Bigger, better gifts for friends and the planet

Enterprise: GroupTogether

Green Credentials: The business conceptualised by two mothers over a coffee has amassed more than 500,000 customers in just five years and is prompting Australians to give more sustainably.

Back in 2015, Ali Linz and Julie Tylman were spending their whole weekends running to kids’ parties – they have seven children between them. “For the budget we had, the gifts we ended up giving and receiving were plastic knick-knacks,” Ali says. “Gifts are supposed to be wonderful and feel great, but these felt bad. We knew the better way would be to all chip in together to give a group gift but what a hassle – having to ask people for money and then inevitably either leaving someone’s name off the card (eek) or getting left short (ugh!).”

The pair set about creating an enterprise that makes it super simple to group together to spoil your friends and not the planet.

“What we thought would be simple tech to build was NOT,” Ali bemoans. “Making things simple to use was hard. We keep iterating to make it simpler but at the same time, we’re adding features that our customers ask for.”

Sustainability is intrinsic to GroupTogether’s product and to the way Julie and Alli work. “When a class gives a group gift to the teacher or colleagues chip in for a farewell gift, it saves literally 90 per cent plus of the waste,” Ali enthuses. “It’s one gift rather than 20, one gift wrap rather than 20, one gift that might go to landfill eventually, rather than 20. If our customer wants to send an e-gift card, we make it more special with a digital unwrapping experience. It’s fun.” And, realising that many people struggle to come up with an idea for a gift, one of the business’s innovations is the GroupTogether AnyCard. The recipient can swap it for gift cards of their choice from over 70 leading brands.

The pair’s innovation is continuous. They are still rolling out new functionality they thought up at the very beginning but didn’t have the technology or resources to develop in their start-up phase. And beyond GroupTogether, they’re now in beta with GroupPay, a Shopify button that retailers can add to their eCommerce stores to make it easy for one customer to invite their friends to chip in for a gift in their own store.

Ali, a former marketing strategist, and Julie, an ex-banker, have grown the GroupTogether site from its launch in 2016 to over 500,000 customers. “When someone we meet for the first time says, ‘I know GroupTogether. We use it all the time. Game changer,’ it still blows us away because in the early days, we knew every customer’s name and would email them to thank them,” Ali says. “A half-million customers later, we’re still excited to hear from our customers and Julie and I handle queries ourselves.”

The pair are excited about GroupTogether’s growth, which has been exponential since lockdown. They are also proud of the fact that many Australians are on the same page as them in terms of wanting to give gifts more sustainably, with 68 per cent of respondents to a survey they conducted in October 2021 saying it was a priority for them.

Ali sees the potential for GroupPay to become a standard feature on eCommerce retailers’ websites, and the business has recently incorporated in the US. “We feel really proud to be exporting something Australian made overseas, particularly something that fights gift waste radically,” Ali enthuses. “And Julie’s Yankee accent will come in handy!”

This article first appeared in issue 35 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine