Like fine wine, Jonas P. Lee's concept of an 800-number delivery service for gift certificates has aged well. In 1992, when Lee first wrote the business plan for 1-800 PRESENT.com while attending Harvard Business School, he thought of it as little more than an idea for a school project. Lee figured someone else might pick up on the idea, because at that time, he didn't have what he calls "the horsepower" to get it done.
In 1997, after stints at a management consulting company and as a manager for a high-tech start-up, Lee finally felt he was ready to give it a go. "I looked at the plan and figured, someone's got to do it, so it might as well be me," recalls Lee, now 32. So he did.
Today, Lee's New York City company, 1-800 PRESENT.com (http://www.1-800PRESENT.com), lets customers purchase gift certificates from more than 30 retailers, restaurants and hotels, including Eddie Bauer, Barnes and Noble, Planet Hollywood and the Ritz Carlton. The certificates are overnighted to the lucky recipient in a velvet jewelry box with satin bow. "It has a lot of bells and whistles around it that make it more of a gift than just an envelope with a piece of paper in it," says Lee, whose company's 1997 sales tripled to more than $3 million in 1998.
"It was difficult getting retailers to believe [in the business] before we actually had it up and running," says Lee. "And then, of course, getting the customers to believe we had the retailers." After signing on a few key chains, however, the rest fell into place. Now the company is constantly adding more companies to its lineup.
"It's fun because you're giving gifts," says Lee. "And the 1-800 PRESENT number really gets stuck in people's heads. I think we have a pretty strong future ahead of us."