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team blankbox: our first [full] year in business!

the fill: team blankbox + our first full year in business

it’s officially 2020 and the end of a decade! 10 years ago, we were both in our freshman year at holy cross and hadn’t yet become friends; little did we know a decade later we’d be best friends + cofounders saying goodbye to our first full year in business with blankbox! it’s been a wild ride of a year full of ups, downs + a whole lot of sideways – and we’re here to tell the story!

for our first ‘the fill’ of the new roaring ’20s, we’re interviewing – you guessed it – ourselves! we’re getting candid on lessons we’ve learned + what’s surprised us, the do’s + donts of getting press + navigating your cofounder relationship, the best constructive criticism we’ve received + what our accomplishments this year have taught us. our *law + order opening credits* – here are our / their stories

gabi koshgarian catherine wang blankbox founders
blankbox founders gabi koshgarian catherine wang
corporate gifting holiday gifting custom corporate gift boxes

if you had to pick one word to describe the last year, what would it be and why? 


FAST! There are going to be a lot of unexpected things that come up (good and bad) and you have to move fast, change fast and learn fast. As cheesy as it sounds, we’ve developed a “we will get anything done” mentality – when something unexpected comes up, we know it’s not even a question if we can get it done so we don’t waste time with that – we just touch base and figure out a plan to make it happen.

what were your top 2 accomplishments and why are they important to the brand on a broader scale?


Press – 2019 was the year of PRESS! #humblebrag Forbes and the Today Show [among others] #humblebrag we were so excited to have the opportunity to tell our story as founders and show the world a little more blankbox!

Beyond the excitement of the press itself, there are broader brand implications; the first, validation. We learned that press doesn’t necessarily drive immediate sales and ROI (which was surprising, but we’ve since heard the same from a lot of other founders so don’t expect ROI in the beginning!) It does validate your brand and put your name in the mouths of a much broader audience than you can do on your own. 

It also gives you street cred when you’re pitching other outlets, which brings us to our next broader brand implication: learning how to pitch yourself. I [gabi] used to be the master of the next great American novel pitch email explaining in detail what blankbox is, how it’s used + why they should love it; oh and did I mention the subject along the lines of: “founder of blankbox reaching out / [something personal about them or an article they wrote here]!” If you love blankbox and want to write novels about it, that means everyone else wants to also right?!

Hard no. 

Luckily for us [+ the victims of our novels] two really important things happened mid 2019. The first, Cate Luzio held a “Ask an Editor” night at Luminary with senior editors of digital media outlets designed to answer all the press questions you have but have nobody to ask aka help people like us figure out how to actually write a press email. Catherine sat in the front row [if this shocks you, email us because we clearly need to get to know you better!] and asked so many questions and…drum roll please…got SO many answers! If you’re a founder / on a small team and a member of Luminary, highly recommend going to the next one of these. If not, highly recommend becoming a member [and if you don’t, come as our guest]. Events like this designed to facilitate answers to specific questions that are otherwise difficult to get are so important – especially when it comes to the Dark Underworld that is PR. 

The second important thing that happened was meeting Melissa Conner from Jennifer Bett Communications – we originally met at the Female Founder Conference back in March – by met I mean I cornered her and introduced myself [again, if this shocks you, reach out to me let’s get coffee] and she quickly became a mentor of ours. JBC started doing “Office Hours” where you can go and get answers to all your PR questions from VP level experts [this is for brands who are not clients] – for anyone who hasn’t gone, I highly recommend it. Again, any opportunity designed to give you answers to specific questions – especially when it’s one on one with an expert you wouldn’t typically have access to – so important and helpful!

Here is what we’ve learned:


-the subject should be your angle: answer the “why do they care to open this”

-short and sweet. We learned that editors receive hundreds of emails a day, a lot of them pitches. Long winded means they open it [if they open it], probably gasp dramatically at the length and then immediately close without reading the email you just spent an hour crafting. *crying emoji* Instead: open with the reason you’re writing. If you read an article they wrote last year and think your product is perfect for this year’s version, say that. If you read several of their articles and have an angle you think works in their niche, say that. Then introduce yourself and your brand in 1-2 sentences: it’s okay not to give all the information about your brand that you think is relevant. If they care, they’ll ask. 

