Rebecca Bextel’s new business was born one night while she was lying in bed next to her sleeping husband.
“It just came to me in a dream,” she said. “I woke Jonathan up and said, ‘I have this business idea.’ He went back to sleep, and I lay there thinking about it.”
That business, which she debuted in November, is EcoCards, a line of electronic greeting cards that raise money for charities each time a customer sends one.
A Christmas card snafu several years ago made Bextel start thinking about options other than the traditional paper variety. She had hired a photographer to snap her family at sunset in front of the Moulton Barn in the dead of winter. She ordered cards printed with the photograph and paid $80 to have them overnighted.
“They arrived two weeks after Christmas,” she said. “I had to put a slip of paper in every envelope that said, ‘I didn’t forget you.’ Ever since then I thought, ‘There has to be a better way.’”
Over the years Bextel has also grown to hate seeing so much paper used for something so ephemeral and often not greatly appreciated.
“Being from Alabama, everyone mails Christmas cards,” she said. “A lot of the time you open them by the trash can. Also, it was such a financial waste. I thought, ‘That money could go to charity.’”
EcoCards are available for a variety of occasions, including anniversaries, birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Easter, graduation and baby announcements.
Each time customers send one they make a donation to charity. They specify the amount of the donation and the recipient. It has to be at least $1. EcoCards adds a 15 percent processing fee, a portion of which Bextel keeps, but the full amount of the donation portion always goes to the nonprofit.
Even the minimum donation can have a benefit, Bextel said. As the EcoCards.org site says, $1 pays for a day’s worth of internet access in Thailand, a day of primary school in Bolivia, and food for a day for a shelter dog in Mobile, Alabama.
“A dollar is not insignificant,” she said.
So far Bextel has signed up more than 60 nonprofits, including local ones as well as national and international organizations.
In the Jackson region the options include Teton County Library, the Astoria Park Conservancy, the Grand Teton National Park Foundation, the Center for the Arts, and Habitat for Humanity of the Greater Teton Area, just to name some.
The Humane Society, the ASPCA and Heifer International are among the bigger participating organization.
“It’s building steam,” Bextel said. “People are open to it around the United States.
“I’m not surprised,” she said. “People are interested in doing things differently. That’s what’s exciting about America: We can change, and we can do things better.”
Electronic greeting cards aren’t the only thing Bextel has going on. She and her husband own Mountain Business Center, though he handles the day-to-day operations. The business offers executive suites and handles a variety of duties for customers, including mail and registered agent services.
When the couple met it was a roommate situation in Jackson. But that was the second time Bextel lived here.
The first time was during a period when she was bouncing around various states while working toward her degree in finance. As a kid she lived in Guatemala and Costa Rica — her dad was a missionary — but the family settled in Jackson, Alabama.
“I was very restless,” Bextel said of why she later moved around so much. “I grew up in a very tiny town. I just knew there was something else going on.”
She attended summer school at the University of California, Los Angeles, and interned with U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, then set her sights on Jackson Hole.
“I had done the city thing — UCLA — and the resume thing with Shelby,” she said. “I just wanted to take some time.
“I came out here for the summer,” she said. “I worked at Teton Mountain Lodge as a waitress. I loved it.”
She left to move to Aspen, Colorado, but eventually came back to Jackson and found a place to live with roommates.
“It was four guys and five dogs, and it was the cheapest rent in town,” she said. “They had no problem with me having a little Weimaraner puppy that chewed up everything.”
The first time she caught a glimpse of Jonathan, though, it was outside.
“I saw this really attractive guy jogging,” she said. “I remember seeing bouncing blond hair. Who knew that was going to be my husband.”
The couple are raising three daughters. Harper, 8, Helen, 6, and Hazel, 1 ½ , are about to welcome a little sister. The Bextels’ fourth daughter is due to come into the world Jan. 10.
And dogs — pound puppies, she said — are still a part of the couple’s lives. They have Leo, soon to be 10, a Lab mix, and recently had to say good-bye to Misha, 17.
“We’re definitely dog lovers,” Bextel said.
Meanwhile, Bextel continues to think big about her new business. She pictures the 7 billion paper greeting cards sent every year in the United States.
“If 1 percent of all cards next year are sent through EcoCards it’s 70 million for charities,” she said.