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Beyond the Pitch

GiftPocket Launches New Features and Marketing Initiatives

GiftPocket

A lot has changed for Brooke Yoakam since she first came to Rev1 Ventures as a 12-year-old Middle Schooler with an idea for a gift card shopping app.

Now a college-bound high school senior, Brooke, founder and CEO of GiftPocket®, has built and operated a company for nearly five years. Her in-the-trenches entrepreneurial experience is a checklist of entrepreneurial milestones.

We caught up with Brooke soon after GiftPocket’s mid-September launch of enhanced application features and security. Here’s what she had to say.

Rev1: From the beginning, you have invested significantly in market validation and in features that your shoppers tell you they want.

BY: When I started GiftPocket, it was to solve a problem that my friends and I—and every teenager has. We were constantly losing track of the gift cards our friends and family gave us for birthdays, holidays, or whatever. When you are shopping with your friends, the last thing you want to do is hunt for the gift card you plan to use. But no one ever goes shopping without their phone.

Rev1: So how does GiftPocket work and what enhancements did you roll out in September.

BY: With GiftPocket, all shoppers have to do is download the app from the Apple App Store to their iPhone , set up an account, and type in the number of their gift cards into the GiftPocket wallet.  GiftPocket keeps everything really organized. Shoppers can connect directly to more than 70 brands on our site (we are adding more every month). Or, if they don’t like the brand that they have a card for, then they can exchange the value for GP Points, which they can use to buy a different card from one of our brand partners.

With our new launch, we enhanced security features, made the application even more user friendly, and added new features. It all adds up to a better user experience. We are excited that we are in development on Android, too, with plans to roll out by December.

Rev1: When most people look back over their teenage years, its about lessons learned in the classroom or on the sports field. You’ve learned those lessons, but you also have layered on the lesson of a first-time entrepreneur. What are some of those lessons?  

BY:  The biggest lesson for me is this. I worked so hard on GiftPocket for more than four years—to get the application right. To sign up the business partners. To build the right team. I thought with all that hard work behind us, the rest would be easy. I now know that that was just the first hump a startup has to get over. I thought we would be working hard adding customers, but I didn’t realize the really hard part of any application company is getting people to know about it, to try it, and to continue using it.

Another lesson is about leadership. I’ve also seen many different types of leadership. I’m figuring out the kind of leader I want to be. I want to be collaborative. I want to be decisive. I wanted to be a good listener and a good speaker.

The third lesson for me personally is that I’ve learned how interested I am in business and computer science. I always liked math a lot, but GiftPocket has inspired a passion in me for computer science. I love solving problems. Computer science is my favorite part of the day.

Rev1: What are the next steps for GiftPocket and for Brooke?

BY: Right now, we are focused on marketing. We don’t have the biggest budget right now. We are conservative about how we spend, but we are looking to add some additional marketing expertise for the holiday season. The team and I are planning some grassroots marketing. We’re doing events, for example, we plan to have GiftPocket booth at the Penn State/Ohio State game. 

As for me personally, there is a lot going on in my mind. Senior year has been crazy. I’m completing college applications and essays. Classes are getting a little harder. We’re figuring out our funding strategy for GiftPocket—we can’t bootstrap forever. And I just ran a half marathon.

It’s all a little scary, but it’s also awesome to launch this new GiftPocket platform. We have more than 1000 downloads and so many new marketing ideas.

So, yes, a lot has changed for Brooke Yoakam since she started GiftPocket.

She’s validated her market and customers; she’s learned the ins and outs of coding an application, and she’s moved from prototype to the App Store. She’s figuring out how to cost-effectively market to gain more users faster.

And some things haven’t changed. She’s still a teenager and a student. She’s still juggling many balls at the same time. She is bringing real-life experience into her business classes. She’s passionate about her company and her customers. She is determined to succeed.

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