-one of our most successful pitch emails to date was the simplest email we’ve ever written to a stranger, and it landed us on the today show (hi jenn falik, we love you!) it was a 5 line email from catherine introducing herself as the founder + blankbox that started with who we are (1-2 sentences) and ended with why you care (1-2 sentences). That’s it. 

Alexa, play started from the bottom by Drake. 

 

best pieces of constructive criticism you got and how they changed your mindset?


“Your website doesn’t reflect the quality of your box”: this is actually a compliment framed as constructive criticism but gave us a whole new perspective on how others are perceiving our boxes without having seen them. We’re around them 24/7 so we know the quality, but this helped us not assume that people who haven’t seen them do. The suggestion here was to build in more video content on our website that showcases each individual feature of the blankbox that we’re proud of [the quality and thickness of the box, the built in ribbon, magnetic closure, texture, et] that may not be as visible in a photo. 

Editor’s note: Videographers hit us up at hello@blankboxnyc.com!

 

“I would buy a solid color box but not one with designs on it”: when we were in the pre-launch design phase of blankbox [hi madeline, hi 1,000 designs!], we finalized the 3 we ended up launching with in part because we love them [and the 500 people we surveyed did too], but also in part because none of them is necessarily polarizing. There aren’t any bold colors or super specific patterns that would rub people the wrong way….BUT it turns out not everyone even wants design at all! 

We never even considered a solid color box as we thought those already existed. So many people have asked us to make a line of [higher quality than existing options] solid color boxes: we plan to do this in gen 2 and call them ‘blankbox basics’: stay tuned!

Editor’s note: this also taught us that no matter how much you survey people, do your research, and create options within your brand – you cannot please everyone. And that’s okay! It’s hard not to take personally as the founder + chief “I give so many fucks about every tiny detail” officer but the mentality that you can’t please everyone helps.

any surprises? what did you learn for next time?

PR doesn’t lead to sales – as we mentioned above, this was super surprising to us! Each press hit is definitely great brand validation and leads to more press, but we haven’t seen meaningful ROI yet from press hits. Part of this is likely that some of our press pieces involve blankbox as part of a ‘round-up’ rather than a standalone brand, but we’ve also heard similar stories from other entrepreneurs. 

people want to hear from us and see our faces behind the brand [okay diana, you were right – keep reading and this will make sense!] we learned that people will buy a really good product that solves a problem for them, but they will even more likely buy that product if they feel connected to the founders somehow – to all you seasoned founders rolling your eyes and whispering ‘duh’ to yourself, bear with us!! We were shocked at how much of a difference this can make + are focused on building our own personal brand as part of blankbox – starting with this interview of ourselves, obviously. 

This really came to light when we sent a short + sweet email introducing ourselves to random strangers [+ a lot of people who already knew us, hello CRM user error!] it was the shortest email we’ve ever sent, but had the highest open rate of anything we’ve ever sent. *powerful*

editor’s note: Want to see it? Email us at hello@blankboxnyc.com – we share the love!

 

contracts really matter. again, duh right? but when you are a startup in pre-launch phase working with a big supplier, you have zero leverage [or so you think]. not naming names, but when said supplier refuses to sign a supply agreement because ‘they don’t do that” and you’re in a time crunch to get to production phase and sign anyways….you end up with a higher % than anyone would ever want of damaged boxes. surprise – they don’t want to refund you! and if you don’t have a contract, there’s nothing you can do. lesson learned: do not work in good faith with anyone you don’t implicitly trust. always have a contract. lesson learned 2: refusal to sign a contract is a red flag.

 

talk about your cofounder relationship – what roles did you play and what did you learn?


