This morning, I attended a Founder Corps event in Ballston where Jonathan Aberman interviewed Timothy Chin. Co-Founder/CEO of local startup, Wedding Wire. One thing that intrigued me about Wedding Wire is their focus on building a marketplace for vendors and adding value by handling back office functions such as finance, marketing (they integrate heavily with Facebook, Constant contact, etc.). The site also creates a powerful network effect by encouraging vendors to refer each other on the site. So instead of selling leads directly, they add value to vendors by creating communities of practice (photographers, cake decorators, etc.) where vendors can get to know each other and recreate offline networks online. This is particularly helpful for those getting into the business for the first time who may be talented but not well-connected. I think there are other consumer-facing business that rely on referals and trust that could benefit from such a business model.
To learn more I found the following interview with Timothy Chin with Andrew of Mixergy.com. Though viewing the video requires a subscription, Andrew kindly offers the transcript which I’ve reformatted below. Its worth a read “between the lines”!
Timothy Chi is the founder of WeddingWire, and he says that he found a way to do it. And he’s going to teach you how. WeddingWire is a site that connects engaged couples with local wedding venues, cakes, dresses, invitations, and more. It has a quarter million local wedding related businesses listed on its site, and I want to find out how they did that. So, Tim, welcome to Mixergy.
Timothy: Hi. How’re you doing, Andrew?
Andrew: Good. By the way, I meant to check with you on the pronunciation of your name, the way I usually do with guests. Did I get that right?
Timothy: Yeah, you got it right.
Andrew: Okay. Cool. Usually, I check before the interview. So, now let’s get to the real first question, which is, of the quarter million business that I mentioned are listed on WeddingWire, how many claim their directory listings and how many have actually been onthere?
Timothy: Yeah, sure. That’s a great question, Andrew, and again, thanks for making time. So, the answer right now is we’re nearing about 80,000 claimed directory listings on our site. That’s been a great number for us as a percentage of the total number of directorylistings within our site, and we’re really happy to see that the engagement level continues to increase month over month.
Andrew: Did you guys get the initial quarter million or the number that you started off with that became a quarter million by scraping other directories?
Timothy: So, no, we didn’t. I think that’s part of the reason why we have been able to be successful in sort of the niche that we play. Just to recap really quickly the landscape of where we are, within the broader local context, we play within the celebration space. Andthen, even within the celebration space, we’re a niche within the weddings vertical.
And so, essentially what it allowed us to do is hone in on both the local businesses as well as the consumer audience and really build a focused relevant offering within that niche. You know, it’s the classic thing of not trying to boil an ocean right away and really getting down to brass tacks in terms of what both audiences
Andrew: Is there a smaller group of local businesses that you were going after first, and then you broadened from there? Is that what you’re saying?
Timothy: Yeah, yeah. Essentially, a lot of local businesses that we’ve tracked before launching WeddingWire focused first, on a city by city roll out. And it made a lot of sense for us to do the same thing. So, we happen to be based here in Washington, D. C., andwhat better place to test market ?
It’s a good market to test, and we focused all efforts pretty much in all of year one proving out the model and really trying to understand the needs of local vendors and how we can best provide the technology platform that would service them. And then, from there use that as a beachhead to sort of grow to 5, 10, 40 markets.
Andrew: What did that look like when you were here? I happen to be in the D. C. area where you are, even though we’re doing this all by remote video Skype. But can you describe what it was like to go out and get local businesses, in other words? I interviewed the founder of GrubHub, and he said, at first he walked door to door getting local restaurants to list on GrubHub. Then, he walked door to door with his salesman and taught him how to do it. Then, there were two, then four, and so on. What was that? What was that story like for you?
Timothy: It’s not too dissimilar. I mean, it’s a lot of effort to really onboard these local vendors into a platform that you’ve been building. A part of it is looking for efficiencies and ways to scale that operation, even within a one city market. For us, one of the things that we had going for us within the wedding space was these local bridal shows. And we were very fortunate and able to work with a local bridal show producer, whereby twice a year you have thousands of brides and hundreds of vendors come together in an annual sort of convention type thing. We were able to get to a large amount of both audiences in a couple days segment. So, those were the ways that we sped things up a little bit. But at the end of the day, Andrew, there is a lot of hard work involved.
Andrew: By the way, if anyone noticed me playing with the microphone here, for some reason someone adjusted the microphone, and there’s no one who comes in my office except the cleaning people. I think there’s something about a microphone that people just want to touch and play with and adjust.
Andrew: So, I readjusted whatever they did to it. Hopefully, the sound will be a little better. When you were just here, were you making phone calls to local businesses? Were you personally going out to the event that you talked about, to the conventions? This was you.
Andrew: Can you describe a typical day or maybe one day that’s especially interesting so I get a sense of how you did it, especially illustrative of how you got the early customers?
Timothy: Yeah, sure. First of all, that’s the fun part of being an entrepreneur, being able to wear all of the different hats. While not always sexy, it’s very fun to be able to have such a broad reaching experience. You absolutely start the day by thinking about the tech side building the actual platform itself.
Then, depending on the local events that were running, we hit them up. I did have a small founding team. There were a couple of us showing up in my living room until my wife kicked us out about a year later.
But we would hit the streets, and it was networking events. It was trade association events. It was really getting out there, and not only trying to articulate our message and our value prop, but also again really trying to understand. At that point the technology platform, the features that you’re going to offer, aren’t set in stone. So, you have a great ability to be nimble and change in time. So, we really wanted to understand.
Andrew: Do you have an example of something, of a feature that came up just because of one of these conversations one on one with businesses? What’s one? What’s one example?
Timothy: Yeah, absolutely. This one wasn’t necessarily one of the first things we discovered, but it certainly has become a very powerful component to our business. So, we discovered through working directly with a lot of local vendors that . . . I should caveat this with it may be relevant only within certain local verticals, but there was this strong referral economy within the local vendor base.
What I mean by that is in the most simple terms photographers value referral leads from a deejay or from a venue or from a florist. They all play together nicely in a way that helps benefit all of them. While paying for advertising is certainly a way to gain new business, they often trusted and believed just the referral leads that circulate through their own peer network.
And so, what we did was we turned our online platform for vendors into much more of a referral based networking site. Not only is it about lead generation when you’re participating with WeddingWire, it is also and equally as important about networking with local peers and building out your own referral network.
Andrew: Local businesses go through organizations like B & I where they each give out their business cards, and they exchange it and then they exchange referrals. In fact, they have these little slips of paper I’ve seen where a photographer might write down the name of a prospective client for a caterer or put it in a jar. The caterer would take it out of the jar. So, it was formal like that, but it was also informal where they would just kind of work together because they’ve operated well at past weddings. Is that right?
Timothy: That’s absolutely correct. There were both formal organizations as well as informal.
Andrew: Okay. So now, how does WeddingWire formulize an arrangement like that, that happens offline and bring it to the online experience?
Timothy: I think that’s a great question, Andrew. It’s not very different from the way a LinkedIn or a Facebook or any of these guys work. They want to share with their peer group anything that they think can benefit each other, and in many of these cases the photographer is not competitive in any way, shape or form with the florist or the venue. So, there’s a lot of great benefits to working together. There’s no real barriers to information sharing and all of sharing. All we did was enable that communication to flow within our own platform. It’s very easy to refer. It all begins with providing the actual climate to get experience or from there these guys can refer or ask their peer network to join. They can connect for each other. They can co-market for each other throughout and within our platform and really just continue to build up a network.
It’s also a great thing if you’re a new vendor entering the space. So, Andrew, if you decided to become a wedding planner, you know you’re good at it but you don’t know how to get business yet. You absolutely want to tie yourself with a couple of people that are already established themselves in this space and prove that you can be a trusted referral within the network.
Andrew: Okay. One of the things that I learned in the pre-interview that we did about WeddingWire is that behind the scenes you give the vendors a way to talk with each other, like a contact management system pretty much behind the scenes, where they could talk with each other, where they could keep contacts. Am I right?
