JANESSA WHITE, THE CO-FOUNDER OF SIMPLY ELOPED TALKS ABOUT BUILDING HER STARTUP FOCUSED ON CREATING MAGICAL & INTIMATE DREAM WEDDINGS FOR THEIR CLIENTS
Noticing a demand for elopement-related services, the idea for Simple Eloped was introduced. Janessa White redefines the term ‘elopement’ and is here to help personalize quality intimate wedding ceremonies.
Through her experiences and the problems she’s faced, Alejandra had a breakthrough in the process of trying to help an officiant get return customers, Janessa and her co-founder saw a trend, people were searching for elopement-related services but there was no one to fill in the gap. This is where Janessa and her partner had the bright idea of creating a website with a range of wedding packages and starting the brand ‘Simply Eloped’. Two weeks later, they had their first customer.
“Create more infrastructure from the start. We didn’t have an employee manual until 3 years into our business, and we didn’t have company values and culture until 3 years into our business. There are a lot of infrastructural things that came really late for us that I think would have made for a smoother process of building a team and all these programmes had we had those staples in place ”
Up until Covid, the founders struggled to keep up with its growth due to the growing demand for their services and as the pandemic hit, they were able to catch their breath and organize the sloppy areas of the company. Janessa wanted to create a solution that lets couples have an intimate ceremony where they can still have their clan and maintain the intimacy of it.
Listen to the full podcast to dive deep into Janessa White and her building journey with Simply Eloped.
Janessa’s Book Recommendations:
Where to Find Janessa:
Follow her on Twitter: @JanessaNWhite
Find her on LinkedIn: Janessa White
Where to Find Simply Eloped:
LinkedIn: Simply Eloped
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[desiree]: In today’s episode we have Janessa the woman behind Simply Eloped. Janessa welcome to the show
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[janessa]: thank you
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[desiree]: how are you doing today?
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[janessa]: I’m doing great how are you
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[desiree]: the phrase is alive and breathing for today so the first question is can you briefly introduce yourself and wonder what are you building
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sure yeah My name is Janessa White. I am the co-founder and CEO of Simply Eloped. We’re set up in thirty-one destination around the united states and we essentially plan a person’s entire elopement with twenty guests or less. So in essence a person gets their marriage licence and we do the rest from coordinating the officiant, photography, venue, hair and make-up, floral we do it all.
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[desiree]: and where do you get the idea of simply eloped from and what’s its back story
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Actually, it was my co-founder’s idea. He was in New York City and had just started talking to an officient who was having trouble getting return customers and so he started doing some investigation. His background is in SEO and he just saw a trend, this was like seven years ago, of people that were searching for elopement-related services and no one really servicing them and so we really just kind of started um you know a website and created some packages and started the brand Simply Eloped and two weeks later we had our first customer.
and can you define what eloped means and compared to a traditional compared to the traditional meaning
Yeah absolutely so what we’ve witnessed is that actually, the term elopement has evolved you know I think older generations ascertained that an elopement is getting hitched running away you know kind of like a shock gun wedding because she’s pregnant but what we’re seeing now is that people in younger generations have really ascertained a different meaning to the word elopement so we define it as high quality intimate personalized ceremony generally outdoors obviously cost-conscious so we define elopement in terms of like the guest size is twenty guests or less so you can still have your clan with you it’s not exclusive by any means and so that’s really what we’re seeing people or our kind of defining as elopement these days
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[desiree]: Kind of like a cheaper version of saving the kind of save the pocket of a wedding but still keep the quality essentially
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[janessa]: Yeah I think that historically you know an elopement was a city hall wedding or a Las Vegas wedding with Elvis um but most of what we do is actually like really remote outdoors so you know on the beach in Hawaii in the mountains of colorado um you know we do them all over New Orleans, New York City, Idaho and most of what we do is outdoors
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[desiree]: how would you just expanding on what you just said how would you differentiate that from a traditional wedding?
