Transforming Passion into Gift-Giving Inspiration
Blake Band has a passion for giving great gifts, and for business. Learn how he leveraged his strengths and interests to build an eCommerce platform that helps thousands of people find gifts every year, on the side of his full-time job.
Hi Blake! Can you give us a short intro to who you are and what are you currently working on?
I work for Streetsense, an experience-focused strategy and design collective based in DC. I’ve worked there since 2017 as an Account Manager in our brand marketing department guiding real estate, technology, CPG and travel brands on their marketing strategy.
While at Streetsense in 2017, I launched I Give Cool Gifts. At the time, it was a Squarespace templated website built with 20 different categories for cool gifts. The reception from friends and family in my network was incredible and I knew I had something.
Today, I Give Cool Gifts is the ultimate destination for gift-giving inspiration. We reach around 25,000 people each year with the concentration of traffic hitting during the end of year holiday season.
“The gift market, according to Forbes, hit around $130 billion in 2017 alone. With the rise of e-commerce and the decline in traditional retail, there has never been a more opportune moment for e-commerce gifting.”
I curate each gift on the website from hours of research and personal experience. You can search for cool gifts by Interest, Lifestyle, Occasion, Him/Her, and a grab bag of Extras including Etsy Finds, Last Minute and DC-Inspired Gifts.
The gifts are all certified “cool”. To me that means they are 1) unique 2) practical (in some way) or 3) bound to solicit a reaction.
A big part of gift giving is the moment and time the gift is given and what it means. Even if someone doesn’t use the particular gadget, the meaning behind it can foster deeper connections; and to me that is pretty cool.
My goal for the website is to be a product discovery platform in the off periods and a quick-to-use referral guide during peak seasons (Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Holidays, etc).
The other goal is to feature fantastic creators, makers and service providers. As someone looking to build something, I respect and appreciate the creative hustle of people who turn their concepts into reality in the form of a cool product or service. I hope my site can add a little extra reach for their mission.
How did you come up with the idea for your business(es)?
The idea for I Give Cool Gifts originated in my grad program at the University of Florida. After graduating undergrad, I did my Masters in Entrepreneurship, a highly collaborative and dynamic program that connected current and aspiring entrepreneurs with the resources and guidance to launch their own ventures.
After putting several different business concepts through the ringer, I landed on gifts after finding a need for people to discover real, practical gifts to give one another that meant more than the first few products found on a simple Amazon search query. The best part was it really aligned with what I was passionate about.
I’ve spent my whole life obsessing over the perfect gift as a way to express friendship, love and gratitude for all of the cool people in my life. After dozens of free consults aka friends asking for gift advice, I started to see the need for a centralized platform for both gift discovery and inspiration. If I was spending hours trying to find a gift, how would the less savvy, less gift-inclined fare? Miserably.
The gift market, according to Forbes, hit around $130 billion in 2017 alone. With the rise of e-commerce and the decline in traditional retail, there has never been a more opportune moment for e-commerce gifting. Moreover, the affiliate marketing market, one of the major drivers of revenue for I Give Cool Gifts and similar sites, is worth up to $12 billion itself.
“Be your own PR person.”
Major publications like New York Times and New York Mag are getting into the gift recommendation world with publications like The Wire Cutter and The Strategist. With so many savvy marketers these days, people are yearning for transparency and authenticity when purchasing products and gifts now more than ever. That’s where these sites and mine come in.
Taking into account these figures, my passion and my desire to flex my creative muscles outside of the 9-5, I started I Give Cool Gifts because why couldn’t there be ONE more gift guide on the market.
My take would be different:
- Clean interface: no banner ads, no bullshit
- Products for real people not caricatures: not all dads BBQ and not all moms do yoga
- Daily moderation: no dormant websites with months between updates
- Refined and improved: always iterating for the newest gear and taking things down I don’t approve of.
How have you marketed your business? Any numbers you can share?
To market IGCG, I spend the majority of my time curating my social media presence. However, my SEO is the biggest driver of traffic to the website. To date I haven’t spent more than $100 on actual ad spend marketing my site.
Of my website traffic, 80% is from search. Do not underestimate search. In my opinion that is no accident for a few reasons. The first of which is now that the site is almost 3 years old. A lot of the content I have shared has accrued enough search value to rank higher for Google Searches.
