Menagerie Joins Matter VC

Today’s couples are planning their own weddings. But in a world without the wedding planner and the success of their wedding contingent upon hiring the right vendors, they are spending more than 150 hours searching and emailing vendors for quotes, organizing their research in spreadsheets, and managing their wedding costs and emotions.

Content platforms, such as Pinterest, may have brought wedding inspiration to the masses but have failed to assist couples with execution — photos often redirect users to blogs and e-commerce sites that have reposted the vendors’ works for content on their own sites. Couples are victims to their wedding vision without a way to easily find the vendors they need and understand the cost of their wedding aspirations.

Current wedding tools, such as spreadsheets, complicate rather than simplify the planning process. The Knot and Weddingwire provide checklists as a primary tool for managing wedding details and tracking progress; however, checklists fall short of functionality. These tools lack the beautiful, stress-free wedding experience that they ultimately intend to deliver.

Today’s engaged couple is online. They want to be actionable and efficient with wedding planning, not just inspirational. These are the modern challenges of wedding planning.

In a perfect world, we’d be able to resolve these problems and plan our weddings seamlessly online. Well, my co-founder, Harlan, and I believe we create the world we want to live in, and so we started Menagerie.

Menagerie makes it easy for modern couples to collaborate, organize and confidently choose the right wedding professionals, all in one place.

Menagerie Co-founders: Harlan Mikove (left) and Tiffany Stone (right)

Harlan and I are veterans of the startup community, and specifically startups that combined platform-enabled solutions with new industry business models to democratize desired products and services traditionally unaccessible and expensive to individuals. We are strong believers that many traditional industries have yet to evolve to deliver more convenience, resolve sustained pain points, and empower their workforces. Our own experiences with weddings and startups made us believe the wedding industry was finally due for this change.

From working with David’s Bridal in 2012, I knew that many of the existing wedding players were once again reaching an inflection point. Their ad-reliant business models hinder their capability and pace of delivering solutions to address the above-mentioned challenges of wedding planning; because while they search for a disruptive play, they are still being held to the existing metrics of their business. The absence of such solutions was evident in the behaviors of my engaged friends and also for Harlan when he was planning his wedding not too long ago. Additionally, from Harlan’s experiences with Work Market, Lot18 and co-founding Reonomy, it was clear to him that this was another opportunity to combine technology, data and talent to deliver a desired experience and better solution for individuals.

Our team meeting Bridezillas at the NY Bridal Expo

However, it wasn’t until we began meeting brides, grooms and vendors at wedding expos that it occurred to us that there has never been a better time than now to build Menagerie.

Most couples we met were navigating the wedding planning on their own, which reflected the recent growing popularity of wedding coordinators and partial-service or month-of wedding planners in the past five years. Couples also expressed frustration with the overwhelming amount of online content that did not ease the learning curve or decision-making process. While talking with vendors, they spewed their frustration with the high costs of visibility with more custom service vendors entering the market (i.e. $500/month to list on The Knot with no guaranteed bookings). Vendors also confessed to their high spending on branding, development and business tools.

We found ourselves at the intersection of these major business, technology and wedding trends. We discovered the vision we shared was no longer a luxury but a necessity. So we got to work.

An engaged couple interacting with Menagerie during NY Bridal Fashion Week!

Today, Menagerie is helping couples in New York by matching them with vendors that fit their vision, budget and preferences. At the same time, we have also helped many wedding professionals remove the high costs and barriers to gaining customers.

While we’re excited about what we’ve built today, we’re even more excited about tomorrow and those that will be joining us along the way! This summer, we are joining Matter to help us accelerate our future and achieve our wedding vision.

To receive the latest updates from Menagerie, sign up at www.menagerie.me

Follow Menagerie on Instagram, Facebook, or send an email to tiffany@menagerie.me to say hello.

The Future As We Saw It At SXSW 2015

A few days at SXSW is enough to challenge your current perspective and expectations of the future of markets, industries, technologies and human behavior. This year at SXSW Interactive, social media, connectivity (IoT), 3D printing, healthtech and sustainability were all major topics of discussion.