Timothy: Yeah. It’s a little more simple than that, but yeah. The premise is we want them to connect. We want to help them share leads with each other. We want to help them exchange knowledge. There’s a whole discussion board forum for wedding pros only that’s extremely active.
And not only that, what we do is we bring together all of the regional data and regional activity that’s going on. So, as a florist if you logged in, you can see that the photographer down the street just got a new review, and the deejay just booked another wedding. So, you’re seeing what’s going on within the local wedding space.
Andrew: What’s the incentive for one vendor to refer a client to another vendor?
Timothy: We don’t offer any sort of monetary incentive right now. Really, it just gets back down to we really feel like and work very diligently on providing value in our platform. And the incentive really is, as far as we can tell, these guys helping their own peer network be better.
Andrew: So you’re finding that just because you gave them a channel to talk to each other and refer business to each other, they’re referring business to each other? Even to strangers like me, a new wedding planner who’s going on WeddingWire to get new customers, someone might refer? Why?
Timothy: I would say there’s some phases to building that relationship. The first is obviously connecting. So, we have your standard double locked in let’s connect. Maybe the group within D. C. formalizes a local meet-up, and they start to get to know each other. At some point when you bridge that trust gap, that’s when you make it onto a preferred list or you make it on a short list. Now, you’ve got a client walking in and the bride says, “Hey, I know you’re a photographer, but I’m really looking for a florist. Have you got anyone that you could hand off or anyone I could talk to?” That’s where it really starts kicking in.
Andrew: Do you encourage these meet-ups that happen offline?
Timothy: Generally, we’ve done a few of them in the past where we’ve tried to encourage them, but we haven’t had to, surprisingly. They’re just there organically happening, both on the vendor side as well as the bride side. I think it’s one of these life stage moments, especially for brides, where it’s pretty intense, emotions are high, and they’re able to come together and find like-minded people to swap stories and really learn from each other. Because of that, we really haven’t had to push to make it happen.
Andrew: Okay. So, the way that I was on Hacker News for a long time talking to developers and entrepreneurs, and when I got to Argentina, the first thing I did was organize a Hacker News meet-up. When they want to partner up with others, they will just naturally organize meet-ups because you gave them the means to communicate with each other. But you’re not encouraging them. You’re not making it step five or one of the steps in the process. It’s just happening. Okay.
Timothy: That’s what we’ve seen.
Andrew: I want to circle back to something we said earlier. I used the word activate, or maybe you used the word activate. Claim, that’s what it was. Claim a directory listing. What does it mean to claim a directory listing on WeddingWire?
Timothy: That’s a great question. What we do is you go through the act of indicating that this profile belongs to you. And it’s probably not so different from any of the other local directory sites out there. You register. You give us an email address.
We actually have someone on an approval team go through, match up all the information. We want to see that you have a website. We want to see that you’re a real business. And then, what we’ll do is we’ll flip an approval flag within that system that then unlocks a bunch of the features within the application, within the consumer directory. It allows you to show up. It allows you to really take the next step.
Andrew: I see. Okay. And do you reach out to the vendor to let them know? How do you reach out to the vendor to let them know that they have a listing on your site and that they could claim it and activate it and get engaged?
Timothy: Generally speaking, the mechanism for reaching local vendors has been consumer driven via our newlywed reviews. And so, this is another part of our business that we focus very heavily in, and this might be a nice segue into talking about reviews, if you wanted to talk about that. So, early we staked our claim within the review space with the idea being that it didn’t exist, and we wanted to provide transparency and a new consumer value proposition to an industry that didn’t have it yet. And so, if you step back and really think about it, reviews are great, right? When you go and you acquire a review or a review is generated in your site, not only are you getting a piece of very valuable content when the review happens to be about a local business, you have a reason now. You have a very relevant reason to reach out to that business and ask them to come online. That really was a large catalyst in terms of us growing and scaling our business.
Andrew: What would happened is I got married about a year ago. If I was on WeddingWire or I was at all a participant, we might have been on WeddingWire for all I know. But if I was at all a participant in putting it together, Olivia, after the wedding, would have gone online and rated the caterer, talked up the photographer. If she was really upset at somebody in the process, she would have said, “This is the problem I had with them,” and all of those vendors would have gotten emails saying, you just got a rating on WeddingWire. Do you want to participate? Do you want to see it? Do you want to activate, and that’s the incentive for them to join.
