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Geeking up greeting cards

IN an age when there are good reasons to ditch the idea of paper greeting cards and opt for e-cards, Chak Onn Lau has chosen to buck the trend. In 2008, he teamed up with two partners to set up Foldees. It is a portal linking designers with funky greeting card designs and a market tired of conventional designs found in brick-and-mortar stores or online.

(All pics courtesy of Foldees)

Foldees, which went online on 16 June 2008, does this by conducting competitions that offer some pretty attractive prizes to the winners. It has conducted two competitions and has attracted a total of 130 designs so far. Visitors to the website get to vote for what they deem is the best design. For the recent A comic book Christmas-themed contest, the top winner, graphic designer Mauricio E Moreno Flores aka salchipunk from Mexico, walked away with an LG 22″ monitor and US$600. The other top nine winners received goodies like messenger bags, flashdrives, printers and iPods.

The third competition — submission just closed on 28 Dec 2008 — is themed The game of love for Valentine’s Day greetings that are designed to turn gamers on. The designs don’t have to be based solely on video games; inspiration from any type of game, like boardgames, miniature wargames and even traditional games like congkak, are also accepted.

Mauricio’s design submission for The game of love
So don’t be surprised to see Pac-Man, Mario, Worms and other popular game characters battling Donkey Kong or dodging missiles to confess undying “lurve” to someone special.

Paper vs electronic

The themes are funky and fun, but must the cards be on paper? Especially when e-cards can still convey the creative greeting, minus the unnecessary use of paper and resources to produce and deliver paper cards?

Creating and viewing e-cards on the computer guzzles relatively less energy. Envirowise, an organisation that helps businesses in the UK adopt more environmentally-friendly practices, cautions that thrown-out printed cards can remain in the landfill for 30 years.

Chak is aware of these arguments. But he is a sentimental at heart, who appreciates the experience of receiving an actual card.

“I asked a lot of people before starting Foldees, ‘Have you received an e-card before?’ They replied, ‘Plenty of times, but they don’t feel special’,” he says.

He thinks that at a time when free e-cards are aplenty, the experience of receiving an actual card is increasingly rare and special.

“I challenge anyone who doesn’t feel appreciated when they receive a greeting card in the mail. It just feels different from an e-card,” he says.

He also thinks some cards are keepers. “Some people do keep good cards,” says Chak, who still has cards he received years ago.

Chak (left) with the first competition’s second-place winner,
Bem69, who received the Intuous3 tablet and RM1,000
Hence the move to set up a designer greeting card website. It allows him to preserve the good old feeling of receiving a card in the mail. At the same time, he makes use of technology and the internet to set up a portal for designers to compete for prizes, sell their unconventional designs, and earn royalties from each sale.

The cards that are purchased online are printed in Malaysia and mailed directly to the recipient or the buyer. The concept is similar to that of Threadless, an American community-based T-shirt company which calls for design submissions online, lets the public vote for the best designs, and rewards the winners with prizes.

Foldees does put in some effort to use paper that is produced in sustainable ways. “Our envelopes are made from hemp paper, the cards made from farmed paper,” Chak says. More specifically, the cards are printed on Natural Evolution 280g paper, certified by the international Forest Stewardship Council.

“We try to be environmentally friendly. We believe cards are supposed to convey feelings, but guilt shouldn’t be one of them — unless it’s an ‘I’m sorry’ card,” he quips.

MTV generation

Still, the generation that knows what it’s like to get a real card in the mail and can thus appreciate what Foldees sets out to preserve isn’t quite the website’s target audience.

The market for printed cards is largely the 30-55 age group, Chak says. Many in this age group also tend to go for conventional designs, which are easily bought off the shelf.

The top winning design for A comic book Christmas
competition by Mexican designer, Mauricio E Moreno
Foldees’s target market is the 13-35 age group, which Chak describes as the under-served MTV generation that hardly uses printed cards. “[Conventional] designs don’t cater to the MTV generation,” he says.

This explains Foldees’s themes, We are all geeks, A comic book Christmas, and The game of love. All of which are meant to appeal to a generation that grew up on the computer and not the typewriter, that recognises that tech geeks can be cool but conventional card designs are not.

Response so far

Gauging from the response — design submissions and comments by visitors — Foldees is attracting its target market from all over the world. The website is promoted through online forums, blogs and email, and gets about 300 to 500 unique visitors a day.

For the recent Christmas card design contest, 60% of the submissions were from outside of Malaysia. The winner is from Mexico.

Chak says the cash and other prizes for the contests are a good incentive to attract designers from all over the world to send in their creative ideas. He thinks the prizes offer designers something to aim for and get people talking about the contest and the website.

The buyers are also from all over the planet: Up to 70% of the online sales are to customers from outside of Malaysia, such as Australia, Finland, the UK and US.

Though it was not planned, allowing visitors to comment on the designs has opened up a much-appreciated forum for the designers to glean feedback, bouquets and brickbats about their work.

Design submitted by milkberry for The
game of love
Work in progress

It’s still early days for a venture like Foldees — which received seed capital from the Multimedia Development Corporation’s Technopreneur Pre-seed Fund Programme — and there is much fine-tuning and improvement to be made.

The team is in the midst of setting up an e-mail friend finder to help customers e-mail the intended card recipient a note requesting his or her snail mail address. Few people know their friends’ snail mail addresses these days. Chak says some customers have been stumped by this.

Also in the pipeline is a feature to allow customers to download and print the cards themselves.

But it appears the bigger hurdle is not technical at all. Visitors to the website say they love the concept, but many are not willing to put their money where their mouths are. Each card costs US$2, but many visitors still seem quite content to use free e-cards available elsewhere.

Cindy Tham is business development manager at The Nut Graph. She’s also interested in how different people and organisations promote their ideas, brands, products and services on the internet, whether for commercial or non-commercial reasons.

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2 Responses to “Geeking up greeting cards”

  1. A lot of the ideas for the cards are cute, and I like how they’re not your generic Hallmark cards. However, I completely agree with the fact that it just feels different getting a card in the mail, as opposed to being emailed one. This is comparable to going out and buying a cd/vinyl, rather than downloading a song on iTunes.

  2. Hwa Shi-Hsia says:

    Foldees is using a business model known as “crowdsourcing”. It’s using people who visit the site to generate designs which are then sold, a job which would otherwise require hiring artists which is more expensive. Other websites such as Threadless (which prints T-shirts) have done extremely well with this model.

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