The second is the nature in which I look for, discover new products and feature them on my website. The content world is all about taking advantage of the latest trends. Similar to how brands jump on the latest viral meme like the Dolly Parton Challenge, I am looking for what is going to be relevant and trending to my audience.
For example, back in November when The Mandalorian debuted there was a craze around Baby Yoda. Disney themselves was not ready for the demand and a flurry of 3rd party creators thrust Baby Yoda gear onto the market. Seeing this trend, I made sure my site featured the latest and greatest Baby Yoda gifts (See: 10 Baby Yoda Gifts That Will Give You The Force).
Other trend hopping has included Fortnite, CES, and even Nicolas Cage (because when is Nicolas Cage not trending?).
PR pieces on your business also can increase traffic and eyes. Be your own PR person.
My recommendations for starting to garner PR for your endeavor is to first lean on your connections and communities you are a part of. For example, I was connected with GatherDC, a community of 20s and 30s Jewish young adults in the DC-area. Since then I’ve been featured, written several blogs and am able to leverage them as a great starting point for getting my message out there.
Other than your communities and connections, be shameless with reaching out to different journalistic publications but make sure you have a compelling story. Journalists get tipped on different stories on a daily basis. What makes your feature-worthy?
What's your backstory and when did you realize you wanted to work in tech or startups?
I’ve always had a knack for creating or trying to start something. My brother and I created BELIEVE shirts during the hype of the Caps first playoff run. I ran a custom jersey business in my dorm at UF with a few friends selling jerseys to fraternities and sororities for events.
“I had 0 experience coding or building websites but I figured it out.”
In college, I worked for CollegeVox, a marketing company that created a series of hyperlocal platforms for college markets like GainesvilleScene. While I was there, we created MorningScene, a daily morning newsletter; think the Skimm for Gainesville, FL. After that I worked for IVY and was their 20th or so employee helping them build their community and network from the ground up.
I’ve always loved the start-up world and creative community, especially in DC. I love how well-connected the tech scene is here and how everyone is eager to help one another.
What are the tools of your trade(s)?
- Keynote/iMovie – don’t laugh but this free Mac program has been key for me to create videos, photos and content for my website. Content creation is everything when you are curating a brand.
- Google Analytics – if you don’t use and understand GA, you are missing out on key data and insights for how your business is running.
- HTML – this is a must-have for anyone looking to manage a website, even if it is just the content.
What have been the most helpful or influential resources you’ve learned from?
For Marketing Social Media Advice
For Business Advice and Inspiration
- Subscribe to The Hustle
For Branding Advice
- Fabian Geryhalter’s book “Bigger Than This”
For Life Advice
- Read “Atomic Habits by James Clear” and follow him on Twitter
- Mark Cuban “if you’re not disrupting yourself, you’ll fall behind”
What advice do you have for someone looking to break into tech? Or, what advice would you give yourself when you were starting your career?
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in starting a business or a venture is persistence.
You will inevitably see a lot of interest when you launch your venture but 1-2 years out, how do you sustain the momentum? You have to be persistent with your goal and don’t lose focus of what you are trying to accomplish regardless of if the initial interest or praise you once received isn’t there.
The other lesson is to continue to disrupt yourself.
If you aren’t trying something new each day, each week, each month, you will never know what truly makes what you are building special. You will be surprised by the results you will see if you continue to experiment. If you don’t your competitors will.
To my younger self, I would say just do it.
Stop giving excuses of why you can’t or why now isn’t the right time. Figure out the first big concrete step and attack is head on. I had 0 experience coding or building websites but I figured it out. You will surprise yourself with the things you can do if you provide yourself the opportunity.
Was there anyone in particular you want to shout out who helped your career along? An individual, or community?
I’ve had several friends both support me directly and indirectly while I’ve built this. My dad, mom and brother have been some of my biggest fans. My best friend, Abe Carryl, is my go-to for technical troubles.
Starting a business or launching anything creative adds a sense of vulnerability to your life. Friends of mine like Stephanie Arbetter, Sammy Lux and Jeff Zifrony have been there supporting me along the way.
Where can we go to learn more about you and your work?
If you are a creator or business with a product you think would be a cool gift, shoot me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow I Give Cool Gifts on Instagram. I post daily and the content is great (IMO).
Follow me on Twitter, BlakeMBand, for advice, memes and some fire tweets.
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