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[janessa]: yeah so you know once you have like thirty guests or more you really need a lot of infrastructures, which is the reason why we cap it at twenty. So infrastructure meaning you have to have bathrooms on site, parking you know generally like food available, water I mean you just end up needing like a lot more infrastructure in general chairs, microphone you know when you have thirty people standing around outside not everyone’s going
to be able to hear you and so because of that even like a micro size wedding you just your expenses go astronomically up because you have to have a venue. Even if it’s a backyard you still have to have a venue that can support that many people and so I’d say that that’s the main way that an elopement varies from a traditional wedding is that you just don’t need near the infrastructure because you have so few guests so I would you know not to mention
like if you need to amplify sound you need like a microphone and speakers like and then you need an outlet to plug those things in like it just really start it’s compounding with the more people that you add um you know and then when you when you get up into the hundreds you know the two-three hundred um that’s even more difficult you need a lot of vendors that are going to help you manage that number of people um and so it just gets way more complicated the more guests that you add and so we really really try to keep things as simple and stress-free and as cost conscious as just possible.
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[desiree]: I think with the covid the lines were blurred as people had had their weddings outside with limited number of guests did Covid help you in any way
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[janessa]: you know it’s kind of a double-edged sword because what we saw you know we’ve been around for six years and so we’ve seen a lot. And during Covid it was it was a wonderful thing because suddenly I think that people’s eyes were opened to the fact that elopement was a high-quality and beautiful option. So in some senses we definitely saw it become a more de-stigmatized thing. But on the other hand, my analogy is that we were really the only fishermen in the fishing hole and when Covid hit all of a sudden all the other fishermen realized that that’s where the little fishes were and so now we have a lot more competition, a lot more you know mom pop shops that have popped up that are doing elopement specifically. maybe more people eloping there’s way more competition.
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[desiree]: at that point I’m just going to jump a question ahead do you do you have any competitors or is just you at the moment
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[janessa]: yeah it’s really interesting we don’t really have anyone that’s set up the way we are nationwide. And then something that’s not the most intuitive is that we’re actually a tech-enabled service company. And so we’ve spent six years building out a proprietary technology that enables people to do auto booking, you know to book our services without talking to a sales representative. It enables us to manage you know five hundred and fifty vendors that enables us to process thousands of ceremonies on an annual basis and so because we’ve built out this technology, it really does differentiate as I’d say we’re probably the most progressive technology company in the wedding industry. So we really don’t have any competition from a nationwide standpoint. Our competition are like the local mom and pop shops you know the people that are offering elopements in Las Vegas or San Diego or Portland or Asheville so that’s really where we see the most competition is with like shoot off individual vendors.
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[desiree]: okay and how many locations do you have on your platform how many locations do you have now on your platform
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[janessa]: yeah we’re currently at thirty-one destinations around the united states
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[desiree]: and how big is your team now
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[janessa]: oh so my administration team I think we’re at twenty-eight and we are globally distributed so that includes like my sales team, customer experience, development team so that’s everybody um and then like I said we’ve got five hundred and fifty vendors, contractors and then about two hundred and fifty venues.
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[desiree]: well big team on average how many events do you do you have per month
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[janessa]: um I don’t know per month because we do have seasonality but I can tell you on average we performed twenty-five hundred ceremonies a year
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[desiree]: you’re very busy then
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[janessa]: we’re just a little busy
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[desiree]: and uh let’s see walks through the process when someone signs up onto your platform what happens next
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[janessa]: yeah so we help anyone who comes to our platform to choose a destination first and foremost, and then a venue, you know. We help ensure that their date, their time and their package is available. So we do have set packages that include different things, so if you just want an officient we have a package for that, if you want everything, if you want an officient, flower, hair and make-up, videography, photographer we have that as well. So we really bundle everything together. And then once we’ve got those and then your guest count obviously and then once we have those details figured out you go through our platform, you put a deposit down and we pair you up with our customer experience representative and this is kind of like your best friend for your elopement. So this person introduces you to your vendors, generally applies for your permit, or coordinates your venue, ensures that your timeline and day of schedule is locked and ready to go, answers any questions ensures you get your marriage license, so they do everything from like A to Z around the actual ceremony. And so yeah we make it pretty easy I think you know I think the wedding industry has imposed upon people that planning a wedding should be a stressful and cumbersome, and so we do see people kind of come to us like this feels too easy is this is this right is this correct like am I supposed to be doing something and so we get that reaction a lot words like no no no you’re okay we’ve got you we’ve got everything so I think the fact that we have like hundreds and hundreds of reviews really help people feel secure in us because it does feel very unintuitive to have such a simple wedding.
