Interviews

Could WhatWeWant be the (sustainable) gift that keeps on giving?

6 min read

12 November 2019

Features Editor, Real Business

WhatWeWant could solve the 'unwanted Christmas presents problem' for good. We speak to co-founder Yiannis Faf who talks crowd gifting, sustainability and the future appeal of Black Friday.

As consumers grow increasingly concerned about the impact their living decisions are having on the planet, businesses are responding by offering them more sustainable products and services in return.

In an age of celebrity activists (Greta Thunberg) and protestors shutting down cities across the globe to raise climatic awareness, the severity of the situation begs the question, are any businesses actually trying to help?

WhatWeWant is one that’s doing more than engaging in CSR lip-service. Allowing consumers to contribute funds to buy loved ones gifts they actually want, they’re actively reducing the number of wasted and unwanted presents out there.

We speak to co-founder, Yiannis Faf to find out more.

Real Business, (RB): Where did the idea for WhatWeWant come from?

Yiannis Faf, (YF): The idea for the app itself came from my brother, Dimitris. When someone asked him what he was going to get a friend for Christmas he was stumped. He asked himself the classic questions we all ask ourselves; what do they want? Will they like it? Do they have it?

All the things that his friend needed were out of his price range. So he thought why waste time and money buying a smaller, less meaningful present when you could collaborate with others to fund a larger present the recipient actually wants?

Almost immediately, he decided an app would be the best way to offer a stress-free solution to gift-giving mishaps. The app itself would enable people to notify friends and family of their Christmas, birthday, or even wedding wishlist, and securely allow gift-givers to make contributions to the requested gift.

RB: What are the reason(s) behind society’s ‘gift-giving problem’ today?

YF: We wanted to tackle the communication blockage between gift-giver and recipient; this, we felt, was the key causal factor of unwanted presents.

Having surveyed over 2,000 UK consumers, we found that 53% of adults received unwanted presents in the last 12 months alone! We want to reduce the risk of people receiving unwanted gifts by offering a platform where people would feel comfortable openly asking for what they actually want.

Our research suggested that many gift-givers and recipients were losing sight of the joy that should be associated with presents. As a result, 65% of recipients feel guilty when receiving presents they don’t actually want, whilst 47% of gift-givers feel stressed at the thought of getting the wrong present for a loved one.

RB: Can you explain the ‘crowd gifting’ element of your business model?

YF: The term “crowd gifting” was coined by Dimitris when he came up with the business idea. It refers to a group of friends and family pooling their money together for the perfect gift. It is similar to crowdfunding, however, it’s a more personal approach.

We settled upon this model because we felt it was the most effective method of tackling the problem of unwanted gifts; it makes more sense to collaborate and buy one present someone really wants, rather than each individual buying a small present, which will go unwanted.

RB: What are the perks and pitfalls of working with your family?

YF: With a family team, there is an automatic support system, to see you through the tougher days, and it is especially gratifying when you begin to see the business taking shape.

Also, make sure you don’t dismiss family members because of their age. With WhatWeWant, it would have been easy to dismiss my parents input because they were less familiar with technology in general. However, their experience and insight have enabled us to develop a well-rounded product, suitable for all ages.

Without such diversity, we might not have considered the needs of the wider market. It is also rare to find a team where the youngest member gets as much input as the older and most experienced members.

RB: Do you feel that your business will help our collective sustainability agenda?

YF: Definitely! I think that by encouraging people to be more vocal about what they want, we will see fewer unwanted presents over the years to come.

One fact that shocked us all from our survey was that 1 in 5 people just throw gifts away without using them.

Decreasing the number of unwanted presents in the UK will inevitably reduce the amount of wasted packaging which, given the amount of plastic in wrapping paper alone, clearly has an environmental benefit.

Given that environmental issues are so high up on the social and political agenda, it’s impossible not to incorporate sustainability into your business strategy.

RB: What’s your opinion on Black Friday, is it a commercially sustainable venture for retailers today?

YF: As we see consumers becoming more thoughtful about their spending, particularly when it comes to gift-giving, we may see the number of participants weaken slightly.

I can’t imagine Black Friday will disappear overnight, although I think that over the next decade, we may see it diminish in importance, as consumers look to decrease their impulse present purchases in favour of larger, perhaps more meaningful and collaborative gifts.