Startup Spotlight:

Europe’s first online gift voucher service

It’s your birthday and you’ve received an Odeon cinema voucher, but there is no Odeon cinema within a twenty mile radius of your home town. I’m sure that you have all at some point received an unwanted gift voucher that has clearly been purchased as a last resort, that you shove in a drawer and forget about until it has passed its expiry date!

The good news for retailers is that, Europe’s first online gift voucher service which launched in November, seems set to breathe a new lease of life into the voucher market that has become largely redundant due to geographical factors. The site is working with 'premier' brands such as Jigsaw, Hamley’s, Yo Sushi, HMV, Planet Hollywood and ABC Cinemas, and offers the delivery of vouchers in a physical or digital format. The service allows you to send and receive a present within less than five minutes, and recipients can then go back to the site and choose the way in which they want to make up their vouchers.

TechTrader spoke to Jonathan Grey, founder of, about his innovative plan to combine an e-commerce service with some of the best known brands on the high street.

Why do you believe that the voucher market will work better online than off? has put the whole high street and vouchers into one particular place. This means that we are able to offer a community of brands online, which has effectively unleashed the potential of vouchers.

Before we came onto the scene, vouchers were purchased at the convenience of the giver rather than the receiver. has turned this process around. Vouchers are a very adaptable concept for e-business. It is vitally important that when buying for someone else, the present arrives on time, and that the receiver will be able to redeem the vouchers. Our service can be used to find out where the retail outlets are around the country, and all of our vouchers are sent out by registered delivery. The essence of our business is letting people trust their relationship with us.

From a business perspective, the gift voucher market was very limited in size and scope. Vouchers are a fantastic way of acquiring new customers, and help to encourage an up-spend factor. Retailers could previously only sell their vouchers from the physical location of their store, and this was extremely limiting for stores like Hamleys who only have one outlet. has broken down such geographical constraints and unleashed a huge distribution network for vouchers. This is a prime example of how the Internet can revolutionise a traditional industry.

Why did you decide to set up an e-business for a product that can only be spent off-line?

Shopping is a team sport -- I like going to Oxford Street, feeling the clothes and trying them on -- making a day of it. wants to encourage this. E-commerce is never going to replace the front of shopping. We want to use the Internet to encourage people to find the best place to shop in the real world. We have exploited the convenience factor of buying online, whilst the retailers are happy to get shoppers back onto the high street. is effectively a hybrid retailer, forming a link between e-business and traditional business.

How are your universal online vouchers redeemed so that they can be used in any of your unbranded shops?

Our universal voucher can be delivered in physical form or digitally. The recipient can then go back to the site and choose how they want to make up their vouchers. The site also allows you to send and receive a present immediately. We also give people ideas on what to buy with their vouchers, in order to make sure that is a thoughtful present. wants to make people feel funky about the high street.

How did you raise the venture capital to set up the company?

From its initial concept, we raised the finance for Jomono from Business Angels. We are now in the process of discussing a second round of financing.

Do you foresee a stock market floatation in the future?

It has always been on the plans, and an IPO would ultimately be the finest way of doing this.

Startup Spotlight is a new weekly feature on ZDNet UK News and ZDNet techTrader, featuring the bright sparks of the UK's high-tech startup industry. For more of the faces behind the news see the Startup Spotlight archive.

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