Nancy Miller Gomez and Michelle Van Kempen are a powerhouse duo who have launched not once, but twice. Their television production company, Film Garden Entertainment, is behind a number of popular television shows, including WE’s “Platinum Weddings” and the Travel Channel’s “Taste of America.” Their latest enterprise, however, is not a TV show, but rather a video electronic greeting card Web site that has a slogan as cheeky as the product it provides: “e-cards that don’t suck.”
Unable to find meaningful messages or quality entertainment value in the generic e-cards at traditional sites, they decided to invent their own, Rattlebox.com, and began culling from Film Garden’s vault of raw footage. The result? Since Rattlebox launched in December 2007, users have sent over 100,000 irreverent and provocative e-cards, all free of charge.
What we learned from Nancy and Michelle: “Find a business partner who sparks you to think about things in new and different ways,” Michelle says.
Helping People Through Emotional Times
Nancy: “My father was an executive at Hallmark, so I grew up around the whole greeting card industry. He would say that the industry will always be successful because people need a way to communicate with each other. If you can help them communicate with each other effectively, especially around certain emotionally charged occasions and events, then you are providing a necessary service.”
How a Kernel Pops
Nancy: “This is a concept that we actually started talking about years and years ago. We recognized and have often joked that all the existing e-card sites contained content that we would never actually send. We happen to be really good at storytelling and creating content, and we run a company that has an extensive archive of footage. Why not apply that to our own site? We could create content that would appeal to people who wouldn’t be caught dead using a traditional e-card site. The daunting thing for us in launching was facing that world of programming and launching an actual site, without having any idea how to go about it. But then we met someone who had access to some programming, which was always the missing piece. That became the ‘a-ha moment’ where we suddenly felt enabled. If we put our minds together and did the research and gathered the right team of programmers to work with us, we could do this. We built a test site, which was very favorably received, and we decided to launch Rattlebox.”
Homespun Market Research
Nancy: “We did market research, but I wouldn’t say we did it formally. We have a lot of twenty-somethings who work for our production company, and we definitely employed them. We are very research-based when it comes to studying how people use the site so that we can continue to deliver content that works for them.”
Spreading the Word: Some Viruses Are Good
Nancy: “Our business is inherently viral. When people come to the site and send a card to their friends, it sends their friends back in. We are also working on search engine optimization, trying to get the highest position possible, in addition to Web advertising and public relations. We still consider it a work in progress.”
Beating the Competition at Their Own Game
Nancy: “We provide certain functionality that you don’t get at some of the other sites. You can embed our cards on Facebook and MySpace and blogs. You can instant message them. Businesses can go in and customize the cards for their own advertising. If you were having a sample sale, you could go in and use the clips, create a card, and send it out directly, or you could contact us and we would create one for you.”
Nancy: “We sought angel investors and got a round of angel funding for $500,000. We were lucky because, being in the TV business, we have trusted advisors who are doing this kind of crossover and we could learn from their experience. Rattlebox is currently focused on building traffic and will transition to an ad-supported model in Q3.”
Partnership: Strength in Difference
Michelle: “People ask me how we’ve done it for 15 years. Years and years ago I was a classical musician and people say, ‘Of course you are a creative person because you were a musician.’ Well no, I was a very good performer. I would not be a good composer. It’s a different side of the brain. What a partnership with Nancy provides for someone like me is she makes me think about things in a different way than I normally would; she shows me the big picture. On the other hand, it helps someone like Nancy, who thinks creatively and strategically, to be working with someone like me, as I’m more of an executor. I look at the details, see what the problems might be.”
Strength in Similarity
Nancy: “It’s very much like a marriage—when you find the match that works, it works. It would be impossible to work together if creatively we weren’t essentially on the same page. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have disagreements, because sometimes we do, but we are very adept at being able to talk through those and ultimately put our loyalty toward the task as opposed to letting our egos get in the way.”
Nancy: “We didn’t go into either of our businesses purely because of money. They are both things that are enjoyable, creative, and interesting for us. It might be a more female thing to choose a business that innately interests you.”
The Female Animal
Nancy: “Honestly, I think it would be difficult to have this kind of partnership with a man. It’s a different animal. To be fair, I have to ask, do I think I would be able to even find another woman that I could work with like Nancy? I’m not sure. I think women tend to have different working styles than men. I will say that as diplomatically as I can [laughs]. Michelle knows she can take off any time she has to to take care of her family, and she knows I’m going to do that as well and there’s no judgment and there are no questions.”
Balancing Home and Office
Nancy: “We joke that one is our day job and the other is our midnight to 6 a.m. job. How do we do it? We’re very, very tired. And we’re very, very committed to family first and foremost. That’s a wonderful thing about working with another woman who understands that we are working to provide for our families, not the other way around.”
This Featured Lady was profiled by Noa Jones, a writer based in New York.