First of all, we learned that it is okay [and actually better] to get into business with your best friend, if you have the kind of relationship where you can separate personal and professional. We’re both direct people and respect each other’s opinions and work styles so much that it works – of course we disagree but we’ve never disagreed on something we can’t resolve thanks to the ‘feel strongly’ method [trademark pending]. If one of us feels strngly about something, the other agrees and we do that. It’s never failed us. 

We both come from finance + operations backgrounds [hence, the “day” jobs as COO of our respective companies, which we happen to love. Shout out to the best, most supportive bosses in the world!] as cofounders of a direct to consumer gift box company, it turns out we can’t survive on finance and operations alone [whaaaat?!] we have to get creative and learn marketing and social media quickly [hi arianne! Keep reading to find out who arianne is]. I [gabi] was really surprised by how much I wanted to slip into the more ‘creative’ sides of the business and how much I never wanted to see the word tax again – it required a lot of learning on my part [like how to actually use Instagram and how to use Photoshop…hello all-nighter tutorial a week before launch!] but it’s something I’ve really enjoyed. Catherine handles our operations, including order fulfillment and vendor management – as her boyfriend would say, she is a HAWK. Nothing gets by her, which is absolutely ideal when it comes to startup operations. 

editor’s note: I [gabi] also call her the Chief Margin Finder [has she ever physically wrestled the company credit card out of my hands…maybe]. 

One thing we will say is when you’re looking for a cofounder, pick someone with the exact same work ethic + work style as you do. If you burn the midnight oil and have a ‘get shit done’ mentality, don’t pick a cofounder who checks out at 4:59:59pm every night and gets strangled by the tiniest bit of change. It’s not going to work.

Lastly – we learned that we think each other is hilarious. Stay tuned for a couple upcoming podcasts where this becomes all too obvious. 

share some blankbox box facts! [okay fine, since you asked]


most popular box: for personal use, the most popular box is ‘at first blush’ [bridesmaid proposals, which are our #1 personal use!]; for corporate gifting, checker me out is the most popular

most popular filler: crinkle! People are typically filling their blankboxes with multiple items, so the filler lets you ‘stage’ in a really cute way

largest order: 50 boxes [to any companies reading this who want to set a new record: challenge accepted]

Ideas for gen 2 boxes: our boxes have sticky corners that require peeling off the corners for assembly; in gen 2, we want to make these corners magnetic for easier assembly / storage! We’ve also received requests for solid color boxes, which we will release in gen 2 and call ‘blankbox basics’. Stay tuned.

what’s next for blankbox? 


In 2020 you’ll be seeing us in [hopefully] a few stores! In addition to serving our direct to consumer and corporate clients, we want blankbox to be a gift packaging option at the stores you all know + love so you can take care of your gift + gift packaging all at once. 

We’d also like to focus on expanding our B2B corporate gifting client base – blankbox solves a real problem for companies and brands that otherwise spend so much time, energy and additional $ on packaging just so they can gift to clients, customers, investors, etc. we’d like to get our name out to as many companies + brands as possible.

Editor’s note: If you have ideas, reach out at hello@blankboxnyc.com – we’d love to hear them!

day job: coo of a boutique commercial real estate company in midtown 
favorite me-time activity: once a week i take myself on a reading / breakfast date to two hands in soho. their scrambled eggs + a good thriller = <3
currently reading: the wives by tarryn fisher
currently binge watching: servant on apple tv
favorite brand [other than blankbox]: drunk elephant
favorite box: checker me out [this is like choosing a favorite child] – i love the neutral colors paired with pop of color gifts

day job: coo of a contracting firm based in midtown
favorite me-time activity: monthly facial @ female-owned and operated silver mirror facial bar. 
currently reading: proof of heaven by eben alexander and the institute by stephen king 
currently binge watching: just finished lost in space on netflix. i need something new! email me recs please! 
favorite brand [other than blankbox]: dressweights. i love a flowy dress/maxi skirt moment and these mini, reusable weights are the only thing keeping me from not flashing all of nyc on the daily.

favorite box: checker me out – i use one as a keepsake box and keep it on my bookself as home decor. peep our insta for inspo. 

