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Vinayak Mahajan’s Solution to Corporate Gifting Woes

In his interview with CanadianSME Small Business Magazine, Vinayak Mahajan, the visionary CEO & Founder of GiftAFeeling Inc., delves into the pivotal moments and motivations behind founding his company. Starting as a 17-year-old international student facing significant challenges, Vinayak’s journey to the top echelons of the entrepreneurial world is marked by a blend of innovation, resilience, and a passion for making a difference. His early triumph in the Master the Mainframe World Coding Championship and subsequent experiences at leading Canadian banks revealed the inefficiencies in corporate gifting, sparking the idea for GiftAFeeling Inc. This venture, rooted in extensive research and a commitment to sustainability, aims to revolutionize the gifting industry by providing meaningful, research-based gifts and promotional products. Today, GiftAFeeling Inc. stands as a testament to Vinayak’s belief in solving real-world problems through innovation, boasting a stellar customer satisfaction rate and serving some of the biggest brands in Canada.

Vinayak moved to Canada as a 17-year-old international student; with a torn knee ligament; after missing a flight in Amsterdam; and with no friends or family in the entire country. It was only 3 months into him learning computer science, which he was studying at Georgian College (Barrie), that he secured the 2nd position all over Canada and achieved top 20 global ranking in Master the Mainframe World Coding Championship. This championship got him an opportunity to intern at the Royal Bank of Canada where he then accepted a full-time position. While making it big in the tech industry for about 5 years, Vinayak founded The Shared Secrets Lab (TSSL) – a distinctive research lab focusing on gift-giving psychology in the corporate gifts, promotional items, and branded merchandise domain. Soon after, he also founded GiftAFeeling Inc. which within the first year of existence was nominated “Startup Business of the Year”, while Vinayak was nominated “Young Entrepreneur of the Year” by CanadianSME National Business Awards.

Today, Vinayak is a TEDx Speaker, #1 Global Bestselling Author, Founder & CEO of GiftAFeeling Inc., and a highly recognized thought leader in the gifting industry around the world. He has been published in Exceptional People Magazine, Business Digest Magazine, has been seen on CNBC, Wall Street Select, USA Today, LA Business Podcast, and has made live TV appearances on Ticker News.

GiftAFeeling, now a leading Canadian multinational supplier of corporate gifts, promotional products, branded merchandise, and company swag, serves a global clientele in countries like Canada, USA, UK, Germany, Sweden, India, the Netherlands, and more. And The Shared Secrets Lab (TSSL), now a child company of GiftAFeeling, ranks as the world’s #1 R&D lab in gift-giving psychology.

GiftAFeeling takes pride in its consistent 98%+ customer satisfaction rating, earned from serving thousands of clients, including prominent names like Amazon, Honda, Manulife, CBC, Toronto Blue Jays, Toronto Maple Leafs, McDonalds, 8 of Canada’s top 10 universities including University of Toronto, SickKids, RBC, CIBC, KPMG, UHN (University Health Network), Hilton, Tim Tam, Telus, and many more.

Its distinction in the industry has also been recognized — GiftAFeeling was named one of Canada’s top 5 e-commerce businesses.

Image Courtesy: GiftAFeeling Inc.

Vinayak, starting as a 17-year-old international student with significant challenges, to becoming the CEO & Founder of GiftAFeeling Inc., your journey is nothing short of remarkable. Securing the 2nd position in Canada and achieving a top 20 global ranking in the Master the Mainframe World Coding Championship was a significant early achievement for you. How did this experience and the subsequent internship at the Royal Bank of Canada influence your career path and decision to enter the entrepreneurial world?

This championship got me an opportunity to interview and later intern at RBC where I later accepted a full-time position; followed by working at TD bank as an IT Innovation team lead. During all these jobs, I observed gift-giving being a big part of a company’s culture. Companies give gifts and promotional products to customers, employees, trade partners, etc. for many reasons including building trust, loyalty, attracting and retaining employees, rewards, and recognition on occasions like year-end parties, trade shows, and product launches. It was a tech conference where I noticed people tossing out gifts, promotional products, and giveaways on their way out either in garbage bins or in the trunk of their cars. The more I observed, the more I learned how big this problem was. According to a study by PPAI, 63% of gifts and promotional products are given away, 23% are thrown away, and less than 10% acquire the desired results.