Social Media

The newest member to the tech community, Meerkat, proved that video is the future as a form of communication between individuals, not just brands to individuals, and that communities quickly form around the sharing of short, real-time and visual content. Meerkat successfully leveraged an existing social network, Twitter, to create overnight communities and viral content.

The challenge now will be how Meerkat can continue to grow independently and maintain engagement on its own platform as Twitter has limited Meerkat’s access to its social graph going forward. Piggy-backing large social networks is nothing new and neither are the lessons learned – take for example Zynga and Facebook.

With so much content flooding the twitter streams during SXSW, from meerkat tweets to keynote quotes to party pictures, the hashtag proved its power and necessity to individuals. With the hashtag, you were able to find everything related to a campaign, event, brand, discussion all in real-time and instantly react to it. #FOMO would be even worse without the hashtag.

At a panel called “Breaking News in the Age of Snapchat”, a White House Senior Advisor, Dan Pfeiffer, and News and Guts CEO, Dan Rather, emphasized the distinction between news and content. Social media has completely redefined who is a reporter and the role of a reporter. With the barriers of information distribution removed, traditional systems will need to adapt quickly to these new channels to be able to manage their own content and distribution (but of course there will never again be complete ownership of information with the growing adoption of social media across the world). I share the same views that live-streaming video services will do to television news what blogs did to printed news.

Transportation

Lyft stepped up its game with Lyft Line, while the SXSW shuttle was a total fail and ultimately converted shuttle pass holders to lyft riders. With Lyft, there was a $10 fixed price per ride as long as you requested Lyft Line. Profitability aside, the campaign was successful with new lyft users and communicated loud and clear its mission – to reconnect people and communities through better transportation. Would love to see some of those numbers from Lyft after SXSW.

The limited transportation options in Austin was also a reminder that there is much innovation needed still in transportation, including public transit, real-time navigation and road closure/traffic/accident notifications, and parking. Most recently, Leap Buses launched in SF to provide a more convenient public transportation solution that enables riders to continue their mobile experience on the bus and access wifi, food and drinks all from their phones. It’s no doubt that connectivity is the next big thing in transportation.

Leap Buses also makes me wonder if individuals are willing to pay a premium to ride Leap Buses because of their need to access wifi while in transit or if they just want the more luxurious experience compared to the regular buses. Or maybe they want to be surrounded by the type of people who value the availability and use of such technologies – tech-savvy individuals are a new class in our society that now exist between the upper middle class and upper class. These type of people are the ones who have transformed Uber into a successful global luxury brand.

At the Interactive Innovation Awards, there was indeed a transportation category and the company that won was Guide Dots – an audio-based guide app for the visually impaired.

Diversity and Workforce

Diversity was a big topic this year at SXSW, while the Pao vs. Kleiner trial continues. I appreciated that more industry leaders, including many women, voiced their opinions about evaluating individuals not based on ethnicity, gender or sexuality but based on their unique background and what they bring to the table. I truly believe that until companies and individuals stop encouraging women and employing or promoting them in order to “achieve” diversity in their workforce, will we be able to reach equality. Equality is not in the numbers, its in the mindset.

Princess Reema’s keynote on the taboos and struggles women face in Saudi Arabia was definitely a highlight at SXSW.

We are at the heart of the “mobile workforce movement” as Kevin Gibbon, CEO of Shyp, calls it. On-demand services such as Uber, Lyft, 3D Hubs, TaskRabbit, Seamless, Wun Wun, and many others enabled individuals to create value with their idle talent, time and assets. I’m particularly excited to see so many individuals become merchants of their own skills and small business owners. As the mobile workforce grows, we will begin to re-define what it means to be a contractor or part-time employee, and tangent industries such as insurance will evolve to service this new workforce (Check out how my friend Tristan Zier’s startup Zen99 is supporting contractors).

HealthTech

I noticed a growing presence and emphasis on HealthTech at SXSW this year, including a health and medtech expo at the JW Marriott Hotel. We are seeing more technology applications in the healthcare space (Go SOLS!) and there is a lot of discussion about the future of remote [self] diagnosis, health monitoring from afar, preventative solutions and use of wearables. Many venture capital firms have recognized this opportunity and need for innovation and healthcare and have already begun investing heavily in this space.

