The ideation of Card Isle began in a startup class at Virginia Tech when three engineering students took an interest in the greeting card industry.
CMO Stephen Sabo came to the table with the idea; he wondered if there was a way to make the process of finding and buying greeting cards more enjoyable, personal, and accessible.
“The first time we ever sold a greeting card, we borrowed a pop-up tent, a folding table, a printer we bought off Amazon, and some open source images,” says COO David Henry.
Sabo, Henry, and CEO Adam Donato had set up shop on Virginia Tech’s campus to sell Mother’s Day cards to engineers. The process was simple: point to an image, come up with a message, and watch the co-founders manually put the card together in a PDF to print.
From that emerged the idea of Redbox for greeting cards: a kiosk that could hold the personalized content and technology, process the payment, and spit out the personalized greeting card directly to the customer.
Though a great starting point, the kiosks were limiting. Sabo, Henry, and Donato needed something more affordable and less time-consuming to build, so they came up with the next step.
When they realized engineers were getting excited about buying Mother’s Day cards, the wheels started to turn. They wondered if there was a way to remove themselves from the process so they could scale the business.
“What we realized is that maybe you don’t need a $5,000 kiosk,” says Henry. “Maybe all you need is a printer and access to the Card Isle content, take everybody’s internet-connected devices, and create the design experience there.”
Henry hoped shifting away from the kiosks would let Card Isle focus on becoming the best content platform and the best technical experts at delivering that content in non-traditional locations. One of the first trials was with Gates Flowers & Gifts in Christiansburg.
Instead of a flower shop having a physical shelf full of greeting card options, Card Isle offers an in-store printer. When customers order flowers online, they can add greeting cards from Card Isle’s platform. From there, they can personalize their cards, and the florist can print those cards in-store.
Using this technology Card Isle has partnered with over 60 florists, gift basket, food and specialty gift retailers across the country and is rapidly adding new partners.
“And florists are just the starting point,” says Henry. “Imagine what you could do if any internet connected printer, including the one you have at home, could get hooked up to the Card Isle system.” Henry wasn’t ready to divulge all the details but offered that this technology is not far off and anyone interested should keep a close eye on Card Isle in the coming months.
One of the ways the cards are personalized is through artwork from Card Isle’s artist community.
“We think of ourselves as a crowd-sourced platform that lets artists focus on what they love, and that’s being creative,” says Henry.
Card Isle plays the role of sales, marketing, operations, and distribution infrastructure so the artist doesn’t have to. An artist can come to Card Isle, sign up, and put their designs in the system. Card Isle then sells them through various distribution channels and gives the artist a royalty on every single card printed.
The artist’s logo and contact information is printed on the back of the card, and on the inside of the card, the customer can personalize their message.
“As we grow, what we hope to be is a community where creatives who love greeting cards can come to make a name for themselves,” says Henry. “Nothing we do would be possible without them.”
To learn more about Card Isle, visit them online at https://www.cardisle.com/landing or call (929) 900-4753. Card Isle is located at 2270 Kraft Drive, Suite 1265 Blacksburg, VA 24060
Written by Bailey Black ’19
Communications Intern @ the VTCRC