December 23, 2015

Give Corporate Gifts That Rock with Boston Startup, Alyce

Greg Segall is no stranger to startups. He’s realized success through an acquisition of his eight-year old digital ecommerce agency, One Pica back in 2012. In the past few months, Segall began a new venture, one he feels has exponential potential – corporate gifting.

“Our team comes from the corporate (agency) world and we’ve witnessed an endless number of "gifts" go unused or worse, thrown out. Most gift givers mean well, but they miss the boat. Do you remember who gave you that giant tin of moose munch?”

Segall launched Alyce recently, a corporate gifting platform that matches individual customers and employees with unique B2C-based gifts - using social data to suggest the perfect gifts. 

We caught up with Segall, founder and CEO of Alyce, to hear more about the opportunity ahead for his most recent startup and how he plans to conquer the market.

VF: Greg – congrats on the recent launch! Can you break down Alyce for our readers in your simplest terms?

GS: Thanks! Alyce researches each gifter’s contact creating a deep profile. That profile, coupled with the budget, allows the platform to match the gift recipient with highly relevant, unique gifts from a hundreds of brand partners big and small. The gifter chooses the suggestion they like best, adds a personal message, and clicks send. The gift recipient then has three options: accept the gift, exchange it for anything else on the Alyce marketplace within the same cost, or donate the value of the gift. Exchanging and donating can be done privately.

Alyce is a platform that automates the who, what, when and how of gifting—while still making the exchange extremely meaningful and emotionally gratifying, creating the ideal experience for both parties.

Alyce Choose Gift

We wanted to create a platform that made a difference too; which is why a portion of the profits of every gift given through Alyce is donated to charity. Giving is at the core of our business.

VF: Now that we know what you’re building, how about you, personally. You have a great entrepreneurial background – can you share a bit of that journey with us?

GS: Of course. I started my first company–an agency called One Pica–right out of college. It was right after the dot-bomb. I was a designer, but also fell in love with computer science.

Eventually, One Pica was completely centered on e-commerce, but it didn’t start that way. We did choose e-commerce strategically as there were very few companies on the East coast with enterprise-level expertise, but it took a bit. Like many agencies, we tried to be jacks-of-all-trades. Once we finished our first e-commerce site in 2006, we realized that building our own product was nuts. We went all-in on Magento in 2007. At the time, they were a no-name e-commerce platform still in beta, but built with the newest technologies - PHP5 and MySQL5.

We became one of Magento’s first enterprise partners and as they took off, we were closely positioned alongside of them. It was all about focus, and a bit of luck to be honest. I credit my former CTO, Joe Woods for making the decision to go with Magento for our first major e-com site, Crumbs Bake Shop. We could have easily gone with one of the older, more mature platforms.

I sold One Pica in December of 2012 and stayed on board until about a year and a half ago. The company grew considerably and internationally. It was a truly amazing experience scaling a global organization.

Over the past year, I worked on a startup called See Fit with Joe Woods. I like to think of it as “Product Startup 101”. Products are a much different beast than agencies. The lessons learned were endless. We didn’t do nearly enough user research, quick iteration, feedback, doing things that don’t scale, etc. We made all the classic mistakes. Now I’m taking all those lessons and experiences and building Alyce.

VF: How did that journey play into the origin of Alyce?

GS: One of the missteps we made with See Fit was that we went into a market we had no connection to. We were learning and building as we went along. With Alyce, I’m creating a company that utilizes all the e-commerce connections and expertise I’ve built over the past decade-plus. For example, it’s easy for me to reach out to all the major e-commerce retailers because I know them personally. E-commerce is still in it’s infancy and if applied to markets that haven’t been innovated in a long time (like say, corporate gifting) the potential is enormous. I did multiple rounds of primary research, and quickly iterated to this model. Alyce actually started as a referral app, with a small piece of functionality where the the vendor could “thank” the referrer. I prototyped that in a weekend, took out all my agency-owner friends for lunch over the next 2 weeks and they all gravitated to the gifting part asking, “Can you do that for me?”. That was when I knew we had something, ditched the referral app and went all in on corporate gifting.