checker me out - blankbox corporate gift box branded gift box
dont stop til youre proud
pass the rose - blankbox floral gift box with gifts

meet madeline: graphic designer [+ chief box designer]

how did you find blankbox [or blankbox find you]? tell us what you do.

i have been best friends with gabi since the eighth grade and when she told me about the idea for blankbox i immediately wanted to be involved. i have always been passionate about all things creative and have a background in graphic design—that’s where i found how i would fit into the equation: i designed the patterns for the three boxes. i also worked with team blankbox on their logo and branding.

what’s one piece of advice you gave team blankbox from the beginning that has shaped their design and branding?

design is a never-ending process (helps save our sanity – it will never be “perfect”); especially when first launching, make sure you are happy with your product but if you keep trying to make every single aspect of every single design perfect, you will never actually “do” it, which is the most important thing. 

the best branding is clean and simple, and we wanted our box designs to speak to that. we kept the patterns and colors eye catching but simple, with no polarizing colors. this also shaped our strategy to create custom gift boxes that people could keep post-gifting as home decor, storage or a re-gift box. 

what do you find is super important for small [and growing] brands when it comes to design and branding? are there any mistakes you see a lot of brands make?

again, keep it simple. also, create your own content, if possible.

what’s one brand you work with [besides blankbox] that does something unique with design and branding that you think more brands should emulate?

i worked with a brand called arts unkajed, which is a brand that sells art pieces and is a unique take on art therapy using the acrylic pour technique – i love how she is proactive in getting her work out there and explaining the importance of each piece – she doesn’t just sell her pieces, but also hosts workshops and rents out spaces in popular markets in boston to teach her audiences about what her products mean and why they are important.  when selling a product or service, communicating the broader meaning behind it is important for people to feel connected to it.

how can brands contact you?

madelinehoward5@gmail.com – email me! i love working with new companies as they get started with logo design and brand idea

 

*editor’s note: this is a photo of madeline and gabi circa 2007. nothing like a good peace sign photo to remind you of how far you’ve come. 

meet brittany: calligraphy + personalization

how did you find blankbox [or blankbox find you]? tell us what you do.

@blankboxnyc reached out to me on Instagram (thank you, social media!) to meet for coffee one morning! i immediately knew Gabi and Catherine were awesome and had created something amazing and i was so excited to be a part of it. if we hadn’t connected through Instagram for “work”, I would’ve totally chosen them as friends!

I create their personalized gift tags (all by hand) using embossing powder and a heat tool! I love being able to add a personalized touch to their gift boxes and seeing the final product put together!

 

what’s one piece of advice you gave team blankbox from the beginning that has shaped their strategy?

If anything, these ladies are the ones giving ME advice! Gabi, Catherine, and I are constantly exchanging strategies on how to manage our full-time jobs with our side hustles. Time management is key and I’d say we’ve successfully navigated our (often demanding) full-time jobs while still keeping our creative juices flowing!

 

what do you find is super important for small [and growing] brands when it comes to personalizing their products? are there any mistakes you see a lot of brands make?

I think personalized items are so special and remind you that an item was specifically created for you and no one else owns that item. I love when products are handmade and tailored specifically for me. That’s the beauty of blankbox! The gift giver can fill the boxes up with items that are specifically tailored towards the recipient! I love options when personalizing items, but I do believe in analysis paralysis – sometimes it’s so difficult to make a decision so some sort of guidelines or restrictions are always appreciated!

 

what’s one brand you work with [besides blankbox] that does something unique with personalization that you think more brands should emulate?

I work with @theme_nyc by personalizing their hand tie-dyed pieces! I love how each piece is unique and it’s been fun seeing the different ways each customer has chosen to personalize their item. I’ve seen customers personalize the wrist area of a hoodie, or the lower back area of a shirt. I’ve even gotten a request to draw a cactus on the pocket of a sweatshirt! I love being able to incorporate each customer’s unique creativity.

 

how can brands contact you?
Instagram is best! @bmletters

meet arianne: social media strategy + manager

how did you find blankbox [or blankbox find you]? tell us what you do.

