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Mystery Gift Machine wants to solve the group gifting problem

Posted by Scott Kirsner  July 18, 2012 09:24 AM

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Ever try to coordinate a group of people to buy a single gift for a friend or family member? It's almost always an enormous pain.

Adam Stober, right, wants to change that. His new startup, Mystery Gift Machine, aims to make it easier to organize group gifting through the magic of Internet technology. You tell the web site who the recipient is, what the occasion is, and how much you'd like each person to contribute. Then you share the gift campaign with others, and they can choose to chip in (or not). Everyone suggests their own idea for a gift they think would be a hit with the recipient, and the web site makes the final decision. (Stober says, somewhat mysteriously, that humans at the company the pick now — but he's hoping eventually it'll be automated.) Neither the givers nor the recipient know what gift has been selected until it arrives.

"We've done massages and concert tickets and nice dinners already," says Stober. "We just gave someone a remote-controlled quadcopter and he was thrilled. If we ship a gift that the recipient doesn't like, they can easily return it."

The site also offers to send you a daily birthday report by e-mail, filling you in on today's birthdays so that you can post a Facebook message, and alerting you to upcoming birthdays in time to send a group gift via Mystery Gift Machine.

Stober says he has been working on the project for about ten months; he left his full-time gig at Fiksu, a Boston startup that helps its clients promote their mobile apps, back in May.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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