How To Start A Company In St. Louis: Greetabl
Could St. Louis be the birthplace of the next Hallmark? That’s the intent for Greetabl co-founders Zoë Scharf and Joe Fischer, who began the business in St. Louis and continue to use the city as their headquarters. “We have big goals,” says Scharf. “We want to be a household name.”
So what on earth is Greetabl—and further, what is a Greetabl? In tech speak, Scharf and Fischer call it “an eCommerce gifting brand for the modern world.” In layman’s terms, it means you can send a quaint, personalized gift to anyone you like. Upon unwrapping the small package, your friend will open what appears to be a box, made of Mohawk Superfine Paper, which then unwraps to reveal a message, photos and a gift. Gifts can range from champagne-flavored Gummi Bears to tea, candles, lip balm and chocolates. Hence, the exterior of the Greetabl serves as the vessel for the gift, message and photography.
The tactile experience of receiving a Greetabl is difficult to portray solely through the written word. This video does a much better job:
Greetabl fills what Scharf and Fischer call “the gifting gap,” when a card isn’t enough, but $50 flowers are too much. “It works when you want something beautiful and personal, but you’re far away from your friends. Maybe you’d love to buy a drink for a friend to celebrate a new job, or be supportive on a bad day, but you can’t do that if you’re in different cities,” says Scharf. Once you’ve selected your Greetabl card, gift, message and photos, they cost between $15 and $30 to send.
Better yet, the Greetabl team loves the Midwest. Scharf, originally from upstate New York, moved to St. Louis to attend the communication design program at Washington University in St. Louis. Fischer, from Washington, Missouri, attended Saint Louis University and later became the youngest VP in the consumer retail department at Goldman Sachs. “Greetabl is always going to be based in St. Louis,” says Scharf. “We love it here. It’s one of the best things we could be doing for our company.” The company received a prestigious Arch Grant, as well as support from Capital Innovators and T-REX Downtown, where their office is located.
We caught up with Scharf to talk building a business in St. Louis, and why The Gateway City will always be their headquarters.
How did you and Joe come up with this idea?
People always assume that I came up with the idea for Greetabl because I’m the target demographic, but it was 100 percent Joe. We laugh about it because he’s this ex-Wall Street guy who used to walk around with a Bear Stearns gym bag full of crafting supplies to make prototypes. He was raised on a farm in Washington, Missouri, where it’s all about community and the handwritten message. That was baked into his ethos from the beginning. After college, he worked at Goldman Sachs and traveled to 27 different countries in one year, and it was then that he began realizing how much connections really mean.
He came home to Washington to have surgery on his shoulder, and during that time he went to several friend’s weddings, where he became skeptical of flat cards in envelopes as the best way to communicate an important message. They don’t really stand out as something special. And that’s where the idea came for Greetabl.
How did you and Joe get connected?
Through a mutual connection, we met each other. I have always been much more into branding and graphic design, but I also really love greetings and the gift space. So when Joe told me about this idea, I ate it up. That was at the end of 2012. I contracted with him as a freelancer for about six months, and then I was like, ‘I want to be in on this.’ I wanted to be a part of it, and he said, ‘I’d love for you to be a co-founder and a partner.’ At first, I basically started working for equity instead of for money. We built the product together and relaunched everything in October 2015. We’ve been live with that for about a year and a half, and since then we’ve seen huge amounts of growth.
Building out a business, especially a startup, is really hard. How have you done that with Greetabl?
We’ve learned a lot of things along the way. At first, I thought, ‘We’ll work on this for two months and then sell it to Schnucks and Target.’ That happens for some people, but usually they have a lot of traction behind them already. As much as you want to be building something amazing, we learned that whatever you build can’t be successful without asking people what they want first.
Getting Greetabl off the ground is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my entire life. It’s my baby. I spend more time on it than anything else, by far. And as founders, Joe and I are always going to have a creative attachment to it.
To achieve the goals we’ve set, we have to stay focused and not get too hung up on what happens, good or bad. If you do hear ‘No,’ you have to grow a thick skin and not take things too personally. You have to keep moving.
What has co-founding a business taught you?
When we first began, I was a little bit more naive. I’d never started a company and probably didn’t go in with the understanding of how much it would take. But I also got to do my actual dream job. I’m still so surprised, all the time, that we’ve gotten to where we are now.
Starting a business is a sexy thing to do right now. But I don’t think people understand how bad the statistics are, and how weighed they are against your success. As a consumer, you’re used to seeing these huge brands and big-company successes. You think building a company looks like that. That’s probably what I was thinking.
What do you love about St. Louis? As an artist and designer, what inspires you here?
The community is one of my favorite parts. It was really easy for me to jump in as a member of the graphic design community, then the music community, and now the startup community. Especially as a young female entrepreneur who isn’t from here, it can be a little intimidating. But there are ways you can get plugged in here, and people are going to be welcoming no matter what. I definitely see that here more than in other places. It’s the mentality of the city, not just the startup region.
There’s also a lot going on here that is disproportionately good, based on the population. I love the food here. I wish I liked food less. My favorite restaurant right now is Olio (in Botanical Heights). I can’t stop talking about Union Loafers’ Pizza Night (also in Botanical Heights). It’s the best pizza in the city. For a long time I was also addicted to one salad at Pi Pizza. I ate it so much I actually had to take a six-month break.
Cherokee Street still feels like home to me. I used to be based out of Nebula, the co-working space, where I met some of the most amazing artists. It’s one of the richest communities that I’ve found, in any city. I recommend it to everyone who’s not so hot on St. Louis. I just think, ‘You don’t even know.’
What are the benefits of starting a business in St. Louis?
We were welcomed here in so many ways, and resources for businesses are so accessible here. We were part of the Arch Grants community, the Capital Innovators community, and we rent space in the T-REX building. I’ve loved the T-REX community. It makes your business feel like it has a home. We’re fixing up a new office in the building, and we’ve been able to expand. Arch Grants is also one of the coolest things St. Louis does. It gave us such a launchpad. Having something like that is so unique to this community.
We can be boot strap-y here in a way that doesn’t compromise our quality of life. When I go to cities like Chicago, I’m really reminded of that. We can make it work here, where our runway goes really far. It’s just a great place to live.
To learn more about life in St. Louis, visit the Explore St. Louis website.