More than $30B are wasted every year on unwanted gifts & giveaways. Moreover, promotional products and corporate gifts together make a 75-billion-dollar industry in Canada and USA. Moreover, studies show that more than 20 billion dollars were wasted by individuals in 2021 in unwanted gifts. This adds up to multiple billion dollars that these companies waste in poor gifts. Furthermore, research has proven that poor gifts can hurt relationships; thus, they’re still failing their purpose ultimately. This was my inspiration to find a solution to help both individuals and organizations find the perfect gifts – not only to help them build stronger relationships, but also to help save the environment by decreasing landfill. I worked with researchers, professors, SME’s, and founded The Shared Secrets Lab with a goal to simply educate individuals and organizations in gift-giving via blogs, publications, podcasts, etc,. And soon, we grew to become the #1 R&D lab in the world in gifts and giveaways research.

Finally, with the feedback from our audience, blog readers, and clients, I founded GiftAFeeling Inc., an e-commerce platform where both individuals and organizations can purchase research-based gifts and promotional giveaway products. Today, we have worked with over 10,000 customers in Canada, including individuals looking for gifts for their family and some of the biggest brands like Honda, Tim Tam, Toronto Blue Jays, CIBC, Telus, University of Toronto, etc., who have bought their promotional products and corporate gifts from us. With the gifting recommendations based on research performed in our Shared Secrets Lab, now a child-company of GiftAFeeling Inc., we have accomplished the impressive success rate of 98.44% customer satisfaction in the industry. Moreover, in the supply chain business line, GiftAFeeling Inc. was also a one-of-a-kind promotional products supplier company in Canada that fulfilled bulk promotional products orders within 24 hours!

Could you share the pivotal moments that propelled you from a computer science student to a leading entrepreneur in the gifting industry? 

After completely being submerged in the organized and structured world of technology working at RBC and TD banks, switching to entrepreneurship was a slow process. I always believed in getting my basics right, similar to how I strengthened my coding skills when I started; I needed a mindset shift to think like a businessperson. Thus, my first step was reading books like – “Marketing Management by Phillip Kotler”. “SPIN selling”, etc. And then I just put the books aside and observed the world around me – how things are being marketed on bill-boards, banners, online, and on TV. I also read case studies of brands, people who’ve done big in business, etc. After doing this for a few months, one thing that really stuck with me is “solving problems’ – entrepreneurship is not about becoming a millionaire, but it’s about how you make people’s lives easier by providing them a practical solution to their biggest problems. And I had done it before by solving problems using technology for the bank. The challenge, however, was what problem to solve. As I looked around, I constantly kept getting ideas of what I could turn into a problem-solving business. So, I picked up a pen and paper, and started to write about the biggest problems that I had faced in the past and if a third person could come and give a hand; and that third person would be the service-provider, the entrepreneur. It was after a couple of days that I figured that the biggest challenge I had faced was choosing a gift for a retiree colleague when I worked for RBC. And as I surfed the internet, I found two things – false-perceptions and research papers. There were many websites with no authenticity ranking on Google for keywords like – “Best gifts”, “Perfect gifts”, and “Top 10 gifts for mom, dad, brother, sister, friend, etc.”, and on the other hand, there were complex research papers from psychologists around the world. However, there wasn’t any interlink – nothing to bridge these two extremes, the theory and the trustable practicality. Also, as I was still working for the banks, I figured how big of a problem this was not only for individuals looking for gifts for friends and family, but also for SMBs as well as large corporations. So, we diversified our research from B2C to also do B2B research helping corporations find promotional products and corporate gifts that people would love and not toss out.

As a result, I decided to build this bridge, and started looking for researchers and psychologists in the industry who were conducting research on gift-giving. As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and everything switched online, I started to spare some time to research online and connect with some psychologists researching these topics. Soon, a few psychologists and I gained some momentum and got to the root cause of this question – “What to gift”. Our goals were the same – solving this problem and helping people, so we started off educating people on these through various means including Zoom conferences, writing blogs as well as utilizing all social media platforms. Although my other mates were fully focused on sharing just the content, I kept debating if we have really solved the problem. Eventually, this is what everyone else has been doing – educating through blogs and then ordering from Amazon. I had been through this before when buying a gift for a retiring colleague where there wasn’t any interface between the content consumption and the practical application. Thus, I decided to create a platform to bridge this gap between learning and buying and this was the beginning of “The Shared Secrets Lab (TSSL)”. Finally, with the feedback from our audience, blog readers, and clients, I founded GiftAFeeling Inc., an e-commerce platform where both individuals and organizations can purchase research-based gifts and promotional giveaway products.

