Step aside, Cupid.

Rupt Ventures – the venture arm of Austin, Texas-based Rupt (PPAI 826757, S1) – is playing matchmaker this Valentine’s Day, announcing its first strategic investment in the promotional products industry: Sweeter Cards (PPAI 810735, S1).

Launched in 2019, the St. Louis-based company is on a roll this year, having won The Pitch – promo’s version of The Voice mixed with Shark Tank – at The PPAI Expo 2024.

  • Sweeter Cards presented its flagship product, an all-in-one, fully customizable greeting card and chocolate bar.
  • Stacy Stahl, founder and CEO of Sweeter Cards, convinced all four judges to turn their chairs in approval, and took 55% of the audience vote.

“Sweeter Cards represents the epitome of what Rupt Ventures seeks to support: founder-led businesses with compelling stories and unparalleled potential within the promo industry,” says Jason Lucash, CEO of Rupt. “Stacy Stahl’s vision and dedication to creating a unique gifting experience align perfectly with our investment philosophy. We’re excited to support Sweeter Cards in its journey, contributing to the vibrant evolution and expansion of the promo industry.”

A New Venture

Lucash and his longtime business partner Mike Szymczak made their own splash at The PPAI Expo 2024 by coming out of retirement to introduce Rupt, the first supplier whose entire product line is made from recycled materials.

  • The duo previously co-founded Origaudio, which they sold to HPG in 2018.

The industry veterans have a full five-year financial roadmap, developed with help from a big four accounting firm, to support expanded staffing, more new products and investments. Meanwhile, Rupt Ventures is a side play that will pour VC money into a stable of other suppliers.

  • Sweeter Cards is the first of two deals expected to be announced in early 2024.

“We’re honored to work with Rupt Ventures as we continue our mission to redefine the gifting experience with Sweeter Cards,” Stahl says. “Jason and Mike’s expertise and resources will be instrumental in scaling our business and bringing our innovative product to even more customers. Together, we’re poised to make a significant impact in the promo industry and beyond.”

The Perfect Match

When Sweeter Cards entered the promo industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, Stahl looked around to see who she could learn from and kept seeing Lucash and Szymczak being praised.

“I felt like they were celebrities,” Stahl says. “I read so many articles about their innovation as entrepreneurs.”

So, she reached out to Lucash on LinkedIn, and he was instantly impressed with Sweeter Cards not only pioneering a new category in the greeting card market, but also leading the way in sustainable and socially responsible business practices.

  • As a woman-owned enterprise, Sweeter Cards prioritizes fair trade-certified chocolate, recyclable card packaging and the employment of adults with disabilities.

“I saw a lot of myself in Stacy,” Lucash says. “When Mike and I entered the industry, we didn’t have a ‘promo sherpa’ telling us where to go and how should we do it. Stacy has the same entrepreneurial spirit that we had. She’s bullish on the industry and is doing something different. She just needs some guiding light.”

“As we were building out the idea for Rupt Ventures,” Lucash continues, “I knew I wanted to go with Stacy first. She’s the right person with the right product and has the willingness to learn and grow in promo. Every distributor I’ve talked to loves Stacy.”

Investment Equals Partnership

With plenty of capital available since selling Origaudio in September of 2018, Lucash has made a ton of investments in various firms, real estate funds, credit strategies, etc.

“A lot of those investments are hands off where I get a quarterly investment update, but I do nothing to help that company,” he says. “What’s different with Rupt Ventures is that we’re hands on going to help Stacy incrementally grow her business. As more companies become part of the Rupt Ventures family, you’ll see cross-selling across those businesses and unified go-to-market in terms of reps and strategy alignment. You’ll see a kit with an Elexa charger from Rupt, a Sweeter Card and products from ABC and XYZ will also be in there.”  

With the support of Rupt Ventures, Sweeter Cards plans to accelerate its expansion efforts, broaden its sales team and amplify its marketing initiatives to reach a wider audience. Additionally, the investment will enable Sweeter Cards to further enhance its commitment to sustainability and social responsibility.

Although the investment will certainly bring immense financial resources, Stahl says that partnership is really what comes to mind.

“Jason and Mike are both such thoughtful partners, and now I’m getting a taste of that same friendship, support and knowledge sharing,” she says. “There are a lot of things that I could spend a couple weeks learning, and now I can just text them. Strategy, growth and catapulting sales is a huge opportunity that Rupt will bring. There are so many strategic collaborations that we can do and there is a lot of potential for these brands to come together and be the one single place for distributors to look for promo.”

What’s Next?

Following her success at The Pitch, Stahl says that Sweeter Cards received a lot of quick turn orders for Valentine’s Day. But even after Cupid hangs up his bow on February 15, business won’t be slowing down for her company.

  • Sweeter Cards has already been inundated with orders for Employee Appreciation Day on March 1, International Women’s Day on March 8 and Nurses Week in May.

“We’re a greeting card company, and celebrations and gratitude are all year round,” Stahl says.

Lucash finds the heavy spring demand intriguing, as it reinforces Sweeter Cards’ uniqueness in the promo market.

“Our first course of business is to let Stacy do her thing and have us not screw anything up,” Lucash says. “When I was doing M&A at HPG, I had the opportunity to learn from [CEO] Chris Anderson, who preached that the first thing you do when you make an investment is that you let the investment keep doing its thing, and as investors, don’t screw that up. She’s going to do her thing and crush it. We’re just going to keep bringing more distributors to the Sweeter Cards party.”