By Larua Bernheim | The Gainesville Sun
Kristi Taylor is awfully humble for a mother of three who is taking her tech startup company to a global audience.
"I'm a nobody, truthfully," she said. "There's nothing that makes me special except that I had an idea and that I tried to make something happen."
Always eager to give the perfect gift but sometimes short on ideas, Taylor solved her own problem with MonkeyWish — a website and mobile app that allows users to create wish lists or gift registries for any occasion.
By partnering with more than 17,000 retailers, including Target, Walmart and Amazon, the company gets a share of revenues from sales made from the lists in return for driving traffic to the retailers. Taylor keeps sales figures private.
Development began in October 2011, and the website launched in September 2012 after several rounds of feedback and revision. The mobile app followed a month later. Less than a month passed before the "Today Show" called and Taylor brought her husband, Eric, and three children to New York City to appear on the national NBC morning program.
In April, MonkeyWish announced a partnership with online invitation company Evite, which boasts 31 million registered users. Event organizers can register for gifts through MonkeyWish when they send out invitations for parties or get-togethers.
"We kind of stumbled upon the most universal tool," Taylor said. "I am my own test market, so my project has been created from a user's perspective, not a developer's perspective. I know what mothers want."
Born and raised in Gainesville, Taylor graduated from Santa Fe College and joined her family's real estate development firm, which is a part owner in Progress Corporate Park in Alachua. Taylor gained inspiration from the bioscience and technology entrepreneurs.
As the real estate market crumbled and took its toll on the family business, Taylor left the realm of real estate for another type of development.
"Truthfully, it's just business development," Taylor said. "Whether it's real estate or technology, it's creating and developing businesses that I love. Everyone is looking for that grand idea, and I had 10. I just picked the one that was most relevant to me."
Taylor and a team of engineers and designers went through three iterations of the website before landing on the current version. Now with eight employees and interns, Taylor said she hopes to add 30 to 40 new jobs by the end of the year following the partnership with Evite. MonkeyWish holds an office at the University of Florida Innovation Hub.
MonkeyWish currently has 25,000 registered users across the globe, but Taylor said she's shooting for 25 million. The challenge, according to her, is changing people's behaviors and letting them know this service exists.
"Some people have the fear that people will think they're asking for gifts, but I created it because I love to give nice gifts," she said. "It's all about giving. That's the spirit behind the creation of MonkeyWish."
The giving spirit is loud and clear in MonkeyWish's newest initiative, found at MonkeyWish.com/give. The page provides an area where nonprofit organizations can register for needed items.
"Yes, the idea of MonkeyWish is fun and whimsical and a little self-serving, but we built the tool with the idea that one day we could incorporate charities and nonprofits," Taylor said.
Taylor and her 17-year-old daughter, Lauren, traveled to Moore, Okla., after the deadly tornado roared through the area in late May. Although Taylor realized MonkeyWish couldn't help residents find their cars or a place to sleep, it could provide assistance in the area's long-term recovery or in organizations' preparedness in advance of disasters.
As Taylor discovered in Moore, organizations were overwhelmed with unneeded items, or clothing. Through MonkeyWish, organizations can ask for specific donations, including housewares.
"Once they pick up the pieces of their lives and can take stock of what they have and what they don't have, we'll be here to help," she said. "It was a life-altering experience for both me and my daughter."
Another daughter, 6-year-old KatieGrace, provided the idea — and name — for Taylor's vision.
"She's our little monkey," Taylor said.
As a mother of three, including 13-year-old son Dylan, Taylor said that at age 38, she is the "old lady" of Gainesville tech startup community. Kristi and Eric, a real estate acquisitions manager, have been married 19 years.
Taylor credits Grooveshark co-founder Josh Greenberg and Trendy Entertainment CEO Augi Lye with being gracious resources to mentor her.
The local entrepreneurs gave Taylor advice she continually passes along to others: Don't be afraid to try.
"This job is a lifestyle," she said. "I've made a lot of sacrifices, but if you're willing to make the change, don't be afraid to do so. Most successful companies in the world started with nothing and created something."
With a full slate of speaking engagements and MonkeyWish's first round of venture capital looming on the horizon, Taylor is eager to share her story and inspire others.
"I'll have coffee with anybody," she said. "We're all here to help each other. We want to help each other."