gift box, but with the ability to personalize with any gift they'd like. We provide elevated packaging without 'in-your-face' company branding sent directly to your door. As our customer, all you do is add your gift [and] give! As a plus, with no visible branding on the box (it's on the bottom), they are meant to be kept or reused. To date, we've seen creative reuses like coffee table centerpieces, bookshelf decor, momento boxes, and of course re-gifting.
“blankbox is about so much more than the boxes" - blankbox
(Photo Courtesy of blankbox)
3. What was your journey into entrepreneurship like as best friends? Especially when you were bringing blankbox to life?
You know it's funny; we all hear these warnings about working with or employing friends and family members because feelings can get hurt if it doesn't work out. [Though], for us it's been a great experience, really fun and has made us closer [as] friends.
We have the ability to separate blankbox conversations from friend conversations. We're both very direct people in general, so when either one of us is being tough or pushing back at the other because we disagree on a business decision, it's understood that it's not personal. We've approached things differently several times, but there have been very few times where both of us feel strongly about the same thing.
If we could give one piece of advice to close friends thinking about starting a business together, it would be to make sure you “work the same way". By this I mean, you may have different skill sets to bring to the table, but you both need to have a similar work personality for it to work.
For us, we are both organized and get things done quickly. So, it's never the case where one person doesn't do something they say they would do or where one has to chase the other. This is absolutely key to maintaining our friendship and business relationship without issue.
4. You have a newsletter called, 'the fill.' How does 'the fill' carry out your company's mission and add on to the overall experience?
So excited you noticed! This is a very recent addition to blankbox and we're really excited about it. The point of “the fill' is to be for content what our boxes are for gifting. We want to create elevated content that is actually meaningful to our reader base, gets people excited and relates to their lives.
As blankbox has grown, it's become about so much more than the boxes themselves; people want to hear our story and our experience in the female founder community, and we are consistently asked for advice on what gifts to include in a blankbox (hint: it fits a bottle of wine. just saying). We figured “the fill" was a great place to start with.
For now, we're keeping it short and sweet with a once-per-month release, including founder features, tailored gift guides and behind the scenes blankbox action. We'd love to hear any ideas you or anyone else has about content to include!
'The fill' will contain monthly gift guides. Each [one] will be curated by us, with a fun twist on a holiday happening that month. Any gift on this gift guide will be brands and founders we love and have experienced enough to recommend, and will not be sponsored content. Our website will allow customers to click through to purchase on each brand's site.
Stay tuned for more exciting gift related things in the coming months!
5. What would you say keeps you motivated each day when it comes to running your business and why?
We're constantly networking and meeting new people as part of growing our brand; with that, obviously, comes explaining what blankbox is and who we are over and over! There is NO feeling in the world better than explaining what blankbox is and seeing someone's eyes light up, or hearing them say “Oh my god. That makes so much sense. I needed this…" We have heard “I needed this..." more times than we can count, and it's even more exciting when they become a customer!
We'd be lying if we said every single thing we do for blankbox is fun and exciting; there are definitely more arduous tasks (have you ever cut a massive roll of bubble wrap into the same size pieces for 2 straight hours? Not fun. [And] don't even get us started on taxes). So there are definitely nights we'd so much rather swan dive into bed than do work, but remembering that at the end of the day, we have a product that people understand and that excites them - that validates the work we're doing.
6. Did you face any challenges that almost deterred you from continuing with this business? Do you have any advice that you'd like to share for new entrepreneurs and female founders?
I would say the biggest challenge at first was not knowing how to do some of the things we needed to do: namely, designing the boxes and building our website (on a self-funded budget). We are incredibly lucky to have our designer Madeline, who is not only super talented but one of Gabi's best friends! We must have gone through thousands of designs before finalizing our [three] to launch with, so without Madeline there's no way we could have made this a reality. Same goes for our website designer Sami. He was able to visualize what we wanted, and create it without getting distracted by us constantly barking changes in his ear. Right before launch, we decided we wanted to launch with optional handwritten gift tags, as this would make the packaging even more personal - the only problem was, neither of us can calligraphy. One long social media stalk session later, and we found Brittany, a talent-turned-friend that is indispensable to our product!
Along these lines, there are always going to be skills you don't have going into entrepreneurship. In more traditional jobs, it's okay to get segmented into one skill set or another – as an entrepreneur, you're everything at once. Some of our best advice is to not panic about things you can't do. Look around at your network – friends, family, colleagues, etc. More times than not, there is someone in your inner circle who can teach you what you don't know, or help you get it done. And don't be afraid to ask. Whether it's finance, graphic design, social media, or anything else, there is always someone who knows more than you and will help you if you ask. And if not, Google is your best friend. It's definitely ours!