We are seeing new tools for diagnosis, such as the aliveCor and Cell scope that have re-invented the stethoscope and otoscope, respectively. However, on the wearables side, there is struggle to establish trust and engagement with both the consumers and providers. We continue to see a high drop-off rate with consumer engagement with wearables; the length of use is not long enough for the consumer to benefit from the device’s collection of the individual’s data. As such, the consumer is unable to see or benefit from the long-term use of the wearable. There needs to be a series of measurements over time and visual data to help individuals understand their health and encourage preventative behavior (i.e. decreased smoking benefits are made aware to the consumer through the wearable)

While I agree that the fashion first approach is necessary at the point of purchase with the consumer, incentivizing individuals to buy the product, it does not prevent the product from becoming an idle asset (My Nike Fuelband looks great on my dresser…).

Ayesha Khalid beautifully summarized one of the most pressing questions in healthtech: “How can information from all these apps and devices feed to EMR providers to enable effective and consistent information sharing between the patient and provider for more accurate health monitoring and diagnosis?”

When at SXSW in 2016…

Convinced you’re going to be at SXSW in 2016? Great – here are just a few tips before you set out for next year then.

– Pick out your top hotels for the day and just jump in and out of talks at that location. Each hotel has a theme.
– Pick talks on topics that are foreign to you. This is an opportunity to learn not to reassure your knowledge on a topic or justify your opinions.
– The keynote speakers is a Must attend! Illuminating, educational and inspirational talks from industry leaders.
– Explore topics across industries – finance, health, fashion, enterprise, etc. This is your chance to gain a holistic view on the latest leading technologies in the world.
– Challenge yourself throughout the week to meet someone new. SXSW is one of the best and most natural ways to meet people.
– Party. But don’t party too hard – lesson learned.

Tiffany’s Birthday Fundraiser for BrightEyes

Please help me celebrate my 25th birthday by joining me in contributing to BrightEyes, a mentorship program dedicated to providing college students a unique opportunity to explore different career paths.

Four years ago, I started BrightEyes in hopes to make mentorship and career opportunities more accessible to students. With your help and generosity, we will be able to send a class of students to San Francisco, where they will be able to meet with their role models and future mentors as well as tour leading companies in startup, tech and venture capital.

I’ve also decided that I would be matching the total donations made on my campaign page, up to $1,000, so please consider giving!

To be successful, we all require someone willing to invest in our potential and vision. We’ve all had someone invest in us along the way. Join me in investing in these students’ vision and potential.

Contribute to BrightEyes: http://brighteyes-students.org/donations/

If you are not in a position to donate monetarily, please like BrightEyes on Facebook and share the program with friends & family, on Facebook, Twitter, and anywhere else you’d like!

Thank you for helping me celebrate my birthday this year.

My Notes on “Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future”

I’ve decided to share my notes and thoughts on Peter Thiel’s Zero to One. Additionally, I’ve also embedded suggested reads in my notes that are relevant to the topic or chapter. For those who haven’t read the book (read it!), here’s a preview of it and some of the more powerful takeaways for me while reading it. For those who have read it, I hope this is a helpful reminder for you and a good reference as you continue to help build our future.

Note: Comments in parentheses are my own.

Zero to One
Peter Thiel with Blake Masters

(1) The Challenge of the Future

The act of creation is singular, as is the moment of creation, and the result is something fresh and strange.

By creating new technologies, we rewrite the plan of the world.
Debate: Is there a formula for entrepreneurship?

The single most powerful pattern I have noticed is that successful people find value in unexpected places, and they do this by thinking about business from first principles instead of formulas.

What important truth do very few people agree with you on?

Conventional beliefs only ever come to appear arbitrary and wrong in retrospect; whenever one collapses, we call the old belief a bubble.

What triggered dot com bust / bubble pop?

