Q&A with GroupCard’s John Anderson: What Comes After fbFund?

groupcardIn a special series, InsideFacebook has recently been talking with the winners of fbFund’s $250k second roundGroupCard, one of the five apps that made it to the top, is essentially an innovative e-card that leverages the power of the social graph on Facebook to send cards signed by multiple friends and family members.

It’s especially useful on Facebook because it identifies all your friends with upcoming birthdays and allows you to start a community card that will be delivered on a specified date – with notifications, of course, to spread the word. GroupCard also has a wide selection of non-birthday cards.  If you’re feeling particularly charitable, you can check out public cards and add your message and signature.

We spoke with John Anderson, CEO of GroupCard, about his app and how it became a hit.  Future fbFund winners, listen up!

Q:  What problem does GroupCard solve and what inspired you to start this business?

groupcard2-copyA:  The concept of a “collaborative greeting” is an extremely common tradition in offices and families around the world.  In Japan the concept of “passing a card” actually has a name (it’s called Yosegaki).   Despite such popularity, it’s an incredibly broken offline experience – paper cards are expensive, they harm the environment, contributors lose them, recipients can’t keep them, and (most importantly) everyone needs to be together to sign it.  With GroupCard, all those problems are solved, and furthermore people can be so much more creative, sign with pictures, and pass the card to hundreds of friends around the world.

One day I noticed that my brother struggling to circulate a group card for an officemate’s retirement.  Because his team was spread out across multiple offices in different continents, PowerPoint seemed to be the only way he could get everyone to collaborate on the message.  He asked all of the team members to send an individual PowerPoint slide to him via email, and he then collated them into one presentation. That’s when I saw the very clear need for an easier way to sign group cards in today’s environment.   As I finished up classes at Stanford, I  began to work on prototypes that tested whether people really would embrace the idea of an online group e-card.

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Q:  What is the most interesting GroupCard story you’ve heard?

A:  A while back, a network of moms decided to create a GroupCard for a cancer survivor named Kelly Kruger.  The card was circulated around the country, and over 100 women signed it with heartfelt words of encouragement.  When we saw this card, we said “Wow, this GroupCard really creates meaning in people’s lives.” Here’s the card. Today, cards like that happen all the time, and enabling those moments is the most rewarding part of our job.

Q:  There are so many aspiring entrepreneurs out there, not all of them in Silicon Valley.  Can you share your experience of starting a company in Milwaukee?  Do you think being in the Midwest made it any harder to get people to notice you?

A:  We actually work from Milwaukee and Silicon Valley.  I work mostly in Silicon Valley on business stuff and the rest of the guys are in Milwaukee working on the product.  It’s the best of both worlds:  Milwaukee offers economic advantages that allow us to stay lean, while my presence in the Bay Area enables the relationships and industry context that help us stay competitive.

Q:  What do you think you were selected as an fbFund winner?

A:  There were really great ideas and teams in the competition, and my hat goes off to all the developers involved.  I think we were competitive because we had proven ourselves in terms of user traction, business model, and team.  Ultimately the proof came when our community showed up to vote – over 2,000 of our users were voting nearly every single day of the competition.

Q:  What methods did you employ to gain traction among Facebook users and to market your app? Is that what you would recommend to the next generation of fbFund applicants?

A:  GroupCard.com was a growing standalone website before we started working on the Facebook app.  We then built the Facebook application as a seamless extension of our website – for example, a card started on GroupCard.com can be circulated and signed on Facebook (and vice versa).  Therefore, we were able to ramp up the Facebook user base by simply pointing our users to the Facebook application as a means to circulate the cards they started on GroupCard.com.   The Facebook app offers great advantages such as integration with Facebook photos, invitation of mutual friends, and more, so many users stuck.

For real sustainable growth, I think any great application goes through three stages:  First, the team starts with a solid hunch or observation on a product-market need.  Second, once built, the app needs to get traffic flowing through it… either through extreme “friends and family” adoption or (more likely) buying traffic.  I call this phase “spinning up the flywheel” because you essentially are creating momentum from a standstill application.  Finally growth comes from observing your usage and tuning the product to optimize growth and retention.  Tuning needs to happen quickly – you need to reach sustainable growth before you run out of either friends or cash.  I believe the instincts that make a team succeed in stage three can be very different in stage one, so this is the hardest leap for anyone to make.

Q:  InsideFacebook has written recently about the growing number of international Facebook users.  Are you guys seeing growth internationally?  How are you planning anything to capture that market before anyone else does?

A:  Every day we hear from people who were moved to tears of joy when they see cards signed by friends from many countries from around the world.  When we started enabling international payments we saw a 30% jump in revenue.  GroupCard is becoming a very global brand.

Q:  Do you have any specific plans for the $250k from fbFund yet?

A:  Other than heading to Vegas and putting half of it on black? We have aggressive growth targets and a very full product roadmap ahead of us.  The money will enable us to execute on our strategy without having to raise venture money too soon.

Q:  Where do you guys see the company going in the future, especially with respect to Facebook?  What is the next step?

A:  Expect to see GroupCard show up more often across your Facebook experience – both for different types of personal events and in more places across the platform.

Lastly, we (at InsideFacebook) just want to say that, after having used GroupCard a little while ago, we are big fans!  We’re looking forward to seeing GroupCard’s success in 2009.