Tuesday, March 5, 2013
CMU-SV Alumnus Startup Tapgreet Seeks to Transform Urban Retail Industry
A Tapgreet kiosk at a Bay Area coffee shop.
Tapgreet, a startup co-founded by Carnegie Mellon University Silicon Valley (CMU-SV) alumnus, Amin Ariana, and sales and marketing leader, Paul Bussi, is on a mission to change the way consumers buy greeting cards. With consumer buying behavior continually shifting toward the most convenient option, most often in the form of online retail, the Tapgreet team recognized an opportunity to disrupt the greeting card industry by introducing self-service greeting card kiosks in small space but high traffic retail environments such as coffee shops.
Co-founder and CTO, Amin Ariana, a 2011 graduate of the MS Software Management program at CMU-SV, and co-founder and CEO Paul Bussi, started and self-funded Tapgreet in January 2012. Ariana was recently a Software Engineer at Google while Bussi was previously a Group Sales Director at Oracle. The Tapgreet team’s business model centers upon the conviction that the retail ecosystem that sells items such as greeting cards is endangered.
“We see a future in which retail real estate is squeezed to generate more revenue per square foot,” said Bussi. “Our vision is to provide a technology service that helps wholesalers sell products with innovative retail and distribution solutions that bring convenience to the buyer.” Tapgreet pays particular attention to consumer-centered design, new use cases enabled by technology, and lean and agile execution to stay responsive to unanticipated opportunities.
In August 2012, the team successfully placed three greeting card kiosks in San Francisco and Berkeley. This month, the team launched a pilot program dubbed ‘Tapgreet Oracle,’ which allows Oracle employees to order greeting cards with free shipping directly to their Oracle mail slot with no minimum order size. The pilot program is specifically designed to test whether the advantages of centralized shipping can outweigh the costs of offering free shipping to the Oracle ecosystem. Tapgreet hopes to offer the program to other large institutions pending the results of the pilot.
Ariana points to his Carnegie Mellon education as crucial to his entrepreneurial journey. In fact, he reflects that every day of design and experimentation at Tapgreet has been a reason to go back to the MS Software Management course material and intuitively re-employ the team frameworks and metric-based decision-making processes that were exercised during his degree.
"The most important and differentiating lessons I learned at CMU-SV have to do with how to see the larger contexts in which opportunities are embedded, and how to carve out paths in ambiguous situations,” stated Ariana. “My CMU education has become the inner compass that looks beyond short term career options towards transformational change.”
Ariana notes lessons from High Tech Venture lectures by Distinguished Service Professor Dr. Stuart Evans and Contextual (Product) Design team projects coached by Software Management Professor Dr. Tony Wasserman as especially invaluable in turning Tapgreet from an idea into a serviceable company.
"A key goal of our Software Management program is to enable students to look beyond the technology and identify potential business opportunities, then go through a thorough analysis process to validate the opportunity from engineering and market perspectives,” said Wasserman. “We are extremely pleased that Amin has used his CMU-SV education to launch Tapgreet.”
Dr. Evans echoed the purpose of the Software Management courses to provide students with real world exposure to the venture world: “By exposing our students to live case studies in class with company founders, they can form their own perspectives. The benefit of meeting venture capitalists who are in the process of scaling their companies also introduces the students to the complex post-funding issues that arise in the startup lifecycle.”
Ariana’s professors attributed his share of success in launching Tapgreet to both his entrepreneurial zeal and pragmatism. “Amin’s willingness to trade off ideas and recalibrate during the incubation stage was a testament to what I kept drilling home: the importance of being flexible because of the inevitably of adapting on the fly. This ability to change gears as conditions change is one of Amin's crucial capabilities as an entrepreneur,” praised Evans.
Tapgreet hopes its innovations will allow the greeting card industry to penetrate emerging high-density retail areas by letting technology do the job that real estate used to do – allow users to virtually browse, select and pay for their authentic physical item. “The only job real estate will continue to do is to let consumers pick up the item in a self-service fashion, right where they spend most of their day,” contends Ariana.
As the team looks to the future, it strives to build upon a culture that places value in technical mastery, autonomy and a sense of purpose about the future of gifting. “We believe in the power of technology to transform the urban experience,” said Ariana. “We dare to dream big and want to be a part of the retail industry’s next transformation.”
To learn more about Tapgreet, contact Amin Ariana. To hear about product updates, register on Tapgreet.com or its Facebook page. Tapgreet does consider volunteer student project proposals and extracurricular involvement such as consumer-facing artistic design work, customer research work and software prototypes that illuminate market opportunities. For more details on future employment opportunities, contact Tapgreet.