IfOnly: The Privilege of Experiential Wealth

How many times did you say to yourself at the end of the year, as you were cleaning out the back corners of your dorm closet, “why did I bring this?” or “I forgot I had this”?

The fact of the matter is, we like stuff. We pack our rooms with dorm decorations, school supplies, Bluetooth speakers, another Xbox controller, multiple Marathon Monday tanks, a Boston College pennant, boat shoes, rain boots, shot glasses with witty sayings, green bead necklaces for St. Patty’s day and that’s just the beginning.

Online shopping has made it easy to scroll endlessly through websites of potential buys. Even the advertisements that pop up in our Facebook feed or in our YouTube sidebar are tailored to fuel our materialistic desires.

But what about a website that sells you memorable experiences instead of clutter? A new website, launched just under a year ago, called IfOnly lets you buy experiences. Whether it’s hanging out with Lady Gaga backstage or lunch with Mike Tyson, for a hefty price you can now brag to your friends about a unique, unforgettable experience rather than an item anyone can purchase that will grow useless over time. Instead of buying the latest iPad that will be replaced year after year with a better model, buy a cooking class and dinner for 12 with a famous chef or take a hot air balloon ride over Mount Everest. You can even invite New England Patriots tight end, Rob Gronkowski, to a Bar Mitzvah for a whopping $28,600, on the conditions that you live near Boston, allow for a potential background check and understand that he will take up to 100 photos with your guests.

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Screenshot / Gavel Media

Among the cheaper interactions, you can buy a personalized video message or Twitter follow from various celebrities. IfOnly also lets you propose your own unique experience and suggest your own price.

Much of the pricing on the site is steep but it redeems itself by giving about 70% of its proceeds to charity. An article in Adweek reported that IfOnly has raised over $1 million since its start last August and their website dons the phrase “Luxury is helping others.” Not quite the same as “men and women for others”, but at least they are making an effort to give back. The site, founded by Trevor Traina, echoes other startup efforts, such as Tiki Barber’s Thuzio that connects professional athletes to their fan base through the same kind of one-on-one interactions.

IfOnly capitalizes on a shift in consumer demand. More and more startups are taking advantage of the fact that people enjoy being exclusive and special, a quality no longer satisfied by material wealth. Last year, JWT Intelligence did a study on how people ranging from ages 18 to 67 preferred to interact with a world heavily dominated by technology. They found that 81% of millenials (people currently in the age range of 18-34) desired experiences over material goods.

Courtesy of JWT Intelligence

Courtesy of JWT Intelligence

While the site doesn’t entirely support the notion that money can’t buy happiness, it does provide a hopeful mission of living a social and memorable life in a highly materialistic and individualistic society.

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