GiftAFeeling prides itself on a 98%+ customer satisfaction rating and serving prominent clients worldwide. What key principles or strategies have you implemented in GiftAFeeling to achieve such high levels of customer satisfaction and recognition in the industry?

For companies dissatisfied with ordinary and vaguely branded promotional products and corporate gifts due to lack of expert advice, limited product selection, and poor imprinting options; GiftAFeeling brings unique branding solutions that help them stand out and build stronger relationships with their customers, trade partners, and employees. We do this in three steps:

  • Firstly, what sets us apart is our strategic partnership with premier retail brands such as Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, Puma, Hugo Boss, Skull Candy, Bugatti, Swiss Force, North Face, Yeti, Contigo, Bubba, Thermos, Otterbox, Carhartt, Stanley, Carhartt, Cutter & Buck, Arctic Zone, Columbia, Field & Co, FlexFit, Camelbck, and more. This association and our vast inventory access to most of the top-tier retail brands means we can brand nearly any product you can envision at an affordable price.
  • Secondly, we offer one of the biggest ranges of product options in the industry with more than 100,000+ products that our customers can pick and customize. Moreover, GiftAFeeling takes pride in offering some of the most unique imprinting methods in the world which provide subtle and innovatively branded products. Some of the imprinting methods we offer are Textured 3D Emblems, Metallic patches, 3D Subsurface Engraving, 3D PVC patches, Embroidered patches, Perma-TWILL & Texture-TWILL patches, Genuine as well as Faux Leather patches, Genuine as well as Faux Chenille patches, Domed Emblems, Beveled Emblems, embossing, debasing, laser engraving, sandblasting, laser etching, DIGIprint patches, UV DTF, VividPrint, Foil Stamping, Digital Print Inkjet, inFusion, HXD, HD360, Deep Etch with Colour Fills, Pad Printing, Screen Printing, Sublimation, DTG & DTF, Heat Appliqué, Twill, etc. These creative capabilities have made us one of the leading Canadian multinational suppliers of corporate gifts, promotional products, branded merchandise, and company swag serving a global clientele, including countries like Canada, USA, UK, Germany, Sweden, India, Netherlands, and more.
  • And lastly, our research lab, The Shared Secrets Lab which also ranks as the world’s #1 R&D lab in gift-giving psychology, focuses on corporate gifts, promotional items, and branded merchandise. With research performed by industry thought leaders and experts in psychology (SMEs), TSSL helps organizations find products that people will actually keep and not toss out. Thus, making sure that not only promotional campaigns get the desired visibility, impressions, and better brand recall, but also decrease the environmental footprint of these products along with saving organizations from spending a fortune!

Founding The Shared Secrets Lab (TSSL) before GiftAFeeling Inc. indicates a deep interest in gift-giving psychology. Can you share some groundbreaking insights or trends from TSSL’s research that have influenced the corporate gifts and promotional items industry?

Our most outstanding contribution to the industry and also what sets us apart, especially the promotional products and corporate gifts industry, is the practical application of all the research we have conducted in the gift-giving psychology. The Shared Secrets Lab (TSSL) consists of top psychologists, researchers, professors, thought leaders and subject matter experts (SME’s) from all around the globe doing deeper research in gift-giving psychology for both B2B and B2C domains. Moreover, we have worked with top Canadian institutions like University of Toronto, McMaster University, University of British Columbia, University of Western Ontario, etc. to perform studies and research not only on psychology, but also on certain important demographics like geographical segmentation, ethnicity, language, age, gender, and many more, to learn and apply how gift-giving ideas vary in different audience. All this research, studies, surveys, psychological evaluations, results, and data is managed in our massive database of customer attributes which are used to train our Machine Learning and AI models. These models are used by our sales team using a software on their desktop to recommend products to customers for their promotional giveaway or corporate gifts campaigns, based on their target audience’s location, gender, geographical area, etc. For instance, based on research, we can recommend what a 20–25-year-old, 60% female and 40% male audience living in Vancouver and working in the Pharmacy industry would like as a gift or giveaway so that they actually love the product and use it for a longer time.

