Interview with Alex Farrell, CEO and founder of Gift Wink

Read how Alex Farrell was inspired to launch Gift Wink after forgetting her niece’s birthday! And how a chance meeting with Justine Roberts led to Gift Wink being the first business backed by Mumsnet.

What’s your career background?

In 2000 I launched a website called The IT Job Board (now Dice) and grew it to become the largest tech careers site in Europe, with offices in London, Amsterdam and Frankfurt.

I sold the company in 2013 to Dice Inc, a NYSE listed company, and successfully exited in 2014. It was an amazing experience to take a business from start-up all the way through to a successful trade sale.

Before that I was in media sales, which I really enjoyed. Having a sales background has really helped me in running a business, as it’s meant I have always been able to hustle!

Did it change after becoming a mother?

There were certainly some changes for me. I had to be a bit more organised around leaving on time on certain days and I had much less flexibility for evening networking or social events.

I still did these things, but it was planned in advance with less spontaneity. I still traveled to our European offices but again it was far more organised. A positive change was that I had much greater empathy for working parents and I realised that I could achieve a huge amount by being more focused and more organised.

What inspired you to start Gift Wink?

My niece! She’s the most gorgeous, funny girl and every year I would forget her birthday, and I would never know what to buy her. There’s no excuse either – she’s my identical twin sister’s daughter so it’s unforgivable if I get that one wrong!

How does it work?

Gift Wink is so simple, which is why it works.  The site is packed full of gorgeous gift inspiration for all the children in your lives, which we hand curate to ensure its loved by children and adults alike.

Once signed up, you enter birthdays into a personalised calendar.  Gift Wink sends a reminder two weeks before each birthday with a list of gift suggestions to click and buy.

How did you go from idea to business?

I had it in my head as an idea for a few years first. When it became something I couldn’t sit on any longer, I had a go at playing with it in my spare time. I sketched out  a prototype and paid some freelancers to build a basic model.

I quickly realised I couldn’t do it justice as a hobby, so I waited until I had completed the sale of my last business, and then dedicated myself to it full-time (after a few months off obviously!).

Why is work-life balance so important to Gift Wink, and how do you practice it?

All women would love to have it all, but it’s just not possible without some give somewhere.  We actively encourage flexible working and all of our team have different working patterns, from part-time, to home working and hours that fit around children – and not everyone has children.  Sometimes it’s just about having a working life that works for you as an individual.

Startups are hard work, so that flexibility does come with a trust factor – everyone working with us understands that sometimes there are times that we have to drop it all to meet a deadline.  Its definitely a give and take situation.

You’re the first company to be backed by Mumsnet. How did that happen and what does it involve?

I met Justine Roberts at a conference and we hit it off straight away.  She was in the process of setting up a job board on Mumsnet, so with my background I was able to give her the benefit of my wisdom (I think!).

She loved the idea of Gift Wink and we were looking for backers.  Mumsnet is an obvious choice for us as the UK’s largest website for parents.  They have been instrumental in helping us launch, from some initial user testing with over 200 of their members, to our recent involvement in Blogfest where we had a stand and launched our new Christmas Gift Guide.

You already have over 10,000 registered users. How do you find users and encourage them to sign up?

Our initial focus has been to use Facebook as a key acquisition channel.  Our motto is to try and test, and test, and test again. We spend a lot of time looking at what drives people to engage with our brand, and to sign up.

Our users love competitions and we kicked off the campaign with a big toy box giveaway.  We gave away a toy a day for 30 days and had an amazing response.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in launching Gift Wink?

For me, the biggest challenge has been running a brand new businesses from scratch. It’s hard at first. The business plan is never completely clear from day one, and that feels uncomfortable. It feels like you should know all the answers but that’s absolutely not how new businesses ever work.

There is always going to be a year or two of discovery first, and that is really tough to cope with. Accepting that it’s ok to not know exactly how the business is going to be successful at the start was a lesson I had to learn quickly.

And your proudest moment to date?

Building a new team of amazing, talented and lovely people is always the best bit for me.

Also, seeing the website go live and hearing incredibly complimentary feedback from our users. It makes my day every time a customer says they love the site.

Being the first business that Mumsnet have backed was pretty cool too.

Where would you like to see Gift Wink in five years’ time?

I would like to see Gift Wink really owning the gifting space for gift inspiration but also for enabling easier social connections for gifting. I think we will also have a global presence within that time.

What are you top three pieces of advice for other aspiring female entrepreneurs?

  1. Believe in yourself – you will get there.
  2. It’s all about the data – finance, metrics and data are what drives a business forward
  3. Have fun – otherwise what’s the point!

You can find out more about Gift Wink on their website.