Dot Com Timeline

(2) Party Like It’s 1999

4 Lessons from Dot Com Crash:
1 – Make Incremental Advances

2 – Stay Lean and Flexible: lean = unplanned. You should not know what your business will do; planning is arrogant and inflexible. Instead you should try things out, “iterate” and treat entrepreneurship as agnostic experimentation.

3 – Improve on the Competition: don’t try to create a new market prematurely. The only way to know you have a real business is to start with an already existing customer, so you should build your company by improving on recognizable products already offered by successful competition

4 – Focus on Product, not Sales: technology is primarily about product development, not distribution

( Did companies like Product Hunt have a market-ready product first or did they build with the market and succeed with distribution as a result of social media?)

(3) All Happy Companies are Different

Monopolists, by contrast, disguise their monopoly by framing their market as the union of several large markets:

(Examples)
Search Engine X Mobile Phones X Wearable
Computers X Self-driving Cars

Monopoly is the condition of every successful business

(4) The Ideology of Competition
Carl von Clausewitz
Sun Tzu

(5) Last Mover Advantage

A great business is defined by its ability to generate cash flows in the future.
(Bubbles form when individuals inflate a company’s ability to generate CF in the future!)

Characteristics of a Monopoly:
1 – Proprietary technology: rule-of-thumb prop. tech must be at least 10X better than its closest substitute
2 – Network effects: network effect businesses must start with especially small markets
3 – Economies of scale
4 – Branding

People then products then traffic then revenue – Marissa Myer’s rebrand of Yahoo!

(It’s a balance of first-mover advantage and last-mover advantage)

(6) You are Not a Lottery Ticket

“Success is never accidental.” – Jack Dorsey on twitter

(Most people believe getting a job in finance is impossible without previous finance experience or technical skill set. The same is true for when people think about getting a job in tech. It’s possible to create the experience for yourself by accessing the same resources, engaging in the same conversations and building the same relationships with those already in those roles in the industry. So really, nothing is impossible because nothing can’t be learned.)

(Diversification of experiences and skill sets. In my opinion, specialization is overrated. I haven’t felt the need to specialize to be successful, only to be good at what I’m currently doing. And if you’re doing what you’re passionate about, you can’t fail.)

You’ve spent a decade curating a bewilderingly diverse resume to prepare for a completely unknowable future. Come what may, he’s ready – for nothing in particular.

Indefinite Optimism

Today, “good design” is an aesthetic imperative
It’s true that every great entrepreneur is first and foremost a designer
Visual + Experiential Perfection

(Design your business)

(7) Follow the Money

Two Rules for VC:
1. Only invest in companies that have the potential to return the value of the entire fund
2. Because rule number one is so restrictive, there can’t be any other rules

People who understand the power law will hesitate more than others when it comes to founding a new venture: they know how tremendously successful they could become by joining the very best company while it’s growing fast.

(8) Secrets

What secret is nature not telling you?
What secrets are people not telling you?

The actual truth is that there are many more secrets left to find, but they will yield only to relentless searchers.

A great company is a conspiracy to change the world.

Thiel’s Law: a startup messed up at it’s foundation cannot be fixed

(9) Foundations

To anticipate likely sources of misalignment in any company, it’s useful to distinguish between three concepts:
1. Ownership: who legally owns a company’s equity?
2. Possession: who actually runs the company on a day-to-day basis?
3. Control: who formally governs the company’s affairs?

Anyone who doesn’t own stock options or draw a regular salary from your company is fundamentally misaligned

Any kind of cash is more about the present than the future.

(10) The Mechanics of Mafia

‘Company culture’ doesn’t exist apart from the company itself: no company has a culture; every company is a culture

Never outsource recruiting

Why should the 20th employee join your company?

2 Great Points of Evaluation of a Candidate:
1. Good candidates can answer why your mission is compelling or why you’re doing something important that no one else is going to get done
2. Why is your company a good match for the individual personally

Everyone at your company should be different in the same way

The early team should share a common, unique obsession/idea that relates to the company’s mission
(Value propositions must be defined early on. Essentially, you’re forming a cult. Airbnb is one of the best examples of a great culture that’s continued despite its growth in size)

On the inside, every individual should be sharply distinguished by her work

Defining roles reduce conflicts
– Most fights inside a company happen when colleagues compete for the same responsibilities; startups face an especially high risk of this since job roles are fluid at the early stages
– Eliminating competition makes it easier for everyone to build the kinds of long-term relationships that transcend mere professionalism

Every company is also its own ecosystem

(11) If You Build It, Will They Come?