VF: Can you talk a bit about the market? Just how much is spent on corporate gifting each year? What is your addressable market?

GS: The corporate gifting market is antiquated. There really hasn’t been innovation in the last 10 to 15 years, with the same companies owning a majority of the space. Corporate gifting is overly complicated, making the process a chore, whereas it should be about celebrating great moments, build relationships and make in impact with the recipient or the greater community.

The big idea is this: we’re aiming to “own” corporate gifting budgets by making the process incredibly efficient and seamless, all while providing merchants a channel where we match their products perfectly to end customers and send them a high volume of sales. The end recipient has an amazing experience, and therefore nothing goes to waste. It’s hard to find a downside. This is why it’s been so easy to get both sides of the market signed up — it’s a win-win. We sit in the middle, facilitating an amazing experience for everyone. It’s a new model and more of a 3-sided marketplace, so it has been fun working through all of these complexities to make it simple for all.

If you factor in census data and average gifting budgets, corporate gifting is about a $120B per year spend. This is split between traditional gifting, events, prospecting and employee incentives. Our addressable market is about 30% of this, based on the primary research we have done and the current platform as-is. To capture more we will need to go after all the points programs, bulk gifting programs, etc. It’s on our radar.

In the future, we will see expansion into peer-to-peer gifting with Alyce as well. Many of the companies signed up now have actually been also using Alyce for personal gifting as the process is exactly the same. But we are staying hyper-focused on corporate gifting for now.

VF: What about funding? Are you bootstrapping Alyce and do you have plans to raise outside funding in the near future?

GS: Right now I’m personally self-funding Alyce. The goal is to stay bootstrapped for as long as possible. I’ll eventually seek outside funding, most likely in 2016. The beauty of this model is that it is highly profitable from day one.

VF: You’re still in the early stages, but what type of response of you seen thus far? Any notable customers you can tell us about?

GS: It’s been just over a week and we have selectively allowed in 150 companies to use Alyce with many more in the queue. I want to protect the privacy of the companies since I haven’t asked permission yet. Honestly, I just haven’t had time to do so before this Q&A. But they include one of the top 3 telecoms, real estate organizations and 2 large SaaS platforms. It’s been a crazy week and the new use cases have been amazing to see. We are learning a ton and iterating quickly. The social nature of the product has been beyond our expectations. For example, Company A sends 10 gifts to 10 other companies and at least 6 out of those 10 sign up wanting to use Alyce themselves. It’s pretty awesome.

VF: Sounds like you have an exciting road ahead of you and we wish you nothing but the best! You’re very familiar with Boston’s startup ecosystem – so what can the tech community expect from Alyce in the coming months?

GS: We have a few very large companies looking to use Alyce to prospect. That model is also ripe for innovation, so we have a number of features rolling out specifically to make prospect gifting painless in the next couple of weeks. We can take on all the research and fulfillment, saving these companies hundreds of hours per sales person. We are currently doing product releases every 2 days and moving quickly.

VF: One last thing. Our readership is loaded with up and coming entrepreneurs. What’s one piece of advice you can offer up to those just starting out down the entrepreneurial path?

GS: Know what you don’t know and surround yourself with people that do. It’s similar to the mantra to hire people that are smarter than you. Try to help those in your network as much as possible and don’t expect anything in return. If you do that genuinely, it’ll come back to you 100 fold, at very unexpected times. Honestly, I was way too closed off when I first started One Pica and thought I knew everything or could figure it out better. I neglected the power of a true, genuine network, and now I couldn’t imagine myself without it. Start as early as possible. Learn from them.

Keith Cline is the Founder of VentureFizz.  You can follow him on Twitter (@kcline6) by clicking here.