Gabi messaged me on Instagram and we got coffee! she was running the blankbox instagram full time + needed help with overall strategy + leveraging instagram to target the right customers and drive revenue

 

I work full time as a social media strategist for brands in the health, fitness, fashion, beauty, and female entrepreneur industries. I do everything from full content creation to email marketing, hashtag research, custom Instagram stories, and of course, my signature engagement process, where I organically grow your Instagram account. I love working with budding female brands because it’s super fast-paced and hands on and I absolutely love the fact that I get to be a contributing member of so many amazing and inspiring teams.

 

what’s one piece of advice you gave team blankbox from the beginning that has shaped their strategy? what do you find is super important for small [and growing] brands when it comes to social media? are there any mistakes you see a lot of brands make?

Focus on quality> quantity and always pay attention to the cohesiveness of the brand.

Something that I realized when working with blankbox and that definitely comes up a lot with my ecommerce clients is the question of lifestyle versus more product shots. Based on sales/ customer acquisition and overall engagement, you might be surprised to learn that brands who just really focus on quality product shots seem to perform better than brands that go the lifestyle route. Of course there are exceptions to this—Chillhouse, for example, has done a really great job of creating that more lifestyle-focused brand on Instagram. But generally, if you’re just starting out as a brand or business, you need to be really clear on what you’re trying to market and to whom. Too many regrams of generic quotes or other people’s content won’t make you stand out. Invest in product photography, learn how to use photoshop, or outsource social media completely to someone who can cover multiple of these angles (like me 😉)

 

what’s one brand you work with [besides blankbox] that does something unique with marketing and social media that you think more brands should emulate?

I work with Isabella Silverio (@isabella.guava) as her content marketer and she has been my first introduction on leading marketing and social media initiatives outside of the ecommerce space—What makes her stand apart is her tough-love blunt copy paired with her inspiring and genuine tips and aesthetically-pleasing Instagram feed. She has created a guava girl community by connecting with her audience- she has really taught me the importance of building a strong community for ANY type of brand (ecommerce, public figure, coach etc.) before asking your audience for favors (ie buying your products). 

 

how can brands contact you?

The best way to contact me is via email (seekingmillennial@gmail.com) but you can also always find me on Instagram and slide into my DMs if you have a quick question (@seekingmillennial)!

 

 

meet diana: photographer

how did you find blankbox [or blankbox find you]? tell us what you do. 

I’m a photographer and founder of Diana Davis Creative. blankbox found me through our amazing network of women here in NYC

what’s one piece of advice you gave team blankbox from the beginning that has shaped their strategy? 

SHOW YOUR FACE! People want to know the founders behind this awesome brand!

what do you find is super important for small [and growing] brands when it comes to photography? are there any mistakes you see a lot of brands make? 

Waiting to start. Some brands are hesitant to invest in their business right away and think iphone photos are going to cut it, but people pay attention and take brands seriously that take themselves seriously. Quality images are key

what’s one brand you work with [besides blankbox] that does something unique with photography that you think more brands should emulate?

I work with Native, the natural deodorant brand. They are always trying new things and they aren’t afraid to invest in their photography. They also totally nail user generated content mixed in with their own.

how can brands contact you?

Follow me/DM on Instagram at @dianadaviscreative.com or give me a shout at hello@dianadaviscreative.com

gabi koshgarian catherine wang blankbox founders

behind the scenes: the first six months

#bts with blankbox: a glimpse into the first six months

blankbox is officially six months old (!!!!!!) it’s crazy to think that exactly six months and ten days ago, we decided to stop talking about blankbox to each other, anyone who would listen, and ourselves in the mirror and just DO IT. *patiently awaiting nike sponsor*

we get asked all the time “how is blankbox going?!” and according to our instagram insights people actually like to hear from us… so here goes. we’ve decided to honor this glorious anniversary by recapping the good and the not so good of our first six months in business. it’s important to know that behind the instagram highlight reel, revenue goals and exciting things we share with all of you, there is an equal amount of blood (if you’ve ever wrestled with an industrial tape dispenser, you know), sweat (have you ever carried 5 boxes at once to the post office….times 5 trips?) and tears (usually fueled by sleep deprivation). but seeing you guys use and love blankbox makes every second worth it. 

the good.

first things first, we actually did the damn thing. the first week of launching a business is basically a drug-less high. we took the week off from our day jobs and split our time between packing boxes + sprinting back and forth to the post office, and responding to the outpouring of texts, calls, emails, and carrier pigeons from people we love. 