In today’s day and age, merely giving away promotional giveaways or gifts isn’t enough. As the majority of brands, including local and small businesses, are leaving their promotional merchandise and gifts in their consumer’s offices and homes, it is becoming increasingly difficult for businesses to stay on top of their prospects’ minds. In fact, the number of impressions a given-away product or a corporate gift used to get has dropped significantly in the last few years. As a result, a majority of giveaway promotional products and gifts that are shared in Canada (worth 15 Billion dollars a year) and USA (worth 50 Billion dollars a year) are disliked and end up in landfill, completely failing their purpose. This is where our research helps individuals and organizations (our customers) not only increase the cost-efficiency of their promotional merchandise and corporate gifting campaigns, but also helps them build stronger and longer relationships with their target audience. Not only do we make sure that our products get the desired visibility, impressions, and better brand recall value, but also decrease the environmental footprint of promotional products along with saving organizations from spending a fortune on these.

Moreover, the AI software we have developed can be used by our competitors, trade partners, customers, etc. to get ideas and give recommendations. Today, these services are leveraged by more than 10,000 individuals and organizations in Canada. And this is also one of the attributes that makes The Shared Secrets Lab, child company of GiftAFeeling Inc. a global thought leader and the #1 global R&D company in gifts and promotional giveaways.

With GiftAFeeling being named one of Canada’s top 5 e-commerce businesses and your recognition as a thought leader in the gifting industry, what advice would you offer to aspiring entrepreneurs looking to make their mark in this domain? 

When it comes to e-commerce, merely having an e-commerce website is not enough in today’s day-and-age. Things like automation, unmatchable customer support, using machine learning and AI to solve bigger problems, and cyber security become the new norms. Figuring out a way to differentiate your business model while providing the best value to your customers in a way that’s easiest for them is what I would say should be an entrepreneur’s most important job. For instance, what makes our website different from the biggest industry leaders like 4imprint is our proprietary online product customization and personalization tool. While on our competitors’ websites, the virtual proof of a customized product is emailed manually by their graphics team after the order is placed, GiftAFeeling allows customers from around the globe to customize, personalize, and preview the final customized product, all before placing the order.

The personalization tool is adaptable enough to apply to any type of products. The use of this software makes us get orders for thousands of completely different shape, size, colour, material, and type of products all in one place.

Moreover, for bulk orders, the integration of our website through our automated supply chain process lets us provide real-time inventory to our customers, such that the out of stock products or variants will automatically be hidden on the website until they are back in stock. This is a major problem, especially in the promotional products industry as not all the suppliers keep inventory in large quantities of millions of different products. For us, our ecommerce platform has real-time integrations with our suppliers all across Canada, not only for keeping product inventory, but also for production times for different imprinting methods like screen-printing, sublimation, DTF, embroidery, patching, etc. This allows us to display the most-current production time for bulk custom orders on our website.

Another major advantage of being an e-commerce business VS the competitor’s brick-mortar store is 24X7 availability. Our customer support is active 24X7 with increased staff during the holiday season to manage the high demand; whereas, our competitors stop taking orders in mid-November, going to such steep extents that they sometimes close the stores down due to the high workload of ongoing orders.

A big portion of the promotional products and customized gifts market in the USA and Canada is shared by small local stores, a lot of which were on the verge of going out of business due to the COVID 19 pandemic. GiftAFeeling, a company that was bootstrapped during the pandemic, had partnered with these local vendors (and still continue to do so) to fulfill the orders, creating both business opportunities and employment. GiftAFeeling’s highly scalable e-commerce business plan covers the entire Canadian market in terms of customer geographical area, but also automates the backend supply chain with these local vendors all across Canada creating a win-win-win situation for all. A lot of these local businesses include family run businesses, sublimation and printing businesses, manufacturers of wooden products, etc,. During the pandemic, we saved 4 such family run businesses including a personalized wood carving store in London, ON, from going out of business.


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