Zola, a fast growing company that invites newly hired couples to sign up their guests, shop at 600 different brands and create customizable checklists, has itself received something extravagant: $ 100 million in Series D financing.
Former investor Comcast Ventures led the round, which also included new investors NBCUniversal and Goldman Sachs Investment Partners. The 110-year-old company, based in New York, has now raised $ 140 million.
We talked last night with founder and CEO Shan-Lyn Ma to find out more. Ma is a former executive with the e-commerce companies Gilt Group and Chloe + Isabel who started Zola to reinvent the traditional registration process, but who now sees the opportunity to meet all the needs of the company. a young couple, caterers at Cuisinarts, eventually, perhaps, even home mortgages. Our discussion was slightly modified for length.
TC: You are a decent size company at this point. Is everyone in New York?
SM: The vast majority, although we also have a small number in Charlottesville, Virginia. Earlier this year, we acquired the assets of a small wedding company that had closed and brought part of this team to Zola.
TC: Have you made any other acquisitions? Do you want now with this new giant tower?
SM: No, and it is possible, but the greatest vision is to meet the needs of couples from the day of their fiancée until their first year of marriage. We will use the funding to accelerate the development of new wedding planning tools for couples, so we can be this destination of choice.
How do people learn about Zola?
SM: The biggest engine of growth was the people who went to a wedding where Zola was the register used by the couple. An average of one hundred and fifty people see the register, and if these visitors believe it is a better product, [they come to us, too]. It's an integrated virality.
We also chose Comcast Ventures to be our largest investor because Comcast and [fellow investor] NBC are market leaders in broadband media. They will help us achieve our marketing and awareness goals, which is a great opportunity and area of interest for us in the coming year.
TC: How many people have used the site so far?
SM: More than 500,000 couples used our wedding registry or managed their guest list via Zola.
TC: Zola started as a marriage registry product. Now, it's a full-fledged market, connecting committed couples to 600 brands and 60,000 products. Do you make a percentage on each sale?
SM: It's more like a retail model. Couples can sign up for items or buy them for themselves; we sell them at the retail price and buy wholesale.
TC: Do you buy these products and shelter them?
SM: No. We learned from our past experiences in other e-commerce [companies] traps and land mines, and Zola was built to avoid these problems. We have virtually no inventory and we have virtually no returns, and these are the main reasons why e-commerce is such a difficult business.
TC: Can you elaborate?
SM: We built our own proprietary drop-ship platform that allows us to connect directly with branded partners to offer their products on Zola. Thus, when an order is placed, we communicate with the customer, but at the time of shipment, we transmit this order to the warehouse of the brand and they ship it directly to the customer .
The reason the returns are so low is because we built the register so that we give couples the flexibility to not send something to themselves until they 're ready. they are sure to want to receive it. We had the idea that couples do not want to receive gifts before their return from honeymoon. In this way, they can see what is given to them and make a virtual exchange through the platform if they wish, as well as indulge themselves in the things that they really want.
TC: Do brands give you a discount for having promised to buy a certain amount of their products during a year? Why do you let them pay wholesale?
SM: We deliver them a millennial audience and get their marks in front of couples just as they decide their brand preferences for the rest of their lives. We also offer them a degree of predictability. We can predict how much of each product they should expect to sell through Zola in a month
TC: Will we see Zola branded products?
SM: The only cases where it would make sense that we develop our own product is if we see a demand for something that we can not get through a brand.
TC: I heard you talk about the marriage market, which is a $ 100 billion market in the United States alone. But you also talk about meeting all the needs of couples who are just hitched. Does this mean linking them to caterers and travel experiences and mortgages?
SM: Our ambition is to serve the couples in this journey, so all these things are in the lead, and we believe that we can help them in a unique way through the ideas we have [glean] through our records and our checklists. other wedding planning tools.
TC: How do you rate profitability in relation to growth? Do you have a deadline for the company to become profitable and share?
SM: One of the great lessons that our leaders learned from start-ups and e-commerce [companies] was to build a sustainable business model – and a model that can be profitable in a reasonable delay.
Right now we are investing for growth. But we are moving towards that goal, where we are a gigantic company, serving businesses throughout the planning of their marriage, and where we have a company that supports that mission. Absolutely.