Another gifting company launches, but Sesame may have opened way too late

By Richard Nieva , written on November 29, 2012

From The News Desk

Internet gifting is all the rage. Just yesterday, Facebook officially launched its Gifts platform, one of many attempts to wring more revenues out of its billion users and appease Wall Street after its botched initial public offering.

With less fanfare -- but also less scrutiny from impatient investors -- Sesame, a boutique gifting service, launches today.

Sesame is trying to draw a contrast between itself and the social giant, arguing its approach isn't mass but designed to be intimate and curated. The mobile app, created by the San Francisco-based company Sincerely, claims it is selling "experiences" just as much as it is selling products.

The conceit is based around different themes. For example, a gift set called "Snowball Fight" includes items like an inner tube for sledding and hot chocolate. Another set called "Cocktail Hour" comes with a cocktail shaker, a shot measuring cup, a cutting board, and other essentials for a do it yourself happy hour. Gift sets range from $29 to $49 dollars (the snow package is on the lower end, at $29).

There are 13 different curated gift sets. Users can also suggest ideas for new themes. In the future, the company would like to have users be able to share their ideas with other users (for now, they just go straight to management), says Matt Brezina, chief executive of Sincerely. He also wants to reward users with a coupon or credit if the company uses one of their ideas. The company also wants to invite other companies to curate different sets. Right now, Sesame does a little bit of that. For example, the San Francisco-based blog LickMySpoon created the Snack Attack gift set.

Brezina says he thought of the idea for the service after living away from home and missing his grandma's birthday every year. He wanted to create an easy way for someone to give an appropriate gift.

The problem is that so did about a dozen other entrepreneurs. Sesame is decidedly late to the gifting party. A slew of these companies launched earlier this year, almost all with the intent to turn the ubiquitous "Happy Birthday!" Wall messages on Facebook into a business. Facebook arguably bought the best of the bunch, the mobile-centric, well-designed Karma. Like Sesame, Karma also set itself apart early on with unique gifts around certain personality types. So selling customers on the curation argument will be a challenge, unless Facebook dramatically wrecks the charm of what it bought.

At least in its messaging, Sesame is trying to take a contrarian approach for a gifting service: It says the actual items in the box don't really matter. "Honestly, everyone you send gifts to, they don't need what you're sending them," Brezina says. "It's the thought behind it. We wanted to extend that experience." To extend the gift giving experience, the company goes all out on the frills: a nice box, a bow, tissue paper, then crinkle cut paper, a personalized note from the giver, and notes on each item -- the note on the inner tube says "ride me." (Same with Karma's original value proposition, by the way. It invested heavily in the unwrapping experience on both the mobile device and the physical package.)

Indeed, banking on the emotional response to opening the package is nothing new. Apple has perfected that play, and Brezina says that company has had a great influence on his thinking. Apple takes the experience so seriously that it has super secure room in Cupertino filled with packaging prototypes. When Apple released the iPod, it was one designer's job to effectively create the exact moment a customer would open the box -- fiddling with tabs and arrows and the placement of the adhesive tape, according to the book "Inside Apple."

The difference, though, is that the context of the Apple package was likely very precious to the customer, who spent a fortune on the device, and the fun of opening the box was the cherry on top.

Perhaps it's not fair to compare the two. (It's taking all my might not to use an apples and oranges line.) One is an expensive, calculated purchase, and the other is simple, sometimes serendipitous, gift. The point is, I'm not sure just how far packaging will go if the contents aren't worthwhile. Don't get me wrong, there's no indication that Sesame's offerings are lackluster. In fact, they seem high end and artisinal -- things that the young city dwellers might enjoy. But as the company grows, it will have to focus on the inside as much as the outside, and not emphasize one or the other.

Meanwhile, it is fair to compare Sesame to Karma. It's possible to compete with a giant like Facebook who controls the social graph when you have a dramatically better offering. I'm not sure Sesame does.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]