Wantful Is Bringing the Joy of Anticipation Back to Gift-Giving

By Nathaniel Mott , written on April 19, 2012

From The News Desk

If you’ve received a decent number of gifts in your lifetime – which, I would imagine, most of you have – you've probably gotten something you hated.

Worse, you've probably given a gift that someone else hated.

The industry solution? Gift cards. But who really loves opening a gift card? Enter a mini-boom of insta-gifting that make it easier to send a virtual sum of money, and one company that wants to sell tangible, physical objects.

I walked into the Wantful office during a bit of a panic, as a botched Internet connection had forced half of the team over to the cafe next door. The office itself used to be CEO John Poisson’s apartment, giving it a home-y feel that lends itself to the Silicon Valley ideal of a bootstrapped startup. Poisson pointed out that the company is actually looking for a new office, preferably one with an always-on Internet connection.

Despite the relative obstruction from the connected world, I was given a brief tour of the website and walked through the process of creating a catalog. After the walkthrough I was handed a black envelope with Wantful embossed on the front. This plain black square of an envelope practically begs to be opened with a small tab hanging off the side that reads "Sixteen things you never knew you always wanted" in a sterling serif that would feel at home on a box from an upscale boutique.

Wantful's product team sweated every detail of this first experience, going to the effort of specifying a specific Japanese paper, folded in just the right way to emulate unwrapping a genuine gift instead of a  catalog.

Gift-giving was a personal activity, until it became socially acceptable to trade flimsy pieces of plastic. Anyone can pick up a gift card for an extra $1.25 above sticker price, while they’re waiting in line at Walgreen’s. But taking the time to personalize an entire catalog is what real gift-giving is all about.

Holding onto this guiding principle will be key to Wantful in the coming months, as the service expands quickly and starts to leave the early adopter bubble. Poisson mentioned that a good third of Wantful's customers are running Windows and visiting with Internet Explorer, indicating an expansion from the Macintosh-and-Chrome centric "Me first!" obsessives. The company has also shown massive turnarounds in terms of expanding their user base via word-of-mouth, as a large number of recipients often turn into senders.

Sending a gift with Wantful takes time. Opening the envelope and exploring the catalog inside for the first time can take even more time. Instead of buying into the instant-gratification culture that the Web has carefully raised, Wantful acts as a modern throwback to that feeling of walking into the living room and spotting a mountain of presents surrounding the Christmas tree.