When resounding thuds erupted from the Omaha, Nebraska, offices of online gift-certificate business Giftpoint.com Inc., I asked owners (and siblings) Doug Nielsen and Julie Mahloch if a midinterview squabble had ensued. They assured me the ruckus in the background was only the construction work being done on their new office, but Nielsen, 32, did admit, "If we don't fight once a day, we know we're not doing much."
Hardly rivaling Jerry Springer dysfunction, this brother/sister team's occasional tension stems from too many brilliant ideas, according to Mahloch, 30. But having been in business together since 1991 with an entertainment-coupon-book-turned-direct-mail venture, they're certainly tuned in to each other's roles. "He's the big-thinker, big-picture guy," she says, "and I jump in, start dialing the phone and talk to retailers."
Because the partners use consumer input to decide how to increase their gift-certificate offerings, from restaurants to apparel stores to airlines, by the time you read this, they will have transformed this 35-employee start-up into an "absolutely gigantic" enterprise. Among the first to sign on for Giftpoint.com's launch last December were Sharper Image, The Olive Garden, Barnes & Noble and American Eagle Outfitters. Upwards of 300 retailer partnerships are expected by the new year, with expansion to include malls and large discount chains leading the growth.
Described by Nielsen as "the biggest no-brainer of the year," all it took to think up the concept was a zero-results search when the pair tried to buy a gift certificate online for their mother's birthday last summer. By decreasing paperwork for efficiency-minded retail companies and saving anti-queue customers time, the former business students easily filled a wide-open niche with the help of angel financing.
Now, in addition to its reminder service and the option for customers to send virtual gift certificates with free e-greetings or deliver the real-life version to the recipient, Giftpoint.com has added extra gift stock. Providing an end-to-end solution for retailers that want gift certificates sold from Giftpoint.com or want to do so from their own sites is also helping strengthen the company's brand.
Nielsen and Mahloch aren't just proud of their success, but also their success in Omaha. Says Mahloch, "We're the Silicon Prairie here."