Timothy: You got it.
Andrew: I see. Okay. What’s the incentive for someone like Olivia, my wife, for going online after the wedding when she’s on a honeymoon, when life has just moved on past the wedding?
Timothy: That one’s much more straightforward. We started out just incentivizing newlyweds to write reviews. So, that could come in a form of a $5 Starbucks gift card. Today, if you were to go to the WeddingWire site and it’s something we still do actively, I believe there’s a few options that you can choose from, from partners of ours so that you do get something outside of the benefit of helping that your own vendor that just helped you execute on that big day, you do get something for your time.
Andrew: Okay. We talked about how in the early days you went from meeting to meeting locally. You met people and you built up a local directory. And then, you branched out to the rest of the country. How much of that did you do in other cities? How much of that hand to hand contact did you guys do elsewhere?
Timothy: The plan was to do the same exact thing in other cities. What actually ended up happening, and this again may be very unique within the wedding space because of the type of event it is. What ended up happening is there’s an extremely strong word of mouth component that crosses cities. If you have a good experience, you’ll tell your friends. It doesn’t matter where they are. It ended up actually getting easier and easier. We had to do less and less sort of offline, feet on the street as we went. And part of that is sort of hitting scale and reaching some sort of tipping point.
But really, it wasn’t as much of a direct effort as we continued to grow into other cities. It becomes a little bit easier in the sense that the brand is a little bit more pervasive now. People are telling each other about it year over year. When you think about the bridal market, again focusing on brides and grooms, they turn over every year. So, there’s a natural transference of knowledge that happens as long as you’re delivering a good experience to these guys that happens organically without us even doing anything. And so, really what we focus on is providing that good experience and letting the word of mouth component take over every single year.
**Andrew: Just I think it was yesterday, I interviewed one of the founders of LinkedIn. He said before he and Reid Hoffman and the other founders wanted to launch LinkedIn, they said, there’s a lot of great websites out there, but there’s no reason for people to talk about them. So, as great as they are, as much as they deserve to be talked about, they just languish. And that’s why they chose LinkedIn, a site that was needed, that you had to, once you signed up, tell your friends about and get them to join up.
Was there any kind of incentive like that because I can’t imagine enjoying WeddingWire and remembering it, or joining any website and remembering it enough to go and tell other people? The fact that I even mentioned Hacker News earlier today is I kind of like my own audience to be engaged in that community because if they’re engaged in that community when they see my post up there, they’ll vote me up. And now, it’s not an overt goal that I’m doing this so that I can get that, but it is definitely in the back of my head. And that’s my personal incentive, and that’s why I talk it up. Was there something like that with WeddingWire or what was it?**
Timothy: One clarifying question there. Are you talking on the bride’s side, or on the local merchant vendor side right now?
Andrew: That’s a good question. How about both?
Timothy: The bride’s side actually just boils down to it’s like basic human nature. While you’re planning, this is just the trends we’ve seen, you’re very engaged and you’re highly focused. It is a big effort. We always say it’s probably the single largest coordinated event most couples, unless you’re an event planner, will have to pull off in their life together. So, you’re really focused during that time.
Post wedding, you just want to tell people about how great it was. And so, to the extent that you have friends that just got engaged, again, it’s a very natural thing. We don’t need to ask people to do it. We don’t need to force people to do it, not even necessarily send people to do it. It just happens right now. Before entering into the wedding space, we said, word of mouth, word of mouth. You hear that a lot, right? Oh, word of mouth is going to take over. In our particular case, it actually turns out to be true.
Andrew: All right. Then what about on the vendor side?
Timothy: Yeah. Again, on the vendor side these guys are savvy, smart, small businesses. At the end of the day, they’re always looking for an edge. And so selling advertising to a small business is pretty run of the mill, and they have 101 different options to do that. What we were trying to do was provide an added value which is part of the reason why we created a freemium model. You can get started. You can start to get exposure without paying us a dime.
