How do we honor our loved ones from a distance? It’s a question we’ve all been asking amid the coronavirus crisis — and one Christina Geist has been answering for 5 years.
She’s the founder of Boombox, a small New York City firm that lets people celebrate others’ milestones — think birthdays, anniversaries or retirements — by providing an easy, online way for customers to gather letters, photos and more, which are then crafted into giftable boxes full of professionally designed cards.
The idea came to her back in 2014, when she designed what turned out to be the beta version of her company’s flagship product for her friend’s 40th birthday. Since there was no Boombox back then, the process was much tougher to navigate — but when she was done, “I felt like I was holding her life story in my hands.”
Geist, a branding and marketing expert with decades of experience, adds, “I knew there was something very different about this gift — and anything I had ever created before, really.”
In 2015, she launched a company based on her idea of making it easier to build such boxes. Today, she and her team of four senior staffers, two full-time employees and four contractors churn out scores of them for customers around the country. Boombox has gotten some high-profile attention over the years, too — it’s been featured on the Today Show (where her husband, Willie Geist, is a weekend anchor) and celebrated by the likes of Oprah, as well as scoring coverage in a host of blogs and trade magazines.
And despite the pandemic, business is — forgive the phrase — booming this year. In fact, though she declined to disclose exact figures, Geist reports that her company’s revenue has grown 79 percent in 2020.
Love From a Distance
This year’s sales numbers come in no small part to a new product — one Geist says she had no real intention of launching in 2020.
In addition to the physical boxes, customers now have the option of purchasing a digital version of the product, which lets recipients enjoy the letters and photographs shared by loved ones from the (socially distanced) comfort of their laptops or smartphones.
The difference this new offering makes is stark — Geist says sales were 182 percent higher in October 2020 than they were in October 2019. And the digital “booms,” as she calls them, comprised 13 percent of those orders. Not bad for something that, prior to this past April, existed solely as a perk one could tack on as part of a physical box purchase — “if you’re giving [a gift] to mom, but wanted to have a copy of the files for yourself,” she explains.
Geist’s intention had always been to create a digital version of the boxes, though she had conceived something more dynamic, involving video and audio components, as well as clever design elements. But with her existing physical product selling well, she had been reluctant to divert significant resources to developing the idea.
And then, a pandemic came along.
Like most, Geist first made sure her friends, family, colleagues and customers were doing OK — then she focused on how to adapt her business to the rapidly changing times. It wasn’t clear at the time whether her manufacturer — a “white glove” printing and fulfillment firm in northern New Jersey — would be deemed essential. And even if it were, production would likely have to be limited to ensure workers’ safety.
So within 3 weeks, she and her staff developed the standalone digital offering — by early April, the digital “booms” were live.
Geist says this is simply an extension of what Boombox has always done. “I always knew it had the potential to help people gather without gathering. That was always the intention of the product, even under normal circumstances and in happier times.”
A (Stressful) Seed That Grew
That was the spirit in which Geist created that fateful first box for her college friend Amy’s birthday, she says — using a jewelry box she got online to store the home-printed letters she collected from Amy’s family members and friends using her personal email in a “stressful and disorganized,” if rewarding, process.
By the time she was thinking of starting up, she had made 10 of them. Right around then, friend and former colleague Todd True approached her about pairing his graphic design skills with her writing abilities to form a business. Except it wasn’t the one Geist was envisioning — rather, he wanted to launch a small branding agency with her. She agreed, on the condition that he also partner with her on what would become Boombox.
The duo shook hands — in February 2015, they co-founded True Geist. By September of the same year, Boombox got off the ground, with Geist using her earnings from the branding agency as startup funding. They launched with a minimum viable product to test-drive the memory box concept and ensure that people would pay what she felt the gifts were worth.
Customers did — and still do. Today, people pay between $295 and $360 for them, depending on how involved the boxes are. “The product is really enjoying a beautiful moment right now where it’s helping people do what I always hoped it would: help them feel the depth and weight of their relationships in their hands.”
Geist is bullish about the future, and about the role that Boombox will play in people’s lives — both as the pandemic continues, and further down the road, when it’s safe to gather again. For now, she’s also grateful for what her company has already achieved. “To wake up every day and open my email inbox, or look at our Instagram feed, and see how people are caring for each other and lifting each other up with this little idea … that’s success.”