At least that’s what Valentin Hinov, founder of Thankbox, thought. Last-minute card giving “was always just a hassle and a pain,” especially at the office, he says. “Then, [during COVID], because we always had some people working remotely, they couldn't even sign the card.”
Hinov had an idea: What if there were a service that allowed you to easily create an online card, send it around virtually so that everyone could sign it with as long a message as they liked, and then email it to the recipient complete with a gift card loaded with cash collected from those who wanted to contribute. That’s what he set out to build, and this is his story.
Celebrations Made Easier
Hinov has been around technology for most of his life, which he says helped him as he contemplated founding a technology-based startup.
“My very first job was assembling PCs in my parents’ IT shop,” he says. “They import a lot of IT equipment and then sell it to major brands and major stores in Bulgaria. When they were smaller, we would build whole PCs and then just sell [them] to customers ... it was so fun because I learned a lot about what makes a computer inside. I guess it really started me on my tech journey.”
That journey eventually led him to found Thankbox, which serves as a one-stop solution for choosing, signing, and delivering greeting cards and gift cards. “You go into Thankbox, create your card, say who it's for and what your team name is, and then you instantly get a link to send to your team,” Hinov explains. “Everybody can leave their messages, they can attach images, gifs, videos, any inside jokes.” There’s much more space to write messages on Thankbox cards than on physical ones – thousands of words if you’re so inclined. When the recipient opens their card via email, they can claim any cash that was collected from the senders as a gift card or a prepaid debit card. The entire process is “completely seamless and taken care of,” he says.
Hinov says he wants Thankbox to help people maintain a sense of community, both at the office and elsewhere. He thinks back to a time when a customer worked with someone who was celebrating their 20th anniversary, and the person thought their co-workers had forgotten to give them a card. “They ended up receiving this awesome Thankbox with over 50 messages, and the creator later emailed me to say, ‘This person was overjoyed. Thank you so much for creating this. We wouldn't have been able to do otherwise.’”
‘This Is How Things Should Be’
Hinov says that while he obviously wants to compete with similar online greeting card services, he considers his main competitor to be the much larger paper card industry. “That's the industry I want to disrupt,” he says. “I would like to have more people moving online, not just because it's easier… but also because it's greener. So that's what I'm hoping to achieve more as Thankbox grows and expands.”
At the same time, he wants to provide a more enjoyable way to help people celebrate each other. “It doesn't just have to be one sentence written badly on a card that the person can’t even read,” he says. “It can be a wall of video messages for your family member’s birthday. There are just so many more possibilities ... when you have the richness of the different media [you can use with Thankbox].”
He remembers a time when he made his wife a Thankbox card for her 30th birthday. “I had over 100 friends of hers,” he says. “I've messaged some who she hadn't heard from in years, and just looking at her reading it and tears streaming down her face, it just made me believe that, okay, this is definitely the future. This is how things should be.”
Keep It Real and Have Fun
Hinov reminds founders that as you’re running a startup, it’s important to be authentic with customers. “I don't pretend Thankbox is this huge corporation or this huge business, even to my customers … because in most of the cases, it’s just me and the human being at the other end,” he says. “This has really helped foster really good relationships with customers because they find out … that it's actually a human on the other side.”
He also regularly reminds his team that it’s important to enjoy what they’re doing. “From the very beginning, I told them, ‘the way this could fail is if we are not having fun anymore when we're working on it. If this isn't something that we want to work on every single day, then it's not really worth doing.’ Entrepreneurship is hard. Building a startup is hard, one of the hardest things you could do. So you need to find enjoyment in it. You need to be honest with yourself if you're not finding that.”