Chances are you are one of the millions of people around the world ready to give a gift card this holiday season. Safer and more thoughtful than cash, gift cards have become a popular way to present the perfect gift. Did you know that a driving force in the $110 Billion gift card industry calls Pittsburgh home?
As a child living on welfare, Pittsburgh-based GiftCards.com CEO Jason Wolfe grew up with few gifts. Yet, what affected him the most was not the lack of toys in his attic, but the pain and embarrassment generated by his inability to give to others, he said.
One cold Christmas morning in 1978, Wolfe sat huddled under a blanket with his mom and siblings with no heat, electricity, or gifts to be had – the holidays looked bleak. But a knock at the door, the scuffling of footsteps on the porch, and a bounty of gifts left behind anonymously, brought a big smile to his face. Though his home life deteriorated further, and he spent the remainder of his childhood in the Milton Hershey School, Wolfe never forgot how wonderful that simple act of kindness made him feel. From that day forward, he has strived, through personal and professional endeavors, to make other people smile.
As founder and CEO of GiftCards.com, Wolfe heads up the highest-ranking and most-trafficked gift card website on the Internet. With the company slogan “make ‘em smile : )”, Wolfe is on a mission to bring about at least two smiles – one for the giver and one for the receiver – through the act of gifting.
Creating a Gifting Empire
A serial entrepreneur, Wolfe started, developed, sold, and even reacquired a variety of high-tech and/or dot-com companies in Pittsburgh. In his current and most meaningful project, GiftCards.com, he is attracting top talent from many corners of the world. In addition, he recently agreed to acquire the San Francisco-based tech startup, Giftly.
The Future of Gifting
Wolfe sees gifting going digital in the future, and is determined to lead the way.
- When homemakers were clipping coupons out of Sunday papers, he launched MyCoupons.com in 1995, releasing a wave of daily online discounts.
- When Madison Avenue was searching for a paid-for-performance model, he launched Direct Response Technologies in 2002, one of the first affiliate network tracking solutions.
- In 2003, when retailers were selling paper gift certificates, he envisioned a thriving gift card market, and bought the domain name ‘giftcards.com.’
Today, Wolfe has his eyes on the future of gifting. Surrounded by senior talent from AT&T, AOL, Viacom, and SkyMall, he is building a digital gifting powerhouse around online and mobile commerce.
Today, Wolfe employs 100 people in a company poised to multiply in size, thanks to the thriving gift card industry he helped build. One of his primary objectives in giving back is to create jobs in the city that is his home. The gift card industry accounts for $110 billion of consumer spending, and the general gifting market surpasses $500 billion. He is determined to position the city of steel as a major hub in the gifting map.
“I find it ironic that outsiders often see more value in Pittsburgh than the locals,” explains Wolfe. “We have a world class university like CMU, great quality of life, and a growing tech community valued by the likes of Google.” But he claims Pittsburgh locals suffer from a bit of an underdog complex.
An underdog himself, Wolfe grew up in the Milton Hershey School (an orphanage school for significantly poor children) and graduated high school with a small suitcase, and $100. After paying his way through college, he suffered another blow, literally. Laid in a hospital bed, Wolfe taught himself how to program PERL, and coded what became his first startup: MyCoupons.com.
Having overcome poor odds a number of times, Wolfe is convinced Pittsburgh can do the same, and is determined to lead the way.