Small Business Profile: Zoë Scharf, Co-Founder of Greetabl
Hi Zoë! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a native Upstate New Yorker living in Chicago and St. Louis (love ‘em both!). I’m a graphic designer turned entrepreneur – and I have my dream job!
What is your background (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
I wanted to be a graphic designer since high school and moved to St. Louis to study at the art school at Washington University in St. Louis. I worked at an amazing agency, XPLANE, that taught me how to take complex ideas and simplify them to their absolute core. We worked with huge companies and I had to get comfortable talking to execs at places like IBM at a young age. After that I freelanced and got to help tons of companies build their identities and stories. At the same time I was a huge letterpress printing/stationery nerd. When Joe (my Co-Founder) came to me with the idea for Greetabl in 2012 everything seemed to line up, and the rest is history!
What led you to begin Greetabl? How did the idea start and how has it transformed to what it is now?
My Co-Founder Joe actually came up with the idea. He’s an ex-finance guy who worked at Goldman Sachs before he quit to travel the world for a year, and ultimately join a Soho House team in Mumbai to help them fundraise. When he got back to Missouri after being away for years, he came with a newfound appreciation for the connections in your life who you truly care about. The idea for Greetabl came naturally when he was writing a check and letter for a wedding gift and realized… how much cooler is a gift than an envelope? What if we could make the card into a gift. He knew he’d need a graphic designer to make it all happen, and that’s when friends introduced us.
What was the process like of creating a business that incorporates multiple brands and products on your platform?
It’s amazing! Working with amazing vendors is a huge highlight of the job. Everyone has their own story and their own hustle. We’ve been lucky to help some of our smaller partners grow along with us, and that is incredibly rewarding.
How do you navigate brand partnerships and collaborations?
Honestly for a while we were mostly just partnering with cool brands that reached out to us. Now we are getting better at being proactive by coming up with amazing ideas that are too fun to say no to, and then pitching those to the people we admire most.
You've created great branding around Greetabl; was it a clear vision when you began or has it transformed over time?
A little of both. The ‘why’ has never changed – we’ve always wanted to help people connect in more personal ways. But the ‘what’… that has changed a lot. We went through many, manyyy phases from branding to the actual product we offer. Early on we actually only sold to retail stores. Customers had to buy a Greetabl, find a gift that fit inside, fold it themselves and find a box to mail it in. It was way too complicated. Someone recently told me that they searched the web for old versions of our website and found one back from 2013, which I remember being heinous. I was embarrassed but it’s all part of our story… we have come so far since then!
How do you connect with your community?
We talk to them like they are our friends. Because they are! We love talking to our customers, followers and partners. At first we were inclined to write super salesy emails with subject lines like “Our new products are great!” and finally we realized, we’d never use that language with a friend. The more we started treating our customers like friends, the more they became a community and not just customers.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
The #1 thing that inspires me is seeing people post pictures of their Greetabl experience on Instagram. They’ll write things like “I came home from a tough day and this was here waiting for me, it seriously made me cry.” When I hear things like that I feel genuinely incredible. It inspires me to always be thinking about those moments as the goal and that gets the gears going for other cool ways we can make people happy.
Also, I LOVE following other brands that are doing an amazing job. Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you that I have an unhealthy love for Everlane and Glossier (I’m such a cliché). When a brand kills it, it’s like they really are a friend of mine. If one of these companies went out of business tomorrow, I would be genuinely sad like I lost someone I cared about. For me that is #goals.
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you face with Greetabl?
Our own standards. We have really high goals and expectations for ourselves. When we don’t hit a goal or when things don’t go the way we wanted them to (which happens daily, maybe even hourly) it’s hard not to beat ourselves up. But we know it’s a marathon not a sprint and our company mantra – #overcome – brings me back up and makes me even more motivated to do my best.
What is your relationship with social media?
