October 1, 2003
Music To Her Ears
Sometime in February 2000, Lamonica Thomas, 48, woke her husband to tell him about her unusual dream. “It might sound corny, but this idea came to me in the middle of the night and it would not leave me alone,” says Thomas. The very next day, she went to work on her dream. Her vision gave birth to DVGreets.com (www.DVgreets.com), a home-based Internet operation that Thomas, the CEO, launched in 2002. The company uses popular music artists to create personalized, occasion-specific digital video greeting cards that consumers can send as an e-mail via clip stream technology. “We’re all connected through music,” says Thomas, a former national program director for ABC Radio Networks. “I thought it would be great to fuse the power of music with greeting cards.”
Getting the new venture off the ground wasn’t easy. Thomas spent two years trying to convince investors in Dallas near her home in Richardson, Texas, that her unconventional dream was worth something in the $7.5 billion greeting card marketplace. “Dallas is really about biotech, oil, and gas,” says Thomas. “It doesn’t embrace entertainment technology.”
It wasn’t just the business environment in Dallas that Thomas had to worry about — it was also the location of her business: the Internet. The once white-hot landscape of overnight ventures now lay smoldering and had investors shaking their heads, saying no to Thomas over and over again. Thomas was turned down when she applied for a small business loan because she had no collateral. She spent an additional year researching the greeting card industry and modifying her business plan. After turning to family and friends, Thomas poured $30,000 into the company. Ten months later, toward the end of 2001, an angel investor answered Thomas’ prayers (he gave her $700,000). Thomas also received artistic support from friend and jazz saxophonist, Kirk Whalum. He contributed his time as the company went through a series of prototypes for the cards.
During April 2002, Thomas began to build the company’s infrastructure, apply for a patent, meet the costs of video production, create a Website through a Java platform, and pay advance fees for music artists. “It was exciting, yet scary. The money went in about six months,” she says.
The company made it online just in time for the 2002 Christmas holiday season. Within the first two weeks, DVgreets.com saw over a half-million hits on its Website. Between December and Valentine’s Day, users bought approximately 2,000 greeting cards. The electronic messages are comparable in price to paper cards. They feature recording artists such as Jonathan Butler, Michael McDonald, and Nancy Wilson. Other artists on the company’s roster include Roberta Flack, Dave Koz, and George Duke. DVgreets has also just signed on to market the “Webisodes” of Doug Banks’ cartoon show, The Adventures of the Urban Flava Creator. Thomas projects that her company will reach the break-even point by the end of 2003.
“The No. 1 Internet activity for African Americans is sending and receiving e-mail,” Thomas asserts. “The most simplistic act that a person can do