The engineer’s grail is a product great enough that “it sells itself.” But anyone who would actually say this about a real product must be lying…

If you’ve invented something new but you haven’t invented an effective way to sell it, you have a bad business – no matter how good the product.

Advertising works for startups when CAC and CLTV make every other distribution channel uneconomical (i.e. The advertisements justify the method of acquisition because of users and revenue achieved…all about ROI)

A product is viral if its core functionality encourages users to invite their friends to become users too. (Network effects in The Networked Age)

Just get on distribution channel to work, then have a great business

Important to have PR strategy; selling company to media is necessary part to selling to everyone else

(12) Man and Machine

People compete for jobs and for resources; computers compete for neither

But big data is usually dumb data. Computers can find patterns that elude humans, but they don’t know how to compare patterns from different sources or how to interpret complex behaviors. Actionable insights can only come from a human analyst

(Will this statement always be true? Maybe the human role will change but will not become obsolete with new technologies that require human guidance but predictive analytics will become so powerful that patters across sources can and will be effectively interpreted by computers)

(13) Seeing Green

Seven questions every business must answer:
1. The Engineering Questions: Can you create breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements?
* Proprietary technology significantly differentiates?
2. The Timing Question: Is now the right time to start your particular business?
3. The Monopoly Question: Are you starting with a big share of a small market?
* Identify and Own a niche market
4. The People Question: Do you have the right team?
5. The Distribution Question: Do you have a way to not just create but deliver your products?
6. The Durability Question: Will your market position be defensible 10 and 20 years into the future?
* The Last Mover
7. The Secret Question: Have you identified a unique opportunity that others don’t see?

Myths of Social Entrepreneurship:
“…corporations have great power, but they’re shackled to the profit motive; nonprofits pursue the public interest, but they’re weak players in the wider economy. Social entrepreneurs aim to combine the best of both worlds and ‘do well by doing good.’ Usually they end up doing neither.”

Great companies have secrets: specific reasons for success that other people don’t see.

(14) The Founder’s Paradox

A unique founder can make authoritative decisions, inspire strong personal loyalty, and plan ahead for decades.

Paradoxically, impersonal bureaucracies staffed by trained professionals can last longer than any lifetime, but they usually act with short time horizons.

*We need founders…a great founder can bring out the best work from everybody at his or her company

(Conclusion) Stagnation or Singularity?

“Our task today is to find singular ways to create the new things that will make the future not just different, but better – to go from 0 to 1.”

Give Thanks

I have a lot to be thankful for this past year. I like to think back to where I was exactly a year ago today and what I was doing. A year ago, I was at Duff & Phelps valuing companies and working part-time at 3D Hubs. I was just discovering the potential of 3D printing to enable us to produce our imaginations and unleash a new wave of innovative businesses. I was planning for the second BrightEyes trip in San Francisco, focusing on the startup and venture capital industries.

Today, I am at SOLS, where I’m learning what it truly means to build and grow a product, brand, community and company. More importantly, we’re discovering how to do it with both the offline and online consumers, and the growing consumption of social, mobile and video. I’ve had the fortune to work closely with a female founder and role model that is sharing with me the challenges and excitement of building a business as a female in a traditionally male-dominated industry. I am thankful for this opportunity.

I first learned about SOLS through a mentor. In our lives, we come across many passions and sometimes our interests ask us to change our current course. Mentors help guide us down untraveled paths, trust that we will succeed and take multiple chances on us. To be successful, we all require someone willing to invest in our potential and vision. I am thankful for my mentors.