I love social media! I know there are reasons to limit yourself and to be wary of “perfect dust” that people sprinkle all over their feed unrealistically (<- I just came up with “perfect dust” and kind of love that) but generally speaking, social media has added a lot of value to my personal and professional life. Our @greetabl account on Instagram has taught us so much about what our community wants from Greetabl and lets us talk to people directly. It’s great!
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
Because men don’t! Not all men… my Co-Founder is the best Co-Founder in the world (don’t tell him I said that) and my boyfriend is literally the most amazing, supportive person I know. But unfortunately I have seen first hand how my ‘little box company’ gets belittled by men specifically and it’s a huge bummer – and a potential hindrance from success. Women need to support each other because that’s how we all collectively rise up and create more examples for women in the future. It happens slowly, but the rising tide will touch our daughters and granddaughters and give them opportunities that we’ve had to work 1,000x harder to create for ourselves today.
What creative women do you find inspiring?
My background is in graphic design, so my original design hero, Louise Fili, is a badass entrepreneur and an incredible talent. As a St. Louisan, I’m inspired by Karlie Kloss who doesn’t take her fame and success for granted and decided to use it to help girls learn to code. She’s so cool. And then since I’m also a Chicagoan, I’m seriously inspired by Tammy Duckworth, the first disabled woman to be elected to congress as well as the first to give birth. She’s had so many excuses to slow down or not go for her goals, but she has persevered and done so much for Illinois.
What have you learned from owning your business that you think can apply to any creative endeavor?
That it’s normal to feel completely overwhelmed by the insane burden you’ve taken on. We’re constantly stressing about things – meeting the goals we shared with investors, keeping the product fresh, managing a team of 11 (I’d never managed anyone before this!) – and when I talk to other entrepreneurs, even in completely different industries, I realize that everyone goes through this and that it’s okay to be stressed, and also okay to cut yourself some slack sometimes.
How do you manage your time?
Oh, I don’t know that I have a great answer for this. I use a lot of tools, Google Calendar, Asana, Slack, etc. but it comes down to me convincing myself that something is important and forcing myself to be heads down on it. I try to work as effectively as I can, and there are a lot of really long days. That said I almost always give myself Saturday off. I make time to see friends and spend a whole day with my boyfriend and our cat. That stuff keeps me sane and makes me way better and more productive at work.
How do you deal with moments of self doubt?
I call my mom. Seriously. She’s amazing. She believes in me so much and even if she totally doesn’t get what my problem is, she makes me feel better. Doubts come up all the time and I’m usually okay at shaking off the irrational ones, but if I’m feeling super down I try to take a step away and change my environment to give myself a literal physical perspective shift.
I actually am pretty self confident and I do think I’m awesome at what I do. So when I feel really down I try to remind myself: you’re the same person who felt really confident yesterday. Nothing has changed. You’re good. Let’s get back to work.
What tools or resources have been most helpful for you in creating your business?
We live in Asana, and as long as I don’t leave it alone and let it build up for too long it’s a game changer. Our team also religiously uses: Google Calendar, Slack, Spotify, Klaviyo (email), Zendesk (customer support), Google Analytics, Later (for Instagram), Iconosquare (for stats), Google Drive, Photoshop, Illustrator, Lightroom, InDesign, Just Uno (pop ups, overlays), Unbounce (landing pages), Also, the book Getting Things Done by David Allen.
What are you trying to learn right now?
How to appreciate all of the awesome stuff that is happening and not totally focus on the tough stuff.
What are some of your favorite places in St. Louis?
First of all: our OFFICE! We loved our old Coworking space (shoutout T-Rex) but our downtown office is my home basically and our team has grown so much in those rooms.
My favorite pizza (and vibes) in the world comes from Union Loafers.
I love Urban Chestnut Brewery just because I have some really amazing memories with friends there, plus great beer.
Tower Grove Park is my favorite park ever.
Café Osage because their brunch is amazing and they were really nice to my blind foster dog years ago.
And everything on Cherokee Street. It’s the most authentic, real community I’ve ever known. Love you guys.