Certainly, are there opportunities for you to pick up a freemium placement? Yes. But we came with a differentiated offering to the market. The ethos that we tried to communicate is that we are here to help. We’re here to help small businesses, small and medium size businesses get online and reach that audience that is all online now, and that’s really the goal. Hopefully, that’s transferring through all of the local marketplaces as they continue to hear us talk about that.
Andrew: Are you buying any ads online to recruit merchants, to recruit vendors?
Timothy: Generally, we don’t do that. Now, on the bridal side that’s different. Search plays an important role in how we look at that. [Sorry. There’s a siren going by here.] Generally, we don’t spend money to go after local merchants.
Andrew: I should have asked you this question earlier on, but I think it’s important to address it even at this point. Why should anyone care? When you and I talked about the different things that we could discuss when it comes to WeddingWire, we both zeroed in on how do you get local vendors, how do you get local businesses online engaged in a marketplace like this or a directory like this. For me, it was just kind of instinct because I knew from past interviews that it was hard, but I would like to articulate why this is important and why it’s so tough to do. You’re in the business. Why is it so tough?
Timothy: Yeah. It’s the million dollar question. I guess two things. One, our perspective on local is barriers to entry, and this sort of goes outside of weddings. This is my generalization of local in general. Barriers to entries are low. Barriers to success are very, very high. And if you think about why that is, it really just gets down to the relationship between your sales rep and the actual local vendor. These guys don’t have a lot of time to research all the available advertising options out there. They want to buy from someone who’s earned their trust. To wrap it all together, it’s not that they don’t lack the interest. They lack the time because these guys, they’re their own CMO. They’re their own VP of finance. They’re their own IT guy. They’re their own salesperson. They’ve got to deliver on what they say they’re going to deliver on. And so, really the best use of time is obviously selling and delivering. It’s not that they don’t care about online marketing. It’s not that they don’t care about building brand. They care about all those things. It’s just a resource problem. What ends up happening is, and the way that we work here at WeddingWire, our sales team is built in a consultative sales way. We’re not here to just say, you know, you either buy or you don’t, and we either want to have a relationship with you or we based on whether you pay. It’s, hey, what challenges are you facing right now, and how can we help you overcome some of these things? And really going in and trying to add value to the relationship in that way.
Andrew: I see. That’s another reason with local you often need sales reps. LinkedIn when they were getting businesses online, they didn’t need sales reps. They didn’t even need sales reps to convince businesses to upgrade to the premium service. They just needed a button on their website. When it comes to local, you very often need sales reps. How soon after you launched did you hire sales reps?
Timothy: There were four co-founders together. The fifth person was a sales rep.
Andrew: And the leads, where do you guys get the leads?
Timothy: Are you talking about leads for our salespeople versus leads to the vendors themselves?
Timothy: That’s good. So, generally speaking, as a local sales force you’re pretty prescriptive in terms of how you go about finding leads online. So, there’s certainly an internal inside sales force where we are looking at activity that happens within our own site. Again, one of the advantages that we have is we have a freemium based model where there’s plenty of people that are participating already, and what we’re trying to do is pick up people that we think will see a lot of success by upgrading to a premium spot and aligning their ad span with what we think we can deliver with these guys. So, we kind of have our own pool of leads, so to speak. Of course, we always get the inbound contact form leads from SalesForce.com which we run internally. There’s obviously the word of mouth network that just goes on within the local merchants. There’s a lot of inbound stuff that comes along the way as well.
Andrew: I see. Okay. So, the salespeople aren’t going out and recruiting fresh people, fresh vendors to the site. They’re just saying to the people, to the vendors who are already on the site, “If you want even more from us, here’s what we have to offer.” And that’s what their job is.
Timothy: Yeah. Step one is let’s get you on the site so that you can see what we can bring to the table.
Andrew: Step one happens all online, right, without salespeople.
Timothy: Generally speaking, it does.
Timothy: Certainly if an inbound person comes in and says my friend told me about you, I want to find out more, we’ll say, step one, let’s get you signed up. Let’s get you online. Let’s get you registered. Let’s confirm your account, and then we’ll move forward from there.
