Tapjoy's Founders Remake Gift-Giving, With Karma iPhone App

According to CEO Lee Linden, the idea was to finally allow gift-givers the chance to send presents right when good news strikes.

We’ve become so used to Facebook that we barely notice one funny little shortcoming it has: As tuned in as we are to the birthdays and life events of our friends, we don’t have any way to actually participate in the event. Your bestie gets engaged—and all you can do is "like" her status? It’s profoundly lame.

Lee Linden and Ben Lewis, the founders of Tapjoy, are hoping to solve all that with a new app called Karma, which intelligently scans your Facebook feed for notable events and allows you to send a gift to someone straight away using your smartphone. "We grew tired of missing important moments like a baby or a graduation," Linden tells Co.Design. "We wanted to be able to connect to friends in those moments. So this is an in-the-moment gift service."

Founded just six months ago, the company already has $4.5 million in venture backing, raised from Sequoia and Kleiner Perkins, among others.

Already on the app, there are a slew of gifts playing to a particularly young, high-earning demographic, ranging from Vosges chocolates to Domaine Chandon, to Jawbone products, the MoMA design store, and Rent the Runway. But it’s the UI that’s doing the hard work, and the key is an experience designed to be both personal and open-ended. "We can finally solve the problem of choice, whether its a color or a size," says Linden. "We want to offer a personal level of thoughtfulness and flexibility as well. It’s really a new form of gifting."

Here’s how it works. The app notifies you of events, such as birthdays, in your friend network. With one tap, you can choose to send a gift, and a card as well. But while you might specify a Gund stuffed toy, for example, you can still leave the choice of a particular teddy bear up to the recipient. They simply get a text or email telling them that you’ve given a gift. When they click to redeem, they can either accept your gift or exchange it for something else, without letting you know. Then, they simply enter their address and it ships out. At each step of the way, gift-givers can see when a card was opened, and when the gift shipped and arrived.

Those are the service’s broad strokes, but there are lots of clever interaction details throughout. For one, gift-givers don’t pay for the gift immediately, but only when it has shipped—thus making it easier and more frictionless to give a gift on a whim. (The inability to do impulse buys being one of the bugbears of online commerce.)

Additionally, the software that powers the app has AI built into it. It’s constantly watching your Facebook feed, searching for words such as "congratulations" or "I’m sorry"—all with the aim of making your gift giving perfectly timed. And the gifts themselves are meant to be winnowed from the universe within the Karma library, so that they’re properly matched to age and gender. And finally, the app has a ranking algorithm, based on your address book and Facebook activity, which tries to surface the events pertaining to only your closest friends. For upcoming events, you can pre-arrange to send a gift at the right time.

But perhaps the most subtle benefit is to the merchants making the gifts. While Karma takes a fairly large cut on the purchases—up to 50%—they believe that they’re providing unparalleled product placement. "We’re presenting merchants with a brand new customer," explains Linden. Moreover, argues Linden, having a gift come from a friend you know works like an endorsement. "That’s what gifting does," he says. "People will have an additional emotional attachment. That’s something our partners are really excited about."

Linden might be right—and the market is certainly huge. The gift card industry—which is the catch-all for late, spur-of-the-moment gift-givers—is $100 billion. Yes, $100 billion. And 12% of that isn’t ever used. Meanwhile, shopping is moving onto mobile platforms with astonishing speed. So you can expect to see many more clever hacks of the shopping ritual. As Linden points out, VC’s such as Kleiner and Sequoia aren’t so much focused on tech plays anymore: "They’re interesting in people that can build unique experiences."

[Image: ravl/Shutterstock]

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4 Comments

  • Marshall Kirkpatrick

    Just downloaded it but it looks like the gifts get sent out with Karma branding all over them.  Doesn't that scream out "I am doing this with the expectation that good things will come to me in the future in exchange?"  I love the idea, but neither that brand (aside from the crass cultural appropriation - taking someone's religious heritage and turning it into a one-tap crap-mailing app, ugh) nor the TapJoy brand help obscure the fact that this gift was given out of thoughtful considered memory.  That's what I want - a gift giving system that makes it really easy for me to remember to give gifts but that maintains the illusion that I'm deeply invested in the person I'm giving a gift to.  

  • Marshall Kirkpatrick

    Sorry, I mean it doesn't obscure the fact that these gifts were NOT given out of thoughtful, considered memory.

    The commenting system on this site is gorgeous btw! Really impressed!