Sramana Mitra: Talk to me about things in a sequential order. Let’s go to the beginning of the company. How did this company get off the ground? How did you pull this together? What worked? What didn’t work? Tell the story.
Shaul Weisband: What encouraged us to start the company was the gift registry. This was 2011. If you remember, one of the hot topics in e-commerce space was Amazon and how brick-and-mortar companies are going to battle Amazon, and what was called showrooming where people walk into a store, use the sales people to learn about the items that they like, and then end up buying online on Amazon.
We came to realize that the link between in-store and online made a lot of sense was in the gift registry space. We noticed that the gift registry was a huge market, but it contains both elements of in-store and online. For example, wedding registry is a $23 billion market. 90% of couples register for gifts. They’d have the in-store experience. They go in. They see different things and they decide what they want. When they put it on their registry, the purchasers have the convenience of online. They buy it online for them as a gift.
That synergy was very interesting to us. We said, “As a company, why is registry limited to the large department stores and only limited to weddings and babies?” We wanted to expand that entire space into any kind of event, whether it’s graduation and birthdays, and we wanted to break it open way beyond department stores.
Our initial concept for Jifiti was to turn entire shopping malls into gift registry zones, which allow people to walk around with their smartphones, scan items, and select items that they want. Once a gift is purchased, the recipient would be able to walk right into the store, show their phone, and walk out with their gift from the shopping mall. That was the original B2C app that was launched in 2012.
Sramana Mitra: You launched this app on self-finance?
Shaul Weisband: There was financing. We actually raised a very large seed round. There’s around $3.8 million before we even went to market. The way that we are able to do that is we brought this concept to strategic partners – in the retail space and in the shopping mall space. We literally had an idea on a napkin, we turned it into a PowerPoint presentation. Through some connections, we got in touch with the Simon Malls Group, which is the largest mall owner in the world. They loved the concept mainly because we were solving a problem that they were seeing as well.
We wanted their users to be able to engage with their online friends by scanning items that they want to get as a gift and be able to redeem those gifts inside the mall. It’s really bringing that synergy between online and in-store, which is something that many of the retailers and malls were looking for then. Simon Malls came in as an early investor in our seed round. Another private equity called Jesselson Capital also came in. We were able to raise a pretty significant round before we even went to market, which in many ways, can be a very good thing or a very bad thing.
Sramana Mitra: It’s a very unusual thing. It’s not at all a natural thing that happens in the market.