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Yiftee, a mobile micro-gift startup, comes to Stanford

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Yiftee, a micro-gift startup founded in 2011, has partnered with multiple campus businesses to allow members of the Stanford community to send and receive items, such as a cup of coffee or a cupcake, from local merchants through their smartphones or online.

The company, which was co-founded by Aldo Briano M.S. ’12, Management Science and Engineering Lecturer Donna Novitsky ’81, Jon Kepecs and Lori Laub, has partnered with merchants in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. Merchants can sign up to feature their business and gifts for free on Yiftee’s website and on the Yiftee iPhone application.

“It’s about sharing random acts of kindness among people and supporting local businesses that are the backbone of our communities,” Novitsky said.

Yiftee gifts come in the form of a single-use digital MasterCard that can be spent at the company’s two million partner businesses. Users receive gifts through email, text or Facebook and have four weeks to redeem micro-gifts before they expire.

“It still brings in traffic to the store with no discounting,” Briano said. “The local business gets paid instantaneously just like if it were another customer paying with a credit card.”

The company, which launched a beta version in December, was one of nine finalists in the Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students (BASES) 2012 e-Challenge and participated in the BASES Forge Accelerator program.

Yiftee has since partnered with Coupa Café, Treehouse and Ike’s Place on campus, and is currently in talks with the Stanford Bookstore. Most of the Palo Alto merchants that use Yiftee are located off-campus, including California Pizza Kitchen, Cold Stone Creamery and Sprinkles Cupcakes.

Novitsky’s work with Yiftee has also extended into her classroom. A team of six students in MS&E 271: Global Entrepreneurial Marketing (GEM) have spearheaded marketing efforts for a Yiftee campus care package at Stanford and other California schools such as UC-Santa Barbara, UC-Davis and UC-Santa Cruz.

In MS&E 271, students work with one of over 20 project sponsors to gain real-world experience in marketing. Yiftee has served as a project sponsor for three years, and this year’s Yiftee GEM team pitched to the parents of prospective and current Stanford students at Parents’ Weekend and Admit Weekend.

“We’re trying to collaborate with other care packages so that we can help moms and dads,” said GEM team member Saurabh Ladha M.S. ’14. “We wouldn’t call it competition.”

According to Briano, Yiftee is targeting parents of students instead of students themselves, since the company’s target users are women between the age of 25 and 55.

“As a mom, I would send my kids Yiftees at school,” Novitsky said. “All day you’re thinking of them. You want them to remember and put a smile on their face.”

Briano noted that, while expanding the company’s merchant base was the initial challenge, Yiftee is now focused on growing its user base. The company partnered with Kappa Alpha Theta last year for Crushgrams, the sorority’s Valentine’s Day secret gift program.

“That was our beta launch, literally three months after alpha [launch] and five months after the first line of code was written,” Novitsky said about the partnership.

Thus far, Yiftee has raised $850,000 in seed funding from New York and Silicon Valley angel investors including Scott Cook, the chairman and founder of Intuit, and Mohr Davidow Ventures, where Novitsky was a partner for nine years.

In the future, Yiftee hopes to provide a platform that could be incorporated into mobile applications, online greeting cards, websites and online dating services to allow users to send each other gifts.

“The only other competitor would be Facebook gifts and Facebook gifts is nowhere [near] what we do,” Ladha said. “Facebook would actually mail you the gift and it takes two weeks to arrive.”