By Roya Soleimani Winner, Sunstone Staff Writer
No matter your culture or background, gift-giving is a ubiquitous and shared part of our celebrations. But finding the right gift isn’t always easy, and sending a gift card might be too impersonal.
Gotchoo.com cofounder and CEO Brian Robeniol and cofounder and CTO Ashton Elizabeth H have their sights set on creating a more personalized and “magical” gift-giving experience. Gotchoo is built on the idea that people want to give personalized and special gifts to the people in their lives. If you’re a Gifter, you create a Giftboard that pulls together a number of gift options based on the Giftee’s interests and hobbies. As the Giftee, you browse your personalized gift options, select the gift you want, and Gotchoo takes care of the rest.
Brian and Ashton brought together their experience in big tech, matched with their unwavering passion to give back, to create their company. Brian is a Filipino American, and Ashton an African-American woman, and they share a deep commitment to giving back and finding new opportunities for those who are also underrepresented in the technology industry.
After working within the nonprofit sector to support children with special needs, and then bridging her passion for rock-climbing with youth programs, Ashton made a career shift into technology. Through the Ada Developers Academy, a tuition-free coding program that helps empower women and gender expansive adults to become software engineers and developers, Ashton became a software engineer and began her work at indeed.com. She worked on the enterprise side of the business, and became a leader within their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs.
She and Brian had been friends for a long time, and after he shared the idea for a new gift-giving service, Ashton said, “As soon as I heard, I could envision this as an app and a website, with so many features. Quickly it became clear that our vision is to become as ubiquitous as a gift card.”
Brian had knowledge of the gifting industry through his work as a global product manager for the Amazon Prime gift card and was able to identify huge inefficiencies in the market. Brian was often busiest at work during Q4 and the holiday season, so he would create lists and ask his friends and family to choose what they wanted.
He dreamt up “a unique reverse registry gifting service, which is better than just another gift card, with the aim of “creating magical moments and removing anxiety in the process.” He added that, “of the $300 billion gift card market, up to $40 billion is never going to be spent.” By creating a personalized gift-giving experience, Brian and Ashton hope to change that.
And their business model is working. “One out of every eight people who receive a gift (through using the platform), become a gifter,” Brian said. Through their customers, they’re also getting feedback on features and services, which they have built into Version 2 of their platform.
As Founders, they love being able to bring their technical expertise to the table while also steering the culture of their company. “Working on gifting every single day is one of the most fun things you can work on,” Brian said.
Brian and Ashton are the core of the company, and they’ve brought in fractional talent for key strategic projects that require specialists. Some of that support has come from being a part of the Long Beach Accelerator’s (LBA) sixth cohort of startups, they said. Sunstone Management is the capital partner for LBA.
“Thanks to the Partnership of Sunstone and LBA, we know we are a valued part of the startup community, and now have two formal advisors who are leaders within our industry,” Brian said. “They’ve shown early belief in us, in our track record, and our talent.”
Ashton added that, “the community support is amazing, and LBA has also been really practical in its help, too. We were given a fractional CFO that we met with weekly, and we built out our financial model through their guidance.”
Being a part of LBA and Sunstone Management, as well as Grid 110 and UC Irvine’s Information Technology partnership, they’re also onboarding engineering graduate student interns.
Expanding their team and giving back is key to both Brian and Ashton. Brian shared that there’s a “karmic duty that exists within immigrant households to use opportunities you get to take care of people who didn’t get the same opportunities.” And Ashton added that “it’s important to me to create and be a part of an ecosystem for startups and software engineers that helps build a well-oiled pipeline for more diverse talent.”
And as they look towards the future, Ashton said, “we want everyone to know, the next time you need to give a great gift, we Gotchoo!”
Learn more or give a gift at gotchoo.com.
Note: We refer to early-stage technology entrepreneurs as Founders. The information provided here is to inform about the types of small business start-ups that have been selected for participation in certain programs in which Sunstone participates. The information provided here is aspirational and there is no assurance of success. Early-stage investing comes with an inherently high degree of risk, including the loss of some or all of an investment. The information provided is neither an offer to sell or an inducement to offer to buy interests in any Sunstone sponsored fund that may have invested in the Founder.
About Long Beach Accelerator
The Long Beach Accelerator provides early-stage tech startups with the resources and runway they need to flourish. The LBA has a current application cycle open for Cohort 7. The LBA is a public-private partnership between the city of Long Beach, Sunstone Management, and CSULB and has been named one of Southern California’s top tech accelerators by dot.LA.
About Sunstone Management
Sunstone Management is a diversified private capital management firm with headquarters in Southern California that provides a range of early-stage venture capital, real estate, and fixed income funds to qualified and accredited investors. The firm delivers new and exciting options for economic growth through innovative public-private partnerships, making use of its unique experience across government, education, and private sectors. Identified by Financial Times as one of America’s Fastest Growing Companies three years in a row. In the second quarter of 2023, PitchBook ranked Sunstone the seventh most active early-stage venture capital firm in the country, and 18th overall.
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