 

we joined the female founder collective, brainchild of rebecca minkoff & elisabeth leonard, which has introduced us to so many female founders-turned-friends + impactful contacts. special shout out to our amazing photographer diana davis (@dianadaviscreative), who manages to take the only pictures of us we can both agree on, and cate luzio, the inspirational founder of luminary, which also happens to be our new home away from home (side hustle membership for the win). 

 

we launched the fill as part of our brand’s mission to fill people’s brains with meaningful content the same way our customers fill their boxes with meaningful gifts. we’ve been victims of the inbox overload and wanted to give people real stories, fun and inspiring features, and on brand product recommendations of things we actually use and love. naturally, we decided to bump the launch up a month…two days before sending it out….#entrepreneurlife.  

 

we were featured on somethingnavy as part of brand director tara foley’s wedding day seen here, and played a part in many other weddings for bridesmaid proposals, wedding welcomes, gifts to the parents, and more. second best feeling to the first week of launch is seeing blankboxes as part of our customers’ special days and meaningful moments – it’s surreal. we’re not crying, you are

 

we participated in the formerly’s money talk series, a newly launched and female-founded personal finance platform, where we shared what it’s like to launch a business and how we ‘try’ to keep our personal spending habits in check while bootstrapping blankbox. read here! 

 

we were interviewed by swaay media, talking about bringing this new concept to market, starting a business with your best friend, and our advice to new(er) founders! we’ve recently started focusing on press coverage to grow our business: the highs of this are hearing the reaction to the blankbox concept (and designs!), talking to influential people who actually care about what we have to say (what?!), and waiting excitedly for the articles to come out (stay tuned for more where that came from!) the lows of this….see the not so good. but before you read on, check out the piece here

 

we‘ve learned skills we hadn’t touched with a ten-foot pole in our finance careers: product development, production and quality control, social media, website building, digital marketing, and what customer acquisition channels work and don’t work for us. we’ve also learned that everyone we talk to knows something we don’t, and that a lot of these things we mention above can be learned simply by asking people around us.  

 

if this was instagram, we’d just end there. but this is REAL LIFE, PEOPLE!  

post office photo

the not so good.

we pop’d up in three locations over the holidays: our thought was by popping up alongside gift-able companies, people would naturally gravitate towards chic, convenient packaging. while sales were less than inspiring – we’re learned an incredibly valuable lesson… people who attend pop-ups want to touch and feel your product, so displaying your boxes like they’re the newest exhibit at the MET is a not-so-good idea. our tower of boxes seemed to deter customers from picking up a blankbox and learning more about the product. 

we realized can’t afford a PR team or like, 1/10th of a PR team, which was pretty discouraging since this is an area of entrepreneurship we need the most help with. cue hours of cold emailing pitches to dozens of editors & publications, with a response rate lower than the legal alcohol limit.  

we had our first post-office mishap where a customer never received her box (eeeek!) we knew it would happen at some point, but we still felt personally victimized by the USPS. 

there’s no leaving work at the door: with your own startup, there are no days off or clocking out at 5pm. the perks of this are that the business is basically your child and you don’t necessarily want to leave it at the door; the cons, you will have dreams about boxes. a lot of them. on a more serious note, it can be exhausting to continuously create the mental space for it and continuously feel the pressure of ‘I can always be doing more’. cue a lot of pep talks to ourselves and scheduling time to step back and have “me” time with the same importance we would assign anything else on our calendar.