Kellee Khalil had a dream of making the process of putting together a couples special day and developing wedding ideas a painless process. She spent 18 months testing the idea and creating a prototype before launching lover.ly a search engine for weddings. We talked with Kelli to get the inside scoop on what it took to build a business based on love.
SPC: How did you get started in business?
KK: I started at a young age. I always knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur; I’m a daughter of an entrepreneur and have always been fascinated by business. I studied entrepreneurship and business in college at USC. I took a finance job in the corporate world, worked there for a few years, than started to work with my sister at a PR firm for weddings. There, I saw a massive opportunity in the bridal industry to make an all-in-one source for weddings.
SPC: What’s your 30 second elevator pitch on Loverly?
KK: Loverly is the first inspiration board and search engine for weddings. We help brides find ideas and people to hire. It’s an all in one resource to make a woman’s dream wedding a reality.
SPC: When the company first opened how did people react to your vision?
KK: I pointed out to everyone what the problem was – there wasn’t a one-stop place for buying wedding items or planning weddings. Once they knew that, they were impressed by my vision.
SPC: What inspired your vision?
KK: I was maid of honor at my sister’s wedding, and was frustrated by all the planning and looking around. At first the site was exclusively a search engine for blogs about weddings, with ability to search their content in a new way.
SPC: What was your minimum viable product (MVP)?
KK: At launch, a content search for wedding blogs, and the ability to save and favorite individual entries. Now our visitors search for retail and services for their weddings. You can search through the site and the links will take you to the actual retail sites.
SPC: Do you make a commission from sales?
KK: Nope, we make money per click. “Cost per click”.
SPC: Are you finding other ways to monetize as well?
KK: We represent blogger content as well as advertising inventory, so we display advertisements on our partner sites – all the ads you see on their sites are powered by Loverly. We’ve become an ad network for all our blog partners. We have a similar model to Google’s advertising. Our goal is to create a simplistic and delightful experience for our brides. As the brides are looking for inspiration, they’re also looking for products to actually purchase.
As a company that’s in the early phases of business, how challenging has it been to have advertisers come on board?
KK: As a young company, it’s really important to create a tremendous amount of value for customers and partners. We typically try to get an understanding of what our advertising partners are looking for, and create solutions that are custom to them.
SPC: If you were going to mentor someone that was in your shoes today, how would you walk them through the process of being able to get a meeting with an advertising partner, and how to prepare?
KK: Come to the meeting prepared, with your most creative cap on. Really listen to what it is that the advertiser is looking for and understand their needs, so you can help them meet their goals.
SPC: Was it difficult or easy to get meetings with potential advertisers?
KK: A bunch of our initial partners were inbound requests. They saw us as an opportunity to test and experiment so they approached us. These original partnerships were our chance to really learn and grow, then make plans for future partners. Many found us through our active social media platforms.
SPC: How do you create value for your blog partners, from a financial perspective?
KK: We make their content searchable, so we drive traffic to them. We also bring them ads from brands that otherwise may not have associated with them. As well as we include them in all of our marketing and PR efforts, we do everything in our power to elevate awareness of their brand and point of view. This January we had a woman quit her job as a Kindergarten teacher because she made more money on her blog than she did teaching.
SPC: Have you continued to self-fund the business?
KK: When I started Loverly, I had no idea how fundraising worked, so I self-funded it and invested my own money. Eventually, I realized that I had to raise capital to build a quality company, so we raised the money from angel investors in NYC.
SPC: What advice would you give to people looking for angel investors?
KK: Identifying good investors is really important. What I did was I started doing research on the people who I’d be asking to invest, then reached out to them and asked for a sit down meeting. I started forming relationships with these people and they became mentors to me, and it’s where my initial investors came from. It probably won’t happen over one meeting, build a relationship with them and convince them to invest over time.
SPC: Tell me what has been the thing that has significantly started to propel the business forward?
KK: There are many small things, including signing partners and updates to the site. It’s a series of small steps forward. One big thing is the launch of the Loverly app, which allows you to plan your wedding on the go. Since the release there has been much more mobile engagement.
SPC: How do you prioritize your day and figure out what you’re going to focus on?
KK: Time is your most precious resource, and staying focused is important. I structure my calendar so I can get the most amount of work done. I block out times of the day where I don’t take meetings, and actually have time to do my work.
SPC: How big is your team now and who were your key hires?
KK: I have a team of 13 – Engineers, designers, marketers, business development, brand, and social media. My key hires were bringing on technologists, because we’re a technology company and we had to build a platform. It’s super important when hiring people that they realize it’s a start-up company, all hands on deck! You have to do what you have to do to get things moving along and get the company off the ground.
SPC: What has been a key strategy you’ve leveraged on the marketing side of your business?
KK: It’s really important that your product solves the problem of your customers. As a technology company, your product should be doing the marketing for you. Another thing that helps is a social media presence. Going out and talking to potential customers. Word of mouth. A book that inspired me was “By Invitation Only” which is about word of mouth marketing. Share what you’re working on and get feedback.
SPC: What are you doing to stay grounded in other aspects of your life since you’re so busy running a business?
KK: The only way to stay sane is to take care of yourself. I exercise regularly, whether it’s running or yoga.
SPC: Would you say you’re a spiritual person?
KK: Definitely. I’m inspired by all the things around me and I try to see the good in everyone and be positive.
SPC: What would you say your soul-inspiring purpose is?
KK: What gets me excited is bringing about change and being able to impact so many people.
SPC: What resources would you recommend for entrepreneurs?
KK: Change by Design, Fred Wilson’s blog, AVC.com.
SPC: What’s next for Loverly?
KK: We have a number of new product initiatives in the next 3-6 months, we’re continuing to grow our team, releasing an updated app, and making weddings simpler than ever.