Zoë Scharf, BFA ’11, laughs as she recalls how she decided to come to the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts.
“I took a college matchmaker exam online, and WashU popped up as literally the only college that had everything that I wanted,” she says. “And that’s why I applied on a whim.”
It turned out to be an ideal match in more ways than one. Since coming to St. Louis, Scharf has fallen in love not only with the university but also with the city. She’s even co-founded a company here, Greetabl, which offers a new twist on the greeting card, and recently raised $1.5 million in startup funding.
“There are a lot of pros to having an e-commerce company based in St. Louis,” Scharf says. “We have a lot of people cheering us on and offering support. For instance, within my first year of being an entrepreneur, I’d already talked to Maxine Clark [founder of Build-A-Bear Workshop] extensively, and some of the people that have created bigger companies are available to you here.”
Scharf admits that when she graduated, she did not know much about St. Louis. A job at a design firm was what kept the upstate New Yorker in the city. But as she experienced more of the city outside of campus, she came to love it. She even founded, along with other WashU friends, Brain Drain Collective, whose aim was to trumpet what a great city St. Louis was for young people.
“It’s a great place to live when you’re in your 20s and you want to explore and go out and meet new people,” says Scharf, pointing out that it’s cheaper and its communities more easily accessible than in larger cities. “St. Louis is ahead of the game of some other smaller cities in terms of the quality of life and that’s really nice.”
In 2012, Scharf met Joe Fischer, a Wunderkind who had been Goldman Sachs’ youngest VP in the consumer/retail business department before quitting to travel and start his own business. He developed the idea for Greetabl while he was trying to find a way to personalize cash wedding gifts. He created a small gift box to put the money in. People would open the box and inside would be a message and the cash. It straddled that space between gift and greeting card.
Fischer was looking for a designer to work on the concept, and Scharf immediately took to the idea. “It really resonated with me because my friends from WashU had graduated and moved all over the country,” Scharf says. “And I wanted ways to connect with people that wasn’t sending greeting cards or flowers.”
After six months of working with Fischer on a contract basis, the pair discussed Scharf taking on a role as co-founder, and by January 2014, she was working for Greetabl full time. At first, the company sold the gift boxes in boutiques. Customers would fold them up, find small presents to put in them and figure out how to mail the gift. Fischer and Scharf also marketed to wholesale consumers like businesses that wanted to send out a lot of thank you gifts or small holiday presents.
Unfortunately, the idea wasn’t working the way Fischer and Scharf hoped, so they went back to the drawing board and analyzed who Greetabl was really for.
“We found this demographic: a woman who is really busy but still wants to be that person in the household who is sending gifts and being considerate of her friends — that was the demographic that needed Greetabl the most,” Scharf says.
For this woman — most of the people who use Greetabl are women — Scharf and Fischer knew they had to make gift-giving easy and fun. Today, someone goes to greetabl.com and selects a box with a fun print, personalizes it with pictures and a message, picks out a gift to tuck inside, and Greetabl mails it directly to the recipient.
In 2015, the company re-launched, and with the first-ever printed Greetabl in its new format, Scharf helped out with her best friend’s wedding proposal. The friend was Scharf’s college roommate from WashU, who had moved to New York. Scharf worked with her former roommates boyfriend to put a wedding proposal in a Greetabl.
“That’s one of the most rewarding parts of building something up,” Scharf says. “To have it actually affect people in such a significant and positive way.”