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[desiree]: it sounds like a very stress-free wedding production you have over there which sounds really good how much of it is automated or manual like reaching out to the reaching out to vendors and etcetera
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[janessa]: do you mean on behalf of the customer
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[desiree]: so in a sense of how much of everything is like down so when a customer comes to you is it just all the teams doing it or do you have like the website like an algorithm for example
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[janessa]: so for the vendors specifically like we do assign vendors and then introduce them and so the we allow like the customer to the liaison I don’t like saying customer the clients or couple to lison with the vendors because that’s a relationship that we see as really important you know these are the people that are going to be boots on the ground facilitating your special day and so we do foster that connection so that you can personalize your wedding script and ensure that the photographer is capturing all the things you want to capture so um but again that’s done through our technology and so like the assigning the intro like all that is automated
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[desiree]: and this question is kind of going a little bit back if you had to give advice to your younger self what would it be
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[janessa]: I mean I’ll be frank with you. I’ve made every mistake new business owner could make. But there’s also value in that I think if I could have given myself advice at the beginning it would have been to create more infrastructure from the start. We didn’t have for instance like an employee manual until like three years into our business. And we didn’t have company values and culture until like three years into our business so there are a lot of like infrastructural things that came really late for us that I think would have made for a smoother process of building a team and building you know all these programs had we had those staples in place but, we also I’ll be frank with you like we hit the ground running. We uh you know my business partner and I were the only people that worked in the business for the first year and a half and we were doing everything we were wearing all hats as a founder usually does. And then the only reason why we started bringing on team members is because we were growing so rapidly, um and so like when you’re already you already have a business in place, and you’re having to scale, build you know develop a team at the same time, I mean that’s a lot to manage and so I’ll be frank with you until Covid hit like until like the shutdown really happened, we couldn’t keep up with our own growth. Like we we had a hard time keeping our feet under us, and so while you know Covid was really hard for us, thousands of postponements and cancellations, we were like, our bookings stopped and we were refunding tons of money of people that couldn’t get married with us, so it was a really difficult time, but the blessing that came upon us is that we were able to catch our breath for the first time in you know four or five years, and so we really, really utilized that time to organize, systematize documents figure out what aspects of our company were sloppy you know, um and so in that regard it was a really positive thing for us.
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[desiree]: sounds like some real raw growth there like just as it is which is how the journey is as a founder what are your goals for this year with simply eloped
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[janessa]: yeah so with Simply Eloped we’re actually really working on some growth initiatives. Like we don’t allow you to select your own vendor and a huge part that is we’ve just never had the infrastructure to ensure that we had availability for it so we’ve been working internally on algorithms to ensure availability so that we can allow people to select their own vendor during that booking process so that will be live prior to January. And then I actually just bought out my co-founder and brought on a new COO and so right now we’re really just like again kind of cleaning ship and you know we’re launching a commercial, we’re like finding huge opportunities for brand exposure, um and so we’re doing a lot of fun things but the thing I’m the most excited about is we’re actually launching a sister business. I’m not going to announce it quite, because we’re not ready to, but I can, I can tease it out. We essentially like I said I’ve been building out our technology for the last six years and now we’re building a platform where other people planning their own weddings can utilize that technology and so in the fall we’ll be launching our beta for this platform and I’m really just excited for others to utilize the technology for free, that that we’ve been planning for such a long time so I’m really excited about that.
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[desiree]: all the best in the release when that does happen to be continued for those who are watching this episode keep an eye on the simply eloped space, yeah and the last question I’ll throw at to you names three non-fiction books that are changed the way that you think
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[janessa]: Okay I’ve got some good ones so Sapiens definitely rewired my brain. The Hard Thing About Hard Things, you know I’m not sure like I learned a lot from that book but it definitely made me feel less lonely as a founder, um and then let’s see I mean this one has nothing to do with business but The Hidden Life of Trees, I just think is like a lovely book so those are my three non-fiction books that’s sort of changed the way I think.
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[desiree]: Janessa, thank you for sharing your journey with us and that’s a wrap