Ilana Stern: What was really interesting was that I saw this disconnect between the supply side and the demand side. If you took a millennial bride and looked at how she lived her life in general, it’s very different from how her mother lived her life in terms of how she consumes media, how she connects and stays in touch with friends, and how she shops. If you put a millennial in the position of being the bride and planning a wedding, she could actually take her wedding and hand it over to her mom. Her mom could plan it the same way she did 30 years ago, and not much has changed. It was this disconnect between consumer behavior and what the industry was offering the consumer that got me really excited about the industry. I actually spent my second year at Stanford just doing consumer research – talking to engaged women, recently married women, and women participating in weddings and attending weddings.
Sramana Mitra: I have a question on that. In the first wave of the dot-com, I did one of the first fashion technology companies on the Internet in 1999. At that time, there were players like The Knot. There were a bunch of wedding-related e-commerce startups as well. When you were noodling with this idea in 2010, what did you find in the competitive landscape?
Ilana Stern: One of the first people I reached out to is a woman named Jenny Lefcourt who co-founded a company called Della & James with Jessica Herrin. It eventually merged with Wedding Channel and ultimately, The Knot. What I saw is that there were some changes that had happened in the media space and in the registry space in the first dot-com era, but not much else has changed since then.
We found our focus through the consumer research that I did in 2009 to 2010. One of the consistent things that I found was that the bridesmaid’s dress was the worst part of the planning. That was a really interesting insight. It was a surprise. I had been a bridesmaid and I knew that the experience around purchasing a bridesmaid dress can be challenging. I didn’t realize how difficult it was for brides as well and how painful they found it. What we had honed in on was this purchasing experience that was acutely painful for both the bride and the bridesmaid. The color palette is decided around the bridesmaid’s dress and that dictates a lot of the other purchases the bride is going to make.
When we looked at the competitive landscape, majority of the purchases were still brick-and-mortar and highly fragmented. The shopping experience, therefore, was fragmented and difficult for the consumer to engage in. Each new bride is reinventing the wheel in terms of figuring out where to go and what to do. That landscape wasn’t necessarily catering to the millennial bride and the nature of how she shops or where she and her friends live. That’s where Weddington Way comes in.
Sramana Mitra: When did you launch Weddington Way?
Ilana Stern: It’s been open to the public for a little over two and a half years now. When I graduated from Stanford, I maxed out my student loan and raised $300,000 in convertible notes just from classmates. I started out of my living room and engaged one engineer on contract to build a beta version of the site for $12,000. That first year, we were working with smaller groups of customers. The first version of this site was very basic in terms of the functionality and offering. We were just very lean and were learning from customers based on how they were engaging with the sites and with us. We had revenue pre-2012, but we were still in private beta and were focused on learning and iteration at that point.