Sramana Mitra: How did you select whom to put in the private beta? How were you finding these beta customers?
Ilana Stern: It started with my network. The fact that I am in the target audience is really helpful because I am the customer and the people around me are too. The first few customers came during the last quarter of business school. It was before the website even existed. One was my classmate from business school who was getting married after school. She approached me in the parking lot and said, “I’m getting married during the summer after graduation. I live in Palo Alto. Our friends live all over the place and are super busy. We are getting married on the East Coast. The logistics of managing all this is really difficult. I don’t know how to go about the bridesmaid dresses.” She knew that I was working on this idea.
The other bride was actually my high school teacher in Los Angeles who had heard from the grapevine that an alumnus from the high school was working on this idea. She emailed me with a very similar story. I was in fact able to serve these customers and the work with them laid the foundation for the wireframe of the first version of the site. I worked with these two customers on a paper prototype. I used Survey Monkey, Google Docs, and PowerPoint to create the shopping experience around the dresses, and then the collaboration experience for the group. The checks from those customers were the impetus for me to incorporate because I didn’t have a company bank account to deposit them. That’s how we started. It was casual—people in my circle on hearing about what I was doing, having experienced the pain of the shopping experience just reached out to me for help. It also involved leveraging my Facebook friends. Those two brides recommended other friends who were getting married. Some of the bridesmaids came back to buy again.
Sramana Mitra: What did you need to do in the back end? If bridesmaid dresses is the primary value proposition of your site, what did you need in the back end?
Ilana Stern: The primary value proposition of Weddington Way is that it is a place where friends can shop together. It’s this collaborative commerce where friends are in fact shopping together. It’s different from social commerce. Our first area of focus is around the wedding industry. We started with bridesmaid dresses because that was the most acute pain for brides. It requires collaboration and the bridesmaid dress purchase happens very early in the lifecycle of a wedding. We’re building this relationship with the bride very early in the lifecycle and gathering data that will ultimately help her with future purchases beyond bridesmaid dresses.
The core focus was initially on solving the problem around bridesmaid dresses. What we needed to start was a network of vendors who made dresses so we could build out an assortment for the customer to buy. We needed to create a place where this group of friends could come together to collaborate around the selection and purchasing of dresses.