Daymaker was formerly known as CommuniGift
Dear past birthday hosts,
Thanks for joining us on this journey. At some point we began to realize that (with your support) we were writing a pretty interesting story, but today so few people know what was actually going on behind the scenes. As a past birthday host, you helped us write the story that follows, and we’re excited to share it with you now. Together we’ll continue to create and celebrate… having fun and doing some good!
June 20, 2015 \ Los Angeles (Santa Monica)—
It was June 20, 2015 and the space was borrowed. At the corner of 18th and Idaho in Santa Monica, in the attic of an advisor’s summer stay, we huddled around a college-worn laptop after months of preparation. We were almost ready to announce our next big idea following two successful seasons for the holiday giving platform. Likely, Jack the Developer had recently refilled the Keurig he jerry-rigged to accept off-brand refills; Thomas just had completed his standing desk made from borrowed books, and Zack might have drafted an apology to the NC friends he would no longer be living with in Raleigh come August.
Back around the laptop, together, we clicked “send.”
The email read: “Announcing: The CommuniGift Birthday.”
In that moment, the term “CommuniGift Birthday” didn’t mean anything. Those words had never been said together, and to this day hardly anyone can say “CommuniGift” correctly when it stands alone. It wasn’t recognizable and it didn’t hold any stories of its own. Over the next two years, that would change.
On June 20, 2015… 2183 past users of the holiday giving platform would receive the proposal: a kid’s birthday invitation platform that would allow party guests to RSVP to the party and send a gift to a child less fortunate sponsored by our nonprofit partners at the same time.
If you’re reading this, you know this all too well. At some point you’ve joined us in reimagining what birthdays can look like. Still, back then and behind the scenes, a lot has happened that we’ll never forget:
Outside of a few “congrats,” no immediate engagements came from the launch email. You can’t quite compel someone to have a kid celebrating a birthday in the next month. That was what we were up against, a type of product that had to be understood, remembered, and later acted upon.
The world did not come to us. Why would they? We of course were the ones with something to prove: that giving could be simple, and meaningful, and that even kids would get excited about it. So we set out to prove it. Zack joined 30 parenting Facebook groups and asked a cake maker to leave out fliers. Thomas contacted PTAs and stopped people on the street. Together we all attended farmers markets, which were stranger than we ever anticipated.
There we stood, a new product and a long uphill journey ahead. Every user felt make-or-break. We believed in what we were creating. It was just… nice when other people believed in it too. Enter: Mimi
“Listen, if you want to talk to her, you’re welcome to try,” said Mimi’s mom, suggesting her daughter would be a tough sell when it came to having her friends send gifts to a child less fortunate in her honor. We sat with her, typed in her birthday to find a buddy with a similar one, and watched as her face lit up.
Mimi became the first CommuniGift Birthday host.
Meanwhile back at the ranch… We were notified that our temporary stay in Santa Monica was coming to an end, swiftly (the next day). Both workspace and sleeping accommodations were no longer a given. We had rented a 2009 Corolla and a 2001 Kia, and the advisor left a Subaru for us to babysit for a number of weeks, meaning we were:
Houses: 0 Offices: 0 Cars: 3
We shuffled each car from two-hour spot to two-hour spot, made temporary offices out of various Le Pain Quotidiens, and took calls in alleyways. All the while, trying to get people to host the first CommuniGift Birthdays, troubleshooting when checkout went down, and celebrating as each gift made its way to a child in need on their birthday.
Famous people are just friends you haven’t met yet. Thinking back now to one of the first parties hosted, a special encounter comes to mind:
Thomas was talking to a party guest who had entered discretely from the side door. The two found common ground in their Nashville roots, and everyone watched, mystified, as it became clear that Thomas didn’t realize who she was. Minutes went by. Defaulting back to his Nashville roots, he extended his hand and offered his name: “I’m Thomas…”
“... I’m Reese,” she reciprocated with a smile. A Sweet Home Alabama, Big Little Lies, Legally Blonde smile.
People love that story, probably because they love when stars are humbled. But that’s not what this was. She was humble when she arrived with her son under one arm, and humble again when she listened to the big ideas of a few barely-adults with three cars and zero homes. If anything, getting to tell someone her name seemed like a welcomed surprise.
The Hassle with Tassels: You have to earn them.
Let’s keep in mind that 2 of 3 stooges had senior year to complete. Come August, Jack would return to Chapel Hill, Zack would stay put in Los Angeles, and Thomas would begin The Great Commute: Chapel Hill to Los Angeles and back, regularly.
By this time, Zack retained zero cars in Los Angeles but had managed to sign one short-term lease for a two-bedroom apartment in Culver City. Since Thomas was only part-time in Los Angeles, Airbnb would help fill the gaps while Thomas was away. Enter: a rotating cast of vacationers, interviewers, a woman who actually wanted to avoid her 2 hour commute home, and sometimes Thomas. They deserve letters from us one day.
Holiday sidebar: somewhere in this mix, several nonprofits had opted into the 2015 holiday platform and we were able to foster over $50,000 in product donations from donors who wanted a transparent way to give online. Whatever we were doing, even if it was sometimes from coffee shops and often without much certainty, seemed to be validated.
Honestly, who is making the rules? (Approx. January 2016)
CommuniGift Birthdays were starting to be hosted somewhat regularly as parents began to find our platform on Instagram and parenting message boards. We were excited when the first birthday host popped up in Utah, and then Connecticut, and so on. If this was you, thank you. Thank you for unknowingly putting wind in our sails and allowing us to help celebrate your awesome kids.