What we receive is also what we need to give. I freely offer mentorship to those who ask or need it. I am reminded to pay it forward by my mentors. But I’ve realized that mentoring is also a mutual benefit. In those conversations you have with your mentee about what they’re struggling with, what they want to learn, where they envision themselves, you also learn more about yourself. Teaching leads to self-reflection as you search through your own experiences to provide advice. It is also incredibly rewarding to experience success through another individual, a feeling that cannot be replicated. I am thankful for my mentees.

I’ve come to the conclusion that a person’s career is lonely. We switch companies, teams and roles over the years and these changes in our career are singular decisions and advances. What allows us to confidently make these decisions is not only our own ambitions, but also the support from our family and friends. My family has never questioned my dreams and decisions. In fact there is no wrong decision or concern for taking risks. It’s this support system and trust that has allowed me to have no regrets. I am thankful for my family.

Friends are the other component of our support system. They remind us how we can choose happiness and live our lives. People live to connect with others and share stories. We cannot thrive alone. I am thankful for my friends, old and new.

And finally, everyone should thank themselves. Every day, you succeed at some personal challenge without knowing it, it could be as trivial of a task as completing a book, attending a meeting on time, cooking a new recipe, going to the gym, meeting someone new or calling home. We’re often too harsh with ourselves and never reflect to acknowledge our own accomplishments. It’s very easy to be unhappy with ourselves, but this is not unusual and in fact, you should occasionally feel unsatisfied with yourself because you expect more out of yourself, you know you’re meant for greatness. But just be sure to celebrate yourself along the way and as much as possible. Thank you, self.

 

The Right Voice is Your Voice

social_media

These days, if your company doesn’t have a voice online, it doesn’t exist to people. Online presence is necessary, but even more important than being online is having the right voice and content.

Many startups outsource their social media management, and while it may work initially with creating an online presence, it is not recommended when building an online brand. A company’s online voice needs to be consistent with the overall company’s mission, vision and current initiatives. An individual outside of the company does not have that transparency into the company and especially with early stage companies, initiatives are constantly changing and emerging and direction is constantly adapting to market responses. This brings me to another point, that social media is one of the most effective ways to gage market response to your product without spending lots of money testing and collecting consumer feedback. Eventually, your social media channels will also become a form of customer service, where you will be able to respond directly and in real-time to customer concerns or feedback. You definitely need someone who understands the product and process and is up to date with the company to fulfill this role.

Not every channel is right for every business.

This is important to understand because pushing content out where your target audience isn’t will waste time, resources and content. And more importantly, the goal to increase brand awareness and engagement will not be achieved. Identifying the right social media channels requires a strong understanding of the business, vision and short-term and long-term initiatives and goals. As the company grows, channels may also be added.

While an external agency or individual may be able to provide the right type of content, it won’t be able to create personal interactions with potential users and provide transparency into the company and product, a necessary function of social media. To be clear, this is more true for twitter and instagram than for blogs. Unlike blogs, twitter and instagram are more interactive and the content shared on those channels are more frequent and require more effort to be consistent.

Each channel has its own voice and strategy.

This pretty much says everything. To build a truly strong brand on a channel and engage your audience, you must customize your voice and content to that platform to reach the right audience. On twitter you may want to reach a broader audience (across your industry) but on instagram, where the demographic and type of engagement is different than that of twitter’s, you will want to be more focused on a specific audience, which will determine the type of content shared.

Here are a few examples of social media frameworks for different types of businesses:
– Showcase Fans and Customers (e.g. Lyft shares customers’ experiences with drivers)
– Motivational/Inspirational (e.g. Nike, Gatorade, Lululemon)
– Umbrella Theme (e.g. Shapeways & 3D Hubs share all things 3D printing related)

On instagram, we are seeing many companies showcase their communities rather than share their own content (SoulCycle, Flat Tummy Tea, Lole Women, 3D Hubs).

We are seeing more and more companies become more successful as a result of their online presence (Warby Parker, Bevel, Well+Good, Peek, Wealthfront). And in some cases, companies are being formed as a result of a community that has formed online first (Product Hunt, Startup{ery). Social media can be one of the most valuable intangible assets to a company so treat it as your own and expect to create value from within not from without.

The Lesson: Don’t Oursource Social Media Management