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Digital gift card provider brings innovation to "a space just waiting to be disrupted"
Kiind founder Leif Baradoy discusses innovation for startups
Zinc tank is a proponent and early adopter of market intelligence-related technologies and other innovations that drive growth and success, both for zinc tank clients and for our own business. We also invest in, and partner with, a variety of startups that share our confidence in the power of innovation.

The following is the first in a series of case studies that will showcase the innovative technologies – and mindset – of some of zinc tank’s client/partner companies.







                  

Kiind is a digital gift card provider based in Victoria, British Columbia. Less than two years since its launch, the company has made significant inroads, primarily in servicing businesses rather than consumers.

In a recent interview, Kiind's founding CEO Leif Baradoy discussed three essential criteria for success in the entrepreneurial fast lane.
 
1) You won't stand out without a standout product
Previously, digital gift cards were simply a copy of physical pre-paid gift cards, without a lot of additional functionality, convenience or anything like that. There wasn’t anything much exciting going on in the space five years ago, even three years ago. Our innovation, our model – pay-for-what-gets-used, defer paying for a gift card until someone actually goes to use it – makes sense. And it really aligns with the way that now we are trained to purchase apps on our phone – essentially, purchase on demand.

Purchase on demand is not a new concept; at this point in time, why shouldn’t purchase on demand and pay-on-use become a standard thing for gift cards or at least for many gift cards? I see an opportunity to open up our innovation, not just on the Kiind platform but for the gift cards of different brands and businesses globally.

2) Trust your customer's lens, not just your own
We have good metrics on our system, where we are able to track which customers are coming in, using us once and then not coming back again – and which customers become power users, and why. That has really helped us grow and clarify where we need to take our product, where we need to double down our efforts in regards to marketing and sales, what we should say no to, what additional inventory we need to have – all those critical business decisions you have to make when you are early like us and you have a small team.

At this stage we have some good data, but the sample size still isn’t large; the conclusions we draw are from a combination of our data and from direct conversations with our users. I would still say that the best data we get is always by going to the user. And rather than trying to ask them directly about our product, asking them what their pain is, what they are trying to solve, what they are looking for, what they saw in Kiind that we may or may not have focused on.

The caveat I would add to customer discovery and customer discussion is being cautious in regards to leading questions, because that just skews the conversation. I think when you are a start-up in a product-oriented team, it’s very easy to talk about yourself and see things through your own eyes. Having the maturity and discipline step back and assess your product from the eyes of the buyer, that is where we see things so much more clearly – in the customer’s lens rather than our own.

3) Pick your battles and your allies

From the beginning we believed that Kiind is a business and a model that has a global opportunity, and that working with global brands would always be a part of our business. That has come true. We are very fortunate to have excellent relationships with some notable global brands, like Apple and Amazon.

These companies are always looking to innovate, and we believe they are working with us because they see us innovating in a space that previously lacked significance, a space that is waiting to be disrupted...

Have no fear.
The risk of them eating your lunch or eating you or crushing you is part of the game, but there are a thousand ways to die, a thousand ways to lose. Most frequently, start-ups lose by failure to execute. They trip over their own feet before anyone swoops in and eats their lunch or whatever. Start-ups fail because they don’t get close enough to the customer; they don’t build the right product; they don’t have product-market fit; they don’t raise enough capital; they don’t spend the capital they have raised wisely. These are all execution and operational issues that have nothing to do with competition.

Start-ups are nimble and fast-moving, but established large companies have an existing market and distribution that start-ups don’t usually have. Large companies are risk-averse to some extent, so they will often be quite attentive to what smaller and more nimble companies are doing – precisely to get close to the experiments that someone like me is doing. Once the experiment is proven and the model works, then at that point they might actually try to copy you, but often they will just watch to see if the start-ups are going to fall into any unforeseen pitfalls.

At the end of the day, I think this is about executing well, and rapidly, in a way that makes you an acquisition target, rather than something that is going to roll over and lose in the game. We want to make ourselves so valuable that it is easier and more expedient for someone to acquire you – for your team, technology, distribution and intellectual property. That is where we’re positioning ourselves and to date we’ve done a very good job of that.

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For more about Kiind, read our partner profile here; visit the Kiind website; read the Globe and Mail article; see Leif Baradoy's TV interview on CBC's Lang and O'Leary Exchange.

To discuss investment potential and other partnering opportunities with zinc tank, contact Brian F. Singh at 403-861-9462 or by email.