Andrew: Can you tell us a little bit about SEO? You told me about it in the pre-interview, and I thought it was important to include. How does SEO play into this?
Timothy: SEO is a big part of our business. So, when we started out, WeddingWire.com, our own and operated property, we were probably buying 50 percent of our traffic. That’s a single percent digit today because largely and in part due to SEO. Search engine optimization is an exciting area to play in. At the same time it can be challenging, and so some of the things that we did, I think, gave us a leg up where we built into our platform the ability to dynamically adjust for SEO keywords on the fly so that we really could optimize our site without having necessarily to wait a long time before these things take effect.
And so, we’ve really tried to understand how people search and how we can be most effective in terms of bubbling up from an organic perspective to be relevant.
**Andrew: Okay. [That was my pen, by the way, that dropped earlier while you were talking. I grip it so hard sometimes that it just falls or the top of it falls.] One way that SEO plays a part and you guys are really good at it, is when you aggregate a lot of businesses or a lot of data in general and you become the hub for that data, naturally Google is going to give you more credibility, going to send you listings up higher, and you’re going to get more traffic.
The other thing that’s going to happen is that people who are in your directory are going to search for themselves, and they’re going to come up with your listing of them. And that’s when they come in and say, “Oh, what is this website? Who’s rating me? I remember being at that wedding. Let me go and claim the site.” And there’s a “is this your business” or some kind of link like that.
Andrew: I see. Okay.
Timothy: You’ve got it.
Andrew: What about this? I did a little bit of research in preparation for this call, and I saw that there’s certain brides who said that negative reviews that they posted were removed.
Andrew: And it was removed pending review, but they thought the review was never going to end.
Andrew: It seems to help, doesn’t it, to remove the bad reviews of vendors? It seems to help to get them on board and to get them as customers because that’s one of the issues of the space. It was one of the issues they had.
Timothy: Yeah, yeah. Certainly, from a pure business perspective you’d think so, but one of the philosophies that we espouse here and have subscribed to from day one and are very firm about it is that once you compromise the integrity of a review system, it’s really, really hard to get that back. And so, ultimately, you’ve got to make sacrifices as the business to do what’s right, and we hold on very heavily to that principle. We kind of do a church and state separation thing between our review team and our sales teams so they don’t get influence into what stays and what goes. We follow a very strict set of guidelines that I think is representative of maintaining a review system and its integrity.
Andrew: Okay. All right. You know what? There’s always going to be questions about it, but there’s no way for me on the outside to investigate it. All I can do is say, this is what they said. I understand their point of view. I understand your point of view. As an entrepreneur, I have to accept your point of view with an understanding that stuff happens as I build my business and, maybe, I might take a different direction entirely from both of these.
Timothy: Absolutely. I agree with that. I think the underlying principle and the thing to always keep pop in mind and, honestly, my advice to other people would be, you know, you’re going to do what you need to do, but you cannot sacrifice the integrity of that review system. Once it starts being challenged, and it will constantly be challenged, because there’s a lot of gray area in terms of what’s accurate and what’s not and in he said/she said. You don’t want to play a judge and jury, because ultimately it’s between those two folks. But you can’t let that integrity go because it’s really hard to get back. And so, you should make the right decisions always that supports . . .
Andrew: You’re a better man than I am. A little known fact that the thank you Andrew comments on Mixergy or you’re a great interviewer, those are all from me. I just use different accounts.
Andrew: We’re deep into this interview that very few people are still watching. Most people are just babbling. So, we can talk openly here. [laughs] I also delete all the negative stuff, so you guys can say whatever you want, and you can watch all those negative comments disappear. Try it right here on this interview.
What else do I want to talk to you about? You know what? That actually is my full list here. Oh, no, something that’s not on my list, but I should have brought up, the Martha Stewart connection. That seems to add a tremendous amount of credibility, and a lot of traffic comes over from there, no?
Timothy: Yeah. That’s an interesting story, just when you think about the chronology of our company. So, we’re a small startup working out of the living room with a small round of friends and family. And then, we said, okay, we think we’ve got this thing proved out in one city. Let’s go look for some capital and take it to five or ten next.
