Gift giving can be hard enough when you’re flying solo. Throw six other people into the equation, and you’ve guaranteed chaos. Not only are you forced to manage money that’s not yours, but you’re now responsible for selecting a gift six other people will like. You’re getting a headache just thinking about it, right?
Yet, what if somewhere in a not-so-far-away land (Central Square, perhaps), there was this Mystery Gift Machine that performed all those tedious tasks for you? All you needed to do was contribute whatever amount of money you deem appropriate, suggest a gift idea, share the opportunity and sit back and wait for the gift to be delivered by mail. Yes, we know, it sounds too good to be true, but Adam Stober took our dreams and turned them into a reality.
The story starts with a stumped Stober, who wasn’t sure what to buy a friend for his birthday. He told the group going in on the gift, he’d decide what to buy based on the amount of money they put in. Two-hundred dollars and seven people later, Stober realized how relieved everyone was. Sure, they didn’t know what Stober was going to buy, but they were okay with it. Not only were they okay with it, but they appreciated it, because they didn’t have to invest the time, energy or emotions that go in to hand-selecting the perfect gift.
Stober saw an opportunity, and created a Google Form just for fun. After receiving more and more positive feedback, however, he coded his way to what Mystery Gift Machine is now — what he describes as Version 1.9. “It’s not even Version 2.0, because it’s so far from what we have in mind,” Stober says, who admits they have some gaps they’re still filling in.
In the purchasing platform’s current form, users can name a recipient and date the gift should arrive, contribute money and ideas, and then invite other people to donate funding. Based on the pool of money contributed and suggested gift ideas, the Mystery Gift Machine goes out and secures the perfect gift, producing a product that’s personalized and tailored to the recipient.
“Part of what makes us different, is that we want to keep the universe of potential gifts unlimited,” Stober says. “There’s nothing we won’t buy if we have enough money. We intentionally want to be giving very bold, very creative, very personal gifts.”
“Tailored” could mean engraving, which is something the team does do. In one instance, Stober claims all that was inputted into the Mystery Gift Machine was “concert tickets.” Although the gift givers weren’t specific on what kind of concert or when, because the company ships all the gifts, they were able to decipher where the recipient lived and produce concert tickets from that same area.
If the recipient didn’t want to go to that show, Stober says they could have contacted the company and easily returned the tickets. Yet, he claims, “Our return rate is virtually zero,” because recipients are so often receiving gifts that exceed their expectations.
As of now, Stober is focused on building the brand and gaining customer trust. Because users aren’t aware of what the gift is they’re buying until it arrives on the recipient’s doorstep, Stober needs to continue convincing them why spending $100 with Mystery Gift Machine is better than spending $100 anywhere else.
For me, the convenience alone is reason enough to dish out the dough. Group gift giving has only left me with headaches. Now, however, we can all save some time and Ibuprofen, all while giving better gifts.