For Renjie Butalid, every day of the year should be like Valentine’s Day.
Messages of love, friendship and best wishes commonly sent on Feb. 14 should be conveyed all year round, he said.
Butalid and two fellow graduates of the University of Waterloo are betting their futures on a high-tech startup designed to do just that: send those little, unexpected messages that lift our thoughts on a dreary day.
Butalid, Aditya Sharma and Kevin Simpson launched a company called Togethr that’s hoping to grab a piece of the $160 billion gift-giving market in North America.
Everything about the company is warm and cuddly, from the orange teddy bear they call Saul, won at a pitch competition last year and who now serves as their mascot, to the orange and green Nerf guns they enjoy shooting at each other in spare moments.
Togethr designed a mobile gift-giving app now available on Android smartphones that enables users to design postcards using their own pictures and personal messages to send to loved ones, friends or relatives.
Togethr then sends the postcards to Cober Evolving Solutions, a Kitchener printing company, where they are printed, laminated and mailed to the recipient.
Butalid shows a sample postcard sent to him by a female friend wearing a scarf. “It takes a real man to rock a scarf indoors,” says the caption, a reference to his habit of wearing scarves in the office.
Eventually the firm is hoping to partner with vendors and suppliers across Canada to send candies, chocolates, flowers and other gifts the same way.
Sending valentine, Christmas and birthday cards over the internet are nothing new. What separates Togethr from the pack is the mobile nature of its platform and the quality of its gifts, Butalid stressed.
With their glossy finish, the postcards have a professional look, and other suppliers will be boutique firms across the country offering “artisan products,” he said.
While sending physical postcards may seem antiquated in today’s high-speed digital age, it’s the kind of classical thing more people are looking for, said Butalid.
“We’re bringing back the old-fashioned way.”
To publicize the company prior to Valentine’s Day, Togethr invited a group of female students at UW to a focus group. There they were serenaded by singers, then surprised with Valentine’s Day postcards from Togethr.
Togethr, which has six employees, is currently housed in the VeloCity garage, a startup incubator in the Communitech Hub in downtown Kitchener.
The company was launched in late 2011 when the founders were looking for something that combined their tech experience with a product they felt the market needed.
Seeing students stressed out about mid-terms, final exams or being away from home gave them the idea for Togethr. While gift-giving is common on the internet, it is just getting started on mobile devices, Butalid said.
The company attracted some investors, but is being financed using their own funds and revenues raised from postcards sent by customers. Space is being provided rent-free at VeloCity.
Togethr’s mobile app will soon be available on the iPhone and the company plans to offer it on the BlackBerry 10 platform as well.
Togethr is not the only company incubated at VeloCity that’s cashing in on Valentine’s Day and other romantic products.
Couple, a smartphone app designed for couples, was launched by a group of UW graduates last year and has attracted two million messages a day.
“We’re the first ones to make an app just for couples,” co-founder and chief executive officer Oleg Kostour said.
Originally called Pair, the company relocated to San Francisco to cash in on the larger American market and attracted $4.2 million in venture capital funding from high-profile investors including actor Ashton Kutcher and Alexis Ohanian, founder of the social news site, Reddit.
Couple’s app enables couples to exchange romantic messages, share calendars, sketch together and even share “thumb-kisses” where they touch the screen at the same time.
Business has picked up as Valentine’s Day nears. “We’ve had 100,000 downloads in the past three days,” said co-founder Anton Krutiansky.
Though based in Silicon Valley, Couple hasn’t forgotten its roots and is looking to hire a UW co-op student.