So, we put the PowerPoint deck together and started to pound pavement on the VC circuit side. Simultaneously, we just happened to be looking for commercial relationships. One of the things that we believed in from day one was WeddingWire as a consumer destination was about executing on your wedding, not so much being inspired. So, the principle behind WeddingWire was we wanted to create a place where brides can take action. Let’s hope you execute on all of the elements of the wedding, not so much get inspired, which the Martha Stewarts of the world do a great job.
As I was saying, while we were pounding the pavement looking for Series A capital, we were also talking with commercial partners, commercial media companies about, hey, we’re a tools and tech company with local resources. How can we work together with your great and inspiring content and really create a hub or some offering networks?
And so, it just so happened that the folks at Martha Stewart, who ended up investing also, just said, “Well, look. We can be not only commercial partners but also financial ones as well. And so, it was a two birds scenario there that ended up working really well. We have a great relationship with those guys. They’ve certainly taught us a lot about the media business, digital media business, I should say. And we still work very, very closely with them.
Andrew: How did you get the “in” with them?
Timothy: Well, that’s actually a timely thing, LinkedIn.
Timothy: Yeah. It’s a great networking tool, and it was just an intro email or a straight email from our COO over to biz dev over there. We just struck up a conversation.
Timothy: And the next week we were in New York meeting.
Andrew: Did you guys have funding before then?
Timothy: We did a small friends and family round, just to test out one. But, no, that was our big round.
Andrew: When you sent that email in on LinkedIn, was it through a friend? Did you do one of those, could you please pass this down to Martha Stewart Omnimedia, or did you pay a little extra so you could send a direct email?
Timothy: You know what? I don’t remember. Our COO did it, and this was also, mind you, almost three years ago. So, I can’t even remember whether email, what the status was. All I know is we got to him.
Andrew: That is amazing. That is amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a story like that about LinkedIn. That’s clever. That’s great. Here’s what I’ve got here in my notes before I wrap up. Here’s what I’ve got. You went to offline events. You talked to vendors individually. Number two, you enabled them to network with each other and that often meant that they were passing referrals back and forth, the way they did offline. They were organizing local meet-ups, and some of those you guys helped create. But mostly by just letting them talk to each other, it naturally happened. I gave the example of how I did that with Hacker News.
Reviews help bring merchants in, because when a bride or a groom had a good experience or a bad experience, they went online to review the vendor. The vendor would then get a message letting them know to come on and check out the site. We talked about how those reviews in the early days were incentivized. Today, you treat them a little bit different.
And we talked about search engine optimization. You do a search for your own name. You come up with this WeddingWire website link that lists you, and you say, “All right. Let’s go check them out and see what they have to offer. What are they doing with my name?”
Timothy: Yep. Actually, the reviews today are incentivized, just with different incentives.
Andrew: Ah, gotcha. OK. All right. Any advice that you’d give other people who are going to work with local vendors?
Timothy: Yeah. Again, it goes back. It’s seemingly easier than it really is, and the general advice is I would heavily recommend that you’re well capitalized, because it does cost dollars to invest in a local sales force. We haven’t seen many companies, and there’s always the exception to the rule, but for the most part if you look across any local vertical, people hire sales reps, in a major way in order to build up relationships so they can earn the trust of the local business and that’s seemingly been the model.
Certainly, you want to look for efficiency in terms of how you get there, and you can go and raise a ton of money and build up a giant sales force. The Yelps of the world, all of these guys are doing it right now, and they continue to do that.
So, I would be prepared mentally for not sort of the big pop that you would expect when you’re talking with local. It is a grind but a very worthwhile one in that you know, and you should feel good every single day, that you’re really helping small businesses be better about how they reach their audience.
Andrew: How many years did it take you to grind and get to 80,000? It didn’t happen overnight.
Timothy: Yeah. So, we’re just entering our fourth year.
Andrew: Well, congratulations and thanks for doing the interview.
Timothy: Andrew, it’s always a pleasure. And let’s meet up soon.
Andrew: I’d love it. Thanks. Thank you all for watching.
Timothy: Take care.
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