The act of giving thanks acknowledges the importance of a relationship. In business, this shows that two associates have a bond that’s stronger than what their dealings dictate. By strengthening that bond, the associates become trusted colleagues, preferred contacts, repeat customers, or employees who feel loyal to the company.
Co-founder and CEO of Thnks Brendan Kamm views these little gestures of appreciation as the means to better one’s network. With a mantra of “Growing Business with Gratitude,” Thnks may be understood as a company that specializes in recognizing the hard work or great character of others through little presents.
Brendan’s story with Thnks began when he was a media planner in the world of advertising. A few years into that job, he got into the niche area of planning known as “media barter,” in which companies trade distressed assets for advertising time. He was in a company that was a startup within a larger framework. In 2006, as the Great Recession (2007–2009) was about to grip the country, business was taking off for the startup for which Brendan worked.
“So I got to be part of this thing where, you know, seven years later, I was running all sales and customer success for this company,” Brendan recalls. The company had grown massively to 300 employees and boasted seven international offices. His meteoric success with this company turned something on in his psyche.
“I thought, ‘Wow! That was really fun. I want to do that again.”
After leaving the media planning company, Brendan got work at another firm where he supervised 40 employees in combined sales and customer success teams. Because his job revolved around keeping customers happy, Brendan liked to urge his employees to go the extra mile. He explains, “This was a thing I always struggled with, where I was like, ‘Hey guys! Can you just stop by that client’s office and drop off some coffee?’ Or, you know, send them something to say, ‘Thank You?’”
Brendan knew that his employees meant well, but that there was always some other job responsibility that kept them from reaching out with the little token gestures that keep a sales relationship strong.
About that time, Brendan met with Co-founder and Executive Chairman Larry Rubin of Thnks—who at the time was a co-worker in this company. He discussed with Rubin what he was going to send to a customer. Brendan and this client had just closed a deal and Brendan just wanted to say, “Thank you!” He didn’t want to send her a company swag item, as that felt disingenuous. Troubleshooting the issue, Rubin proposed that Brendan send something from his phone. Brendan considered a gift card, but decided against it as that was too impersonal. Rubin, a former mergers and acquisitions attorney, pointed out that gift cards themselves might get one in trouble with their job, as they may constitute a violation of industry regulations against accepting gifts.
Both men concluded that sending coffee mugs with their company logo was the wrong move. However, sending someone a cup of coffee itself might be just the right gesture to brighten someone’s day.
“I’d much rather send someone a cup of coffee because they could use the caffeine boost—or an Uber ride because it’s raining out,” Brendan says.
Reflecting on their conversation about how an app could put micro-acts of generosity into someone’s hands, Rubin circled back with Brendan a few months later to revisit their discussion.
Brendan explains, “He basically came to me and said, ‘Look, I think this is a good idea. I’ll put in the money—if you want to come do this with me—and you run the day-to-day.”
Thnks officially launched in 2016, and was backed by venture capital firm Loeb Enterprises. Part of what was appealing to Brendan was the opportunity to correct the culture of “transactional relationships” both within and outside of the office due to many employees having too much on their plate. “How do you go back to being personal?” Brendan asks rhetorically. “Business is really about building personal relationships at the end of the day. And so, it’s a way to invest in personal relationships… You want to make these sort of infrequent investments—not just the bottle of scotch because we close the deal. It’s this continual investment in our relationship to grow stronger and stronger. And that’s how business should be done.”
The core product of Thnks is all about giving a gesture of appreciation as a way to send a message of thanks. In creating this platform, the Thnks tech team was able to turn the unstructured, flat model of giving a gift into a structured, 3-D model of data. This works not only to keep givers and recipients of potential items on the right side of compliance requirements for their industry, it also gives a richly detailed story about the transaction. Data points such as the choice of a Thnks, how quickly one received and used the item, or how the Thnks impacts the recipient are all details that the Thnks platform can quantify to produce “relationship scores” at individual or enterprise levels.
Strong data models are the foundation of the Thnks house, and the company is very data-driven whenever decisions are made. This makes for a rapid delivery of a very functional product, and creates greater transparency for the team. A large portion of the time spent by those on the technology side of Thnks is in analysis—going over key performance indicators. Of course, this improves software development velocity and betters the collaborations between team members.
Thnks is actually more of a technology consumer than producer, with its technology team not writing databases or so much building from scratch as they are plugging different software pieces into a larger puzzle. Such tools include the Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) sentiment analysis tool to gauge the communication between parties using the platform.
Since Thnks is a business based on personability, Brendan wanted Thnks to be headquartered in a space that exudes hospitality and gratitude. In 2020, Thnks relocated from New York City to Williamson County, and per the Nashville Business Journal, “pledged to create 50 jobs over three years.”
Brendan says, “The general culture here was one of the biggest reasons to move here….” He adds, “People are more open to the idea of a sort of relationship-building here.” Some new clients wish to operate on a “bank and ask” policy—where they immediately demand reciprocity through engagement with other businesses. However, Brendan tells his clients that they can get to the ask organically—and without a business exchange feeling like a bribe!
As a business concept, Thnks proved popular within its first few years of operation. But now with the headquarters based in Williamson County, Brendan has seen Thnks grow to reach its true potential. Presently, the company has 30 employees, is surpassing its revenue growth of 3x year over year, and is nearing the mile marker of one million Thnks sent. Brendan credits Nashville’s culture of friendliness with helping Thnks get the word out. The company is currently looking at a robust road map to roll out enterprise features based on customer requests, including better incorporation of Thnks data into client customer relationship management (CRM) systems.