Before launching a digital solution for wedding planning, Juliet Horton decided to start a business doing it the old fashioned way.
She helped some two-dozen couples tick the seemingly endless boxes for wedding decisions and plans: picking dresses, invitations, venues, caterers and cake bakers and DJs among other details. Planning included deciding if and when to toss a bouquet and which song for the first dance.
Once Horton had done her research, in early 2018 she launched the Seattle-based wedding planning platform Everly (she chose the name as being evocative of “forever”).
Couples start with a profile describing what they’re looking for and Everly helps them figure out a budget, style of wedding and suggests vendors that match their needs and provides contact information.
A couple can “sit on the couch, grab a glass of wine and get this done on your own time,” Horton said.
Before starting Everly, Horton was a financial analyst for Amazon, Barclays Investment Bank and others. She was concerned that it would be difficult and time consuming to build the vendor database for all of the services required by a wedding, but she has found it much less onerous than expected.
“Once you know what you’re looking for, it becomes easy to find those vendors,” she said. For example, you don’t need to know every bakery in a city, just five high-end options and 10 more affordable ones.
Everly has five employees and this year plans to expand its services to weddings in Portland, Ore., Vancouver, B.C. and San Francisco. Four couples used the site for weddings last fall, 25 are on the calendar so far for this year, and five are planning 2020 weddings.
The service is a flat $750 fee. In addition to the online tools, Everly provides video conferences, putting a personal touch on the process.
The most rewarding part of the jobs is talking to the couples during the check-in calls, Horton said. “They are this bundle of stress ahead of time and I can talk them down.”
Everly does not send an employee to the event on the day of, but can suggest on-site coordinators at a discount.
Competition includes online wedding planning sites The Knot and WeddingWire, which merged in 2018 in a deal worth $993 million. The two remain separate brands. The website Zola offers wedding gift registration as well as planning services. Professional wedding planners in the Puget Sound area charge around $7,000, Horton said. And there’s always the DIY alternative.
Horton isn’t married, but predicts that she’d need only a brief engagement.
“I tell my friends I’m going to be engaged for three months tops,” she said. “One of these days, it’s going to be a breeze!”
We caught up with Horton for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Everly is an online wedding planning platform that saves couples hundreds of hours of work and costs one-tenth the price of a traditional wedding planner.
Inspiration hit us when: I came up with the idea for Everly while I was in business school. I served as class social chair (best job I’ve ever had) and planned a number of large events. I called them my practice weddings because they included a couple hundred people with an open bar and a band. In planning these events, I saw how difficult it was to get information. There was no good way to get pricing and availability of vendors or to have any idea of what things cost. The idea for a solution stayed in the back of my mind and I watched the industry closely and learned everything I could before deciding to dive in and start a company that would solve this problem.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Bootstrapping. We are taking a totally new approach to wedding planning and are getting traction we can one day show investors.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: We know our stuff. I started a wedding planning company as a side project before launching Everly to learn the ropes. Telling couples that I planned and led more than 25 weddings gives them peace of mind about how thorough our product is. I can tell them that I know first hand what happens when you do not budget enough time for photos or assume the DJ knows what announcements to make and when. This has build a lot of trust with our customers.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: Ignoring bad advice. So many people in the early days told me that they didn’t think couples would be interested in planning their wedding all online and would be concerned about not having someone from the Everly team on site the day of their wedding. But I had had too many conversations with frustrated couples to not think there was a better way. I’d recommend to all founders that you talk to as many people as you can, ask for feedback, be open to criticism and know where to draw the line.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: I have big plans one day to write a book titled “So Great It Will Sell Itself: Delusions of a First Time Entrepreneur.” All I have is the title so far, but believe me, there will be plenty of content to pick from! I think the biggest mistake I made was in early stage marketing, or lack thereof. I was convinced because we so obviously had a product that was better, faster, cheaper than anything else out there that customers would flock to us. Well, as any experienced entrepreneur knows, and probably a lot of other people do too, the philosophy of “if you build it, they will come” does not apply here. A marketing roadmap is just as important as a product roadmap.
Which entrepreneur or executive would you want working in your corner? Sallie Krawcheck. I started my career in banking and at the time Sallie Krawcheck was the CFO of Citi, where I was an intern. My manager told me he thought I’d be the next Sallie Krawcheck and I took it to heart. She has since left Wall Street for the tech world and she is running a company that she founded focused on women gaining power in the investing world. She is an ongoing inspiration and it is a joy to watch her company, Ellevest, continue to close big funding rounds and generally kick ass.
Our favorite team-building activity is: Working in the wedding industry does have its perks and our team gets invited regularly to catering open houses. We love meeting new vendors that we can recommend but it also gives us an excuse to get out of the office and there is always delicious (free) food — very startup-budget friendly.
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: Passion for taking things apart and making them better. We do not look for subject matter expertise in the wedding space as much as we do for someone who wants to throw the old way out and start anew. We are completely changing how couples (and the industry) view something very traditional, wedding planning, and that requires a fresh perspective and willingness to break the rules.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Just start. The road is long but don’t let that stop you from taking even a small step forward. When I was in the early stages of starting Everly, it seemed so overwhelming to take on a $2 billion industry. I wasn’t sure where to start with this massive venture so I started a small side business as a wedding planner. I did this in addition to my day job and it taught me what was working about the market, what wasn’t and allowed me to talk to hundreds of couples and vendors. That business wasn’t the ultimate goal, but with a simple Squarespace website I was at least able to start moving forward.