"EnGreet"ings & Salutations: Adam Weinstein's House of Cards

Panicking about missed birthdays or neglected holidays? Worry no more.

Enter EnGreet, a website world where you can inscribe personalized messages, design a unique card and--with a few short clicks--get it sent to a printer who will drop it in the mail for you. All for the same price as a Hallmark moment.

Twenty-six-year-old techie whiz Adam Weinstein jumps on a call with us between back-to-back afternoon video conferences. We are at once struck by the sharp staccato of his voice and the blazing velocity at which he articulates his creative convictions. One hardly needs to be clairvoyant to guess what this kid’s got running under the hood: about 50 terabytes of harddrive space and a sizzling Pentium X jacked into overdrive.

We imagine him, a few years from now, baby-face somewhat hardened with experience, tearing up a board room on the thirty-third floor. He pauses now and again to peer out over the city, a sprawling expanse bathed in bright, Monday-morning sunlight. Weinstein is a ripe young mogul perched at the head of the round-table, poised and ready for the onslaught of the day. Two-parts “good guy,” one-part “don’t-[bleep]-with-me.” One hundred percent pure.

Notes: Adam, as a rising star in your industry sector, we would love if you would introduce yourself to our readers and tell us a little bit about your background.

Sure… [clears throat, and then he‘s off!] I grew up in Indianapolis. I was a techie since around the age of 6. It started with a kid (“the bully”) in class who I was trying to one-up. I played the oboe for a few years, but then I realized I enjoyed playing with [the software] Noteworthy Composer (eg: being a nerd) far more. I studied Computer Science & Business at Purdue University. Business was added to escape the social life, or lack thereof, in the Computer Sci realm. I worked in consulting for IT budgets -- a.k.a. figuring out which person to fire and for what reason. Worked for a few years for ExactTarget, a small startup in the email marketing space (not SPAM - though the industry needs a new name), and then I started EnGreet.

Notes: [manically scribbling…] And…what inspired you to start EnGreet?

Being a bit sarcastic, I've always enjoyed using birthdays, holidays, as the chance to say "hi" to family through humorous greeting cards. I also saw a gaping hole in the greeting card world in serving minorities: foreign languages, non-Christian religions, alternative lifestyles, etc. These weren't being served simply because there weren't enough convenience-store bought cards for any given group.

Indianapolis and other small towns have very limited access to the dwindling ranks of independent greeting card artists and publishers (eg: not Hallmark or American Greetings). There really wasn't a "Web 2.0" company focused on Print on Demand, particularly in the consumer space.

Notes: What is the process the user needs to go through to send a card from the website?

First the user selects the occasion of the card. Maybe a birthday, Valentine's Day, or a simple friendship card. Then, they filter down to a specific type of card (humorous, traditional) and select one they like.

Once they've found their card, users are presented with the option to either send themselves a "blank" copy with an envelope or fill the card out online and have it mailed directly to the recipient. We're certainly focused on the latter. Using a number of handwriting fonts, the user personalizes the card by adding their text to the inside of the card before checking out and paying for the card (personalized cards are $2.99 + actual postage).

Notes: How do you find artists who contribute their work? Do you scout them and, if so, what do you look for in terms of talent?

Thus far, I've done more scouting then the other way around. In terms of talent, we're very open. We tend to favor cards with printed insides and a specific occasion rather than purely artistic cards that are "All Occasion" or "Everyday" - but that's just because it's what sells at the moment. As we expand our brand, we hope to find new and innovative ways to sell non-standard cards.

Notes: So artists can submit their work to you and, if approved, they can start selling their work online?

Yes. Since I certainly don't have the artistic chops to create the cards myself, I've sought out artists from around the country to join us. An artist who contributes cards is paid a royalty on each card that they sell. All of our artists are able to login, manage their cards for sale, view their recent sales, and run reports on their content.

Notes: What has your research revealed to you about the greeting card business?

It's amazing how much I've learned about the many tastes that exist in the world of greeting cards. In general, I'd say the trend rewards a handful of items: humor, a well-written page 3 (inside, right/bottom), and the ability to appeal to a specific situation. For example, a card making fun of old age with a witty front/inside will do very well whereas a generic birthday card with balloons on the front may not. I'd also say that done appropriately, photography can be very powerful - though it is not very common in brick-and-mortar stores.

What I have yet to find is an artist that doesn't use photography but can still write something on the inside. I would say that plain art on a blank card has a rough time selling online, just because people are looking for convenience, and coming up with the inside is simply too much (lazy, eh?). Our goal is to really find a strong blend of cards that appeal to many different audiences. We'd rather have 25 talented artists and publishers that each sell 1000+ cards a month then 250 artists that sell less and thus feel more distant. Since artists make 20% of each sale, as we grow, we hope to create a familial environment and one that is mutually beneficial...

Notes: What can you tell us about the creative process you had to go through to get the site up and running?

Where to start…? [pauses a nanosecond] Well, on the technology front (for those who want to be bored. Skip ahead if this doesn‘t turn you on), we use a mix of technologies for the site. Most of the creative process is handled in Flash/Flex to protect the high-res digital imagery that is owned by the artist and to provide for a rich user experience (fancy handwriting fonts, uploading images) whereas the site is designed in .NET (Microsoft). While .NET isn't exactly the startup's language of choice, we were persuaded by Microsoft's sponsorship of our company through their BizSpark program.

Finding a printer was a challenge as well. A high-end press and fulfillment operation that can print and mail can cost upwards of $1mm. To explain why - when you print a card, it's usually done on a huge sheet of paper printing numerous cards on the same page. That page is then cut down, scored, folded, matched to the appropriate envelope that's printed somewhere else (a different press), hand stamped, and then sent. It's a very technical process that we didn't want to get into. So we had to find someone that would print 1 or 1000 cards... You'd be amazed how few people are truly setup to handle this.

Notes: It's interesting that your service provides printed cards. There are already so many sites which provide e-cards. What convinced you to swing paper?

Outside of technology and business, I tend to be somewhat of a “economic philosopher” if there is such a thing. As it turns out, greeting cards are not only counter-cyclical, they're used in lieu of gifts in harsh times. Furthermore, despite the technological times we live in, people have continued to send an increasing numbers of cards annually for the past decade or so.

That being said, e-cards serve a purpose - they deliver a content-rich message directly to someone else. But the value and feeling associated with a paper card continues to be there. My belief is that if you can provide a convenient way for our generation and others to send a card (think iTunes), you'll not only take market share - you'll expand the market...

Notes: Where would you like to see EnGreet go in terms of growth?

If I had to pick a company, it'd be something like Threadless. Integrate with social media - Facebook birthdays, anyone? Concierge cards - You call us, tell us what you want to say, we type and send it. I would also like to port into multiple languages and locales. Ideally we would like to be known as the go-to greeting card company. I'd also like to launch a wholesale business…but we'll save that explanation for a rainy day... :-)