People have been giving each other gifts since time immemorial. Before the advent of civilization, cavemen gave gifts to express affection and appreciation for relatives or friends, and tribal leaders often appreciated dutiful service by giving gifts. However, as the human species has evolved, the art of gift giving has become so common that it is rapidly losing value.
To draw attention to the meaning of giving, National Philanthropy Day is recognized annually in mid-November, highlighting the generous contributions that make the world a better place. Institutions such as Learning to Give and other platforms have established programs to help young people develop generosity and agency throughout the year. They hope to create a framework to connect with the important needs of communities and empower them to take action to give for the common good.
The simple art of giving, often demonstrated during the holiday season, offers an opportunity to be mindful in the giving process. Witnessing more creative, thoughtful practice by adults can set an example for young people to learn.
According to Rob Patterson, co-founder of LoveBook, an online platform that allows people to express their love for loved ones in a creative and unique way, it’s all about thoughtfulness. “The two ingredients that make a gift memorable are thoughtfulness and personalization,” he says. “These two ingredients turn gifts from ordinary gifts into lasting memories. Love is nothing if it’s not expressed, and the best gifts are those that say exactly what you want to say.”
The platform allows users to create custom content, print it and bind it into a hard or soft cover book. Once created, the service sends the book as a gift to the designated recipient. LoveBook was founded by four friends, Kevin Zalewski, Rob Patterson, John Baranowski and Chris Sonjeow. In the 14 years since its founding, the company’s hyper-personalized approach has played a role in redefining gift-giving choices.
I sat down with one of the co-founders, Kevin Zalewski, as he shared with me why personalization is so important in relationships and how it is key to his company’s success.
Rod Berger: I am intrigued by what you all are doing with LoveBook and curious how LoveBook came about.
Kevin Zalewski: It’s an interesting story. One of our co-founders, Rob Patterson, was having dinner with his wife one day many years ago, and his wife asked him the dreaded question, Why do you love me?
For men, this is not an easy question to answer on the spot. So Rob didn’t have a quick answer for her at the time. However, he decided to answer that question as nicely as possible. He sketched a small notebook and wrote everything he liked about his wife. It became her all-time favorite gift, so he kept making it for her over the years.
Rob and I were both mechanical engineers and colleagues at the time, so he shared the idea with me. I didn’t immediately understand the concept, but he convinced me of the importance of expressing love as beautifully and sincerely as possible.
One thing was clear to me; men often struggle with knowing what their other half wants, and Rob seemed to have hit the jackpot with his wife with these gifts he gave. So I thought why not? We started it as a side gig, then we got validation from gift advisors and others, and it just took off.
recovery: It’s interesting when an idea comes from a real experience. What has the journey been like for LoveBook since its inception and how did the idea come about?
Zalewski: The four of us embarked on a journey to create this personalized experience for people, and we didn’t know where it would end. Each of us brought unique skills from product design, graphic design, marketing, information technology (IT) and software development.
Not long after we started doing this as a side gig, we got invited on the Today Show, which cemented everything. I remember it was Mother’s Day in 2010, and the Today show was our first press, so that was huge. After that things just took off and we knew we had to go full time.
recovery: Stories are the oldest form of communication and an important part of your business that gives people a platform to express themselves and tell their unique stories. How have you developed this concept over the years? And have you seen a change in your customers that reflects the strength of your offering?
Zalewski: Our customers have helped develop our product, content, and overall bookmaking experience. Initially, the LoveBook platform was aimed at letting people list all the reasons why they love someone. Then it evolved into people telling their love stories, going through their pasts and sharing little things in their lives and things they want to do together.
Our users have moved from making stick figures to illustrating their LoveBook to what we have now, avatars. People can imagine themselves and their loved ones and use it to illustrate the books, so it’s super personal and creative. We call them “LoveMojis”, which can be made according to customer’s requirements.
All of these changes have increased our customer base as we now attract more people with different tastes for what they want in the perfect gift.
Customers can build their books using our technology, insert characters, pose the characters and design the pages. We developed everything in-house and kept everything under control from design elements to the technology and user experience, so that’s great.
recovery: How much more of a difference would you make in the gift industry and family relationships with this hyper-personalized tool? How have people generally reacted?
Zalewski: People absolutely love our personalized approach to gift giving. Just reading our testimonials will tell you that we are making a huge difference in people’s lives with these personalized products. It works for any kind of relationship and is as thoughtful as thoughtful can be.
You can make the books as simple as you like using our wizard approach or you can create pages from scratch. Anyway, it looks like you put a lot of effort, thought, and attention into it, so the gifts always touch people differently.
The ability to customize and personalize every aspect of the product has been a breakthrough. It’s not just any standard story – it’s your story. It goes beyond just adding your name to the product.
When we started, the personalization industry at the time was just about adding your name to products and building whatever you wanted. We wanted to take personalization a step further, so we introduced our character engine. This allowed people to place themselves on the products and let people type whatever they wanted into the story.
It gave us a huge advantage early on in the personalization market. It’s like buying a card to look for something that fits your relationship, but with LoveBook we enable you to build a specific product to your experience and your love for the one who receives it.
I love the age old question of what is love. Only you can answer that for yourself and your relationship. Our product makes that exploration possible. Besides receiving a gift, it also goes through the process of exploring your relationship and thinking about things you would like to do with the person you love. Going through that process is such a rewarding experience that it is a gift to the giver and the receiver.
recovery: It sounds like it is much more than a business in terms of motivation for your business.
Zalewski: It is. We feel incredibly lucky to be involved with a company with such a great mission. And to be involved in impacting the lives of millions of people in a way most products can’t. Being a part of forming relationships and helping people express love is one of the most fulfilling things. We consider it a social service in some ways and we are constantly evolving to meet society’s relationship needs.
recovery: Changed working with others and forming a company your take on the confluence of an idea merging with business? What impact has this connection had on your overall outlook on life?”
Zalewski: It’s about starting with an idea, executing and pivoting to stay relevant. Ultimately, we are able to work together as a team while building on our individual strengths. It is very satisfying to be part of each other’s life stories and to share special moments with each other and our customers.
Giving or the act of philanthropy can exist as an innate inner drive to make a difference in the world around us. However, it is also an attribute that can be promoted and emulated based on observed behavior.
Kevin Zalewski and his team at LoveBook leverage the unique and creative aspects of their platform to perpetuate the idea of giving through personalized and lasting expression. Ultimately, indelible life stories elevate the concept of gift-giving beyond the ephemeral to higher appreciation, creating an environment that facilitates learning for all.
Interviews have been edited and shortened for clarity.