Who knew that a gift card from Zara would spark a business plan?
Shannon Delany certainly didn’t, nor did she ever suspect she’d be working in the high-tech industry, either in her native Bay Area or in Israel, where she now lives. But life sometimes takes some funny turns you don’t expect.
Delany, 24, grew up between her parents’ homes in Richmond and Oakland, almost completely disconnected from her Jewish roots (her father is not Jewish). By the time high school came around she realized she wanted to know more, and asked her parents to send her to Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco. They acquiesced.
“My name stood out for sure,” she said, “but what’s really great is that everyone there is very diverse. You don’t feel you have to fit into one standard of what being Jewish is, people come from a lot of different backgrounds.”
After graduating in 2007, Delany attended the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. But after a few months, she realized Southern California was not for her, and returned to San Francisco to complete her degree.
Shortly before finishing her two-year degree, she went on a Birthright Israel trip.
“I fell in love with the country and the people,” she said. Of “the people” she fell in love with, there was one in particular: a soldier who served as a security escort for her trip. She came back from the trip reluctantly, with the knowledge that she’d be returning to Israel as soon as she could.
She got a job doing marketing for TownHog, a group-discount website, and kept up a long-distance relationship with her Israeli boyfriend. After a second, several-months-long stint in Israel, Delany decided to make aliyah in 2010. Since she didn’t yet have a bachelor’s degree, she applied to the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC), which has a B.A. program in English.
After obtaining her degree, Delany stayed to participate in the IDC’s Zell Entrepreneurship Program, which is typically for students in their last year of studies and allows participants to oversee a project from concept to launch. Numerous successful startups have come out of the program and have been sold to large companies like eBay, Delany said.
She teamed up with two female classmates and they went to a local mall to do research for a project. While there, Delany thought about that pesky gift card that she was having such a hard time getting rid of.
“Every time I went to a mall, I would see if there’s something I wanted at Zara, to try to use this gift card,” she said. “It had $75 on it, and I was carrying it with me all the time, thinking ‘Why am I stuck with this card when there are things at another store I want?’ And I started to brainstorm a solution.”
The solution she and her classmates came up with is Recardo (www.recardo.me), launched last September.
Recardo allows people to sell their unused and unwanted gift cards with fashion retailers — at a slight discount — to others for cash, with Recardo taking a small cut of the sale.
The startup is focusing on the U.S. market, since that’s where the majority of gift cards are sold, and starting only with fashion since “it’s easier for messaging and we can go after a specific crowd,” Delany said. In addition, she said, “The value of gift cards tends to be much higher [in fashion], which is good for us in terms of earning a commission. This wouldn’t work with a $10 gift card from Target.”
Recardo takes a 15 percent cut, which is the industry standard, according to Delany.
The team used Google Ads to target potential sellers, and amassed 700 fairly quickly. (While Recardo hadn’t opened for sellers at the time of this interview, it has since done so.)
Recardo allows consumers to digitize a gift card by taking a photo of it, so it can be transferred to a buyer immediately and used right away. The entire transaction can take place right in the store, with the discount showing up on the user’s phone.
Retailers have an incentive to put their stamp of approval on such sales, since the state has the right to claim unused gift cards. Also, once in the store shoppers will often spend more than the amount on the card.
Eventually, Recardo will move beyond fashion to include more retailers. While there is some competition in this arena, Delany is hopeful that her nascent, women-led enterprise will do well.
Delany said living in Israel has changed her for the better, professionally.
“I’m a naturally more reserved person, but being here has given me the skills to be more extroverted,” she said. “Israelis are very loud and that’s influenced me in business and entrepreneurship. It gave me a leg up in way that wouldn’t have happened if I had stayed in the Bay Area.”