MORE THAN A decade after Evite launched its simple RSVP-based platform, a new generation of companies is rethinking the digital invite. Its goal: Make e-cards as engaging as the events they promote. Here, a look at four startups rocking the $7.5 billion greeting-card industry.
Pitch Elegant invites for high-end parties
Ideal events Weddings, bar mitzvahs
Audience 1.5 million unique visitors per month; most are in their thirties
Best perks Custom fonts; e-envelopes (with liners); a "wording assistant" feature that suggests both formal and informal phrasing
Bottom line Users pay 5¢ per "stamp" to send sponsor-free cards, because "nobody wants to see ads next to their wedding invitation," says CEO and cofounder Alexa Hirschfeld, who adds that her site is now profitable.
Pitch Crowdsourced creative designs
Ideal events Bridal showers, child birthdays
Audience 340,000 unique visitors per month; most are postcollegiate women
Best perks New cards dreamed up daily in the Pingg Studio (Martha Stewart is one of the site's 1,000-plus designers); seamless sharing on Facebook and Twitter; the option to send print versions for $2.50 a pop plus postage
Bottom line Although most Pingg users send free ad-supported cards, roughly 20% pay $10 per month for ad-free cards with additional benefits. "We'll be cash positive by the end of the year," says CEO Lorien Gabel.
Pitch Humorous cards for any occasion
Ideal events Bachelor/bachelorette parties, random weekend activities
Audience 1.6 million unique visitors per month; most are young urban professionals
Best perks A smartphone app and a steady stream of quirky topical cards — chiefly from users, who submit some 500 new ideas every day
Bottom line Ads from HBO, Ford, and others keep all cards free; branded T-shirts, mugs, and posters add even more revenue. "We're trying to become a topical comedy destination," says CEO Duncan Mitchell.
Pitch Start-to-finish party planning
Ideal events Holiday parties, adult birthdays
Audience More than a million unique visitors per month; most are thirtysomething moms
Best perks Venue recommendations; party-activity suggestions; a smartphone app; an algorithm that suggests ideal event dates
Bottom line Basic cards can be sent free, but premium memberships (starting at $4.99 per month) bring bonus features.
A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2011 issue of Fast Company magazine.