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!)
4 Min Read
During a recent meeting on Microsoft Teams, I couldn't seem to get a single word out.
When I tried to chime in, I kept getting interrupted. At one point two individuals talked right over me and over each other. When I thought it was finally my turn, someone else parachuted in from out of nowhere. When I raised and waved my hand as if I was in grade school to be called on (yes, I had my camera on) we swiftly moved on to the next topic. And then, completely frustrated, I stayed on mute for the remainder of the meeting. I even momentarily shut off my camera to devour the rest of my heavily bruised, brown banana. (No one needed to see that.)
This wasn't the first time I had struggled to find my voice. Since elementary school, I always preferring the back seat unless the teacher assigned me a seat in the front. In high school, I did piles of extra credit or mini-reports to offset my 0% in class participation. In college, I went into each lecture nauseous and with wasted prayers — wishing and hoping that I wouldn't be cold-called on by the professor.
By the time I got to Corporate America, it was clear that if I wanted to lead, I needed to pull my chair up (and sometimes bring my own), sit right at the table front and center, and ask for others to make space for me. From then on, I found my voice and never stop using it.
But now, all of a sudden, in this forced social experiment of mass remote working, I was having trouble being heard… again. None of the coaching I had given myself and other women on finding your voice seemed to work when my voice was being projected across a conference call and not a conference room.
I couldn't read any body language. I couldn't see if others were about to jump in and I should wait or if it was my time to speak. They couldn't see if I had something to say. For our Microsoft teams setting, you can only see a few faces on your screen, the rest are icons at the bottom of the window with a static picture or even just their name. And, even then, I couldn't see some people simply because they wouldn't turn their cameras on.
If I did get a chance to speak and cracked a funny joke, well, I didn't hear any laughing. Most people were on mute. Or maybe the joke wasn't that funny?
At one point, I could hear some heavy breathing and the unwrapping of (what I could only assume was) a candy bar. I imagined it was a Nestle Crunch Bar as my tummy rumbled in response to the crinkling of unwrapped candy. (There is a right and a wrong time to mute, people.)
At another point, I did see one face nodding at me blankly.
They say that remote working will be good for women. They say it will level the playing field. They say it will be more inclusive. But it won't be for me and others if I don't speak up now.
- Start with turning your camera on and encouraging others to do the same. I was recently in a two-person meeting. My camera was on, but the other person wouldn't turn theirs on. In that case, ten minutes in, I turned my camera off. You can't stare at my fuzzy eyebrows and my pile of laundry in the background if I can't do the same to you. When you have a willing participant, you'd be surprised by how helpful it can be to make actual eye contact with someone, even on a computer (and despite the fuzzy eyebrows).
- Use the chatbox. Enter in your questions. Enter in your comments. Dialogue back and forth. Type in a joke. I did that recently and someone entered back a laughing face — reaffirming that I was, indeed, funny.
- Designate a facilitator for the meeting: someone leading, coaching, and guiding. On my most recent call, a leader went around ensuring everyone was able to contribute fairly. She also ensured she asked for feedback on a specific topic and helped move the discussion around so no one person took up all the airtime.
- Unmute yourself. Please don't just sit there on mute for the entire meeting. Jump in and speak up. You will be interrupted. You will interrupt others. But don't get frustrated or discouraged — this is what work is now — just keep showing up and contributing.
- Smile, and smile big. Nod your head in agreement. Laugh. Give a thumbs up; give two! Wave. Make a heart with your hands. Signal to others on the call who are contributing that you support and value them. They will do the same in return when your turn comes to contribute.
It's too easy to keep your camera turned off. It's too easy to stay on mute. It's too easy to disappear. But now is not the time to disappear. Now is the time to stay engaged and networked within our organizations and communities.
So please don't put yourself on mute.
Well, actually, please do put yourself on mute so I don't have to hear your heavy breathing, candy bar crunching, or tinkling bathroom break.
But after that, please take yourself off mute so you can reclaim your seat (and your voice) at the table.