Our Start-up of the Week is &Open, which has created an end-to-end gifting platform that companies can use to reward customer loyalty.
Jonathan Legge is the co-founder and CEO of &Open, a Dublin-based start-up that is looking to take a fresh approach to corporate gifting.
He recently told Siliconrepublic.com that &Open’s goal is to move the relationship between customers and businesses “beyond the transactional” and to help “prioritise the human experience” by making customers feel like they matter.
The start-up has developed a software platform to help clients send gifts to reward customer loyalty. Its technology can be integrated with a company’s existing processes and workflows, enabling businesses to have gifts delivered to customers around the globe.
Legge co-founded the business in 2017 with buying director Ciara Flood and logistics director Mark Legge. “The three of us are very different,” the CEO said. “Additionally complicated, we are family – my brother and my wife. I can’t pretend it’s easy, but I can say it is a joyful challenge.”
The concept for &Open grew out of their previous company, Makers and Brothers, where the the team “developed a fresh approach to small-scale retail” that “told stories about beautiful objects and small makers”, according to Legge.
“We were curious to see if anybody was interested in what we had to offer, and they were,” he said. “Unexpectedly, so were savvy brands looking to send memorable gifts. What took time was understanding how best to help those brands. That understanding is now expressed in the world of &Open.”
Legge’s background is in the world of design. He earned a master’s degree in design products from the Royal College of Art, before joining designer Ilse Crawford at her creative studio, Studioilse. He then set up Makers and Brothers in 2009.
“I see design as an approach, an attitude, a way of thinking, solving problems, joining the dots,” he explained. “A great chair, an exceptional website. The approach to both should be the same.”
Meanwhile, the company’s logistics director, Mark Legge, has a background in finance and project management, working between Dublin and Berlin in the private equity and retail property industries. He now manages the company’s supply chain, with a focus on sustainability and green initiatives.
Flood, the buying director, has a background in fashion and the luxury consumer market. She previously worked at Net-a-Porter and Selfridges as a contemporary womenswear buyer. “She’s the most commercially savvy of us,” Legge said.
Together, the team has developed what it describes as a “customer happiness platform”, which aims to build brand awareness and loyalty for client companies with corporate gifts that match their brand and budget.
“Our software platform allows our clients to send gifts to their customers worldwide, in a way that prioritises the experience of the gift recipient at every step,” Legge explained.
“We have a suite of different tools that are suited to different use cases among our clients. Some clients spread their gifting activity across a wide range of customer service agents and do a lot of highly personalised gifting with customer messaging.”
Legge said that other customers focus on developing gifting campaigns with a gift, message and recipient experience centred on a particular event or milestone.
“Underpinning all of these use cases is our software platform, which handles every touchpoint along the journey, from the initial invitation that goes out to a gift recipient by email, to the recipient’s digital experience where they choose their gift and tell us where they want it sent, to passing the order through our warehouse clusters for fulfilment,” he added.
The start-up, which has provided its services to companies such as Airbnb, WeWork and Turo, also has a centralised stock-checking, order-tracking and reporting platform in operation across a number of different warehouses.
“We’re not a typical SaaS company because, alongside the technology, we also offer physical products, the gifts and global logistics,” Legge said. “We offer an end-to-end service. That’s why we’re called &Open – all that’s left for our clients’ customers to do is open their gift. It is a lot to absorb and it makes for a long sales cycle.”
Legge said that &Open is targeting companies that have spent the past decade or so disrupting sectors with hyper-digital solutions that are peer-to-peer or subscription based.
“They have acquired millions of customers and have come to the realisation that they are now themselves being disrupted, that perpetual growth may not be enough, and that they need to nurture their existing customers.
“They are thinking about loyalty, retention, activation and advocacy, but they don’t want to create a legacy loyalty programme because they feel that approach is no longer relevant. They want a more dynamic way of engaging with their customers – to treat them like people.”
Legge said that through his start-up’s approach, “passive transactions become active relationships and numbers become people”. This is particularly important, he added, given the current circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are living through a once-in-a-century global crisis,” Legge said. “We foresee a very different landscape emerging out of the pandemic. Companies that treat their customers well and invest in them, show that they care, they will emerge stronger.”
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