We knew at some point we would start thinking about forming nonprofit partnerships in these new cities and officially “launching” there, but when? Should we achieve a certain number of birthdays a week in LA? Or would investors want to see us ambitiously approaching new markets? And when was that paper due again?
We began to realize that no one was going to hand us a framework to make these decisions.
Back in our home state, two things were happening. 1) the Heels (our alma matter) were on the way to ALMOST winning a National Championship and 2) Millie was turning 8. She made it a CommuniGift Birthday, and in the 2 months that followed, 3 of her friends would do the same.
We decided we launch Charlotte, meaning we’d also make it home to watch the national championship game in Chapel Hill.
The Heels lost, but in the move, CommuniGift won a whole new community in a state we loved. After one parent’s experience giving back with their child, they offered to host a few of their friends over to learn about what we were working on. One “wine night” turned into 3 more, and all of the sudden our team was friendly with the greater portion of the young Charlotte parent community.
Amazing nonprofits had come to the table, the Charlotte Agenda helped spread the word with the local community, and a local mentor (and past user) joined the team. Ghazale had recently wrapped up a career in credit services consulting, and was in the thick of the career of being a parent, making her the perfect addition (wise. & wise enough to have fun). We continued to see guests turn into hosts of their own party, and we celebrated each one.
After graduation: The Summer of ‘16
Fundraising, Flywheel & Future planning.
People were using the platform. That felt good, but the practicalities of life were beginning to bear down. Jack the Developer took a full-time job after graduation and moonlit as our jack-of-literally-all-trades. Thomas watched countless peers take jobs he had turned down to hold fast to the vision in front of us. Our investment capital was dwindling, and Zack’s credit was building despite taking on a part-time job as a FlyWheel instructor. For a light, fun-loving birthday-centered company, things felt quite heavy.
Again, there were no rules. Following a natural startup cycle, it was about time to raise money. The more money we raised, the more people outside of ourselves were depending on us to create something meaningful and sustaining. Whatever “normal” was, our experience of moving week over week and being “always on” was not it. One random afternoon in mid-July, we sat on a Charlotte patio furniture and talked it all out. It felt like our last chance to choose normal.
But who in their right minds ever chooses “Normal?” We chose DC.
We raised the money, we took a deep breath, and we chose Washington, D.C. to be our home & HQ. This meant that if we were lucky enough to get invited to a wedding, we actually had an address to give the lucky couple, and it meant that a bed wasn’t just a place we were crashing for that night, but for many nights to come. Going to the office wasn’t simply reporting to the Panera on Providence Rd.; it was a consistent space to create and hang things on the walls. Dual monitors made managing multiple markets of giving remotely manageable. We launched in Atlanta, quietly welcomed partners in Chicago and Houston, and saw more birthdays hosted in more places than ever before. We can’t believe we almost chose normal.
Up until this point, purchase-donations made on our platform were placed virtually with Target through what they call an API, and that specific item would ship immediately. We knew we would eventually want to shift to purchasing the items from manufacturers directly, making us the Target of doing good, but that was certainly not a job for 3.5 people. With some words of encouragement from TOMS’ Blake Mycoskie (and the simultaneous closing of Target’s API), 3.5 people was what we had, and it had to happen then.
We began buying directly from manufacturers making the best products out there for kids (Seedling, Jansport, GoldieBlox, and more) and stocked two warehouses with inventory that donors could then purchase for kids in need across the country.
We were still getting our wholesale legs under us. When logistics fail, people don’t.
Holiday sidebar: The front story: In the 2016 holiday season, we shipped to 61 nonprofits across the country and saw donors from 50 states (and 9 countries) send gifts to 100% of kids on the platform.
The Real Story: So much giving happened in the last 48 hours of the giving window, we realized that many items were not going to make it to happy homes if left to standard shipping logistics. Our manufacturing partners rallied to ship items directly to one of our partners who had offered their warehouse space to receive and their trucks to help deliver. On December 20, 2016, Felisa & Mai and Volunteers of America staff helped us deliver thousands of gifts to different nonprofit partners across Los Angeles. Goosebumps writing that sentence. That day was magic. Then we slept for days.
Somewhere between triumph and challenge, between attending the first CommuniGift birthday parties and troubleshooting, right around the time of the Tar Heel redemption tour, we realized…
What we were doing had a community, it had meaning. It also had the wrong name.
The way people were talking about their use of the platform was warm, personal, and fun. In conversation, our name began to be the thing that was holding us back. Even our biggest champions introduced us as “Community Gift” or even the occasional “Communion Gift” or sometimes they would simply trail off and hope we’d finish the word if we were near… “Commun—…” (each time, it became more clear that eventually the name would have to change).
Daymaker: The name, the feel, the photos, the energy, the messaging… is you.
You’ve come to the platform wanting a simple, meaningful way to share the good of giving with your kids, and you simultaneously helped shape who we are today. Today we celebrate the big idea behind every small act of kindness, and we focus on making giving digestible for kids who are beginning to think about a big world where not everyone has the same experience.
Once again, as a past birthday host, we want to thank you for joining us on this journey to create something much larger than ourselves. Thank you for believing in us even when we forget who Reese Witherspoon is and also when we’ve considered choosing normal. Thanks for your desire to ignite the big hearts found in each one of your kids, and thanks once more for letting us be a part of the celebration of good.
This story isn’t finished & neither are we.
The Daymaker Team Thomas, Jack, Zack & Ghazale