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E-Commerce Start-Up Targets Execs With Corporate E-Gifts Offer

Allyson Campa saw the money that could be made selling corporate gifts through the Internet when, as general manager at retail technology firm MySoftware Co., she sought a going-away present for a departing group product manager.

“Here I am tracking down his roommate to ask, 'Do you have a barbecue?' ” she said. “And then I'm at the shopping center looking around for what to give. And you know, I had a lot of things to do with my time, and that's not how I wanted to spend it.”

So Campa struck out on her own, founding BravoGifts.com Inc., an online gift retailer that went live this week. Now a hi-tech CEO, Campa hopes business gift-buyers will visit www.bravogifts.com to order their sports tickets, pen sets and desk toys. And she thinks her San Francisco firm has advantages over other e-commerce startups that will make it profitable by 2001.

Perhaps BravoGifts' biggest edge is that its margins seem likely to be more robust than the narrow (or nonexistent) ones experienced by most e-commerce sites. Unlike virtual stores that must appeal to consumers, BravoGifts has little pressure to bring down product costs — the firm offers goods to busy executives who care more about efficiency and hassle-free purchasing than how much they'll be paying.

And business customers spend a lot of time right where BravoGifts wants them — in front of their computers. Campa expects prospective buyers to take advantage of the immediacy offered by the Net, giving the company an advantage over the many catalogs hawking corporate trinkets.

Prospective business buyers also are relatively easy to hit with promotions. In late July, BravoGifts tested its first mailing, a drop of 50,000 postcards and 20,000 e-mails that went to corporate gift-givers and other executives — people with titles such as sales manager, marketing manager, event planner and human resources manager. Results of the campaign were not available at press time.

BravoGifts rented prospect lists from Business Week, the Wall Street Journal, HR Professional and others. E-mail addresses came from Bigfoot, PC World Online, Cataloglink and the Industry Standard.

The firm has more latitude on privacy issues than marketers trying to reach consumers, said Al Campa, BravoGifts' executive vice president of marketing and business development. Frequently the company targets people whose job specifically includes gift-buying.

“They're less concerned with privacy issues than somebody who would be getting phone calls at dinnertime,” said Campa, who is Allyson's husband.

BravoGifts has turned to unconventional promotions as well. Last week the company hired an independent entrepreneur to stuff 11,000 fliers in the mail boxes of San Francisco realtors. Real estate agents are frequent gift-givers, particularly in the Bay Area where property values are high. BravoGifts plans outdoor and drive-time radio campaigns in major markets after Labor Day.

The company closed its first round of funding in late July, bringing in $8 million from Menlo Ventures and Doll Capital, both of Menlo Park, CA.

BravoGifts buys at wholesale from several manufacturers and runs a warehouse where it stores inventory, except for perishable items like food and flowers. For tickets to live performances and sporting events, the company sells gift certificates that can be redeemed when recipients' want.

The site includes gift tips on an industry-by-industry basis, as well as advice for certain countries. The information is designed to help customers avoid breaches of protocol or cultural pitfalls, said CEO Campa.

“We ran into that situation ourselves,” she said, noting BravoGifts narrowly avoided a serious cultural gaffe when it canceled a shipment of clocks meant as gifts to potential investors in China. Clocks often are associated with death in China.

BravoGifts plans to open corporate accounts that are more easily tracked than purchases made by individuals. Businesses will be able to research, for example, previous gifts they've given in years or months past. BravoGifts expects the accounts to help solve problems with individuals weary of putting business charges on personal credit cards.

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