(Photo Courtesy of blankbox)
7. What do you hope to accomplish with blankbox in the years ahead?
We launched with [three] designs and one size to test the market - in the coming years we would love to grow our collection into more designs and more sizes! We're also exploring design collaboration ideas and would love to collaborate with NYC-based artists, designers, and/or women we admire to create limited edition collections.
On a bigger picture scale, we're so excited to continue expanding blankbox's market share and do our part to preserve the thoughtfulness and personal touch behind gifting, even as everything around us becomes less interpersonal (seamless pizza to our apartment 2 blocks away...check!)
2 Min Read
It all started when I began documenting my daughter's 436-day hospital stay on Instagram.
She was a perfectly healthy 3-year-old and out of nowhere had a ruptured appendix made worse by a failed immune system. Sepsis began to consume her body and talking about it on social media was my way to cope with the fear of the unknown.
The doctors saved her life that night in January of 2018, but it was touch and go for a while until the doctors decided she was ready for a bone marrow transplant.
By then my daughter Theresa and our family had gained attention locally and nationally because of the rarity of her disorder. It doesn't even have a name. People would comment day and night on my Instagram posts wanting updates about how she was doing and wanting to see her on video.
View this post on Instagram436+ days in the hospital with Theresa taught me how to prepare to be productive during shelter in place . When you really couldn't go anywhere often while in the hospital . Not like there was anywhere TO GO... just waiting day in and day out for answers that took a long while . Didn't want to venture out much because didn't want to get Theresa sick . It feels VERY similar to now. Little within your control no matter how much you'd panic and worry . You realize you can see this as an opportunity for growth or an opportunity to let fear and worry consume you . . Let me give you my best advice on how to tackle shelter in place, from someone who gets it all too well . . 1️⃣ Develop your new routine: some may say to keep your normal routine but chances are we've gotta adapt things, like training schedules and coaching calls to fit with the fact the kiddos are home 😅 . 2️⃣ Fill your cup first: get an iced latte, take a walk, take a nap, whatever you gotta go to feel your best before you pour into working on your new project or content . 3️⃣ communicate: talk to your spouse and kiddos and ask for their support in your balancing life, family and work. Ask what they need from you right now and share how they can best support you . 4️⃣ Create as much as you consume: it's easy to get sucked into scrolling and the next thing you know the sun has set ☀️ set a timer ⏱ to step away from your tiktok for you page (just me? 😂😂) to write an email or post to your IG feed . 5️⃣ dont try to do it all alone: it's a crazy time and your feelings are valid. You don't have to navigate this by yourself. Ask for help, reach out... you know I always have your back❤️. . . Comment below: what are you up to this weekend?
A post shared by Kayla - LAUNCHING EXPERT (@kaylaybanez) on Mar 21, 2020 at 4:04pm PDT
It was in the Fall of 2018 when people started to ask me how I was doing certain things on Instagram. I didn't realize how good I had become at utilizing hashtags, posting easily digestible content and building up a loyal community around my daughter's journey to health.
I realized that the months I spent learning everything I could about using Instagram the way I had been, gave me skills that small businesses and online personal brands would pay for. For the longest time this was a way to make myself feel normal (because living in the hospital for over a year isn't normal) and now, people were ready to pay me. It was a surreal experience.
I started by offering one time consultations and the more demand increased, the more I realized that I had a very specific niche in mind. I wanted to help online business owners use Instagram to make genuine business connections without spamming or "cold messaging" them.
I made it my personal brand to "stop the 'hey girl' messaging movement," which is essentially the unfortunate standard of small business owners randomly messaging anyone they cross paths with online and asking them if they want to purchase their products.
Especially while we were in the hospital I would receive dozens of spam messages a day from people trying to sell me their products without even taking a moment to look at my page to see what my family has been going through let alone learn my name. That's where the "hey girl" comes from, because they couldn't even be bothered to look at the name on my page.
I called out these sleazy business tactics because I believe social media is meant for true relationship building and connection.
My message took off! My personal brand has become instantly recognizable because I am speaking out about things business owners feel but have been afraid to talk about because nobody else was talking about it — as a result, my business boomed!
I went from focusing on working with people 1:1 into working with more group coaching. This allowed me to scale my business to the point of making over $300,000 in revenue since I started in the fall of 2018, all from a system and strategy I created while in my daughter's hospital room.