Name: Carley Roney
Job: Co-founder and Chief Content Officer XO Group Inc., Formerly The Knot Inc.
Twitter or Facebook: @carleyroney
I’ve had a bit of a girl crush on Carley Roney for some time now. So when Jessica Kleiman recommended her as a proFASHIONal, it’s possible I squealed a bit. (Wish I could say I was lying about that last part.) I watched her on The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, wedding segments on The View, and have read multiple articles about her and her husband’s venture. Not that my husband and I can relate or anything or… can we?
If you haven’t heard of her name I guarantee you’ve heard of one if not more of her websites such as The Knot, The Nest, The Bump, and now many more. I believe I became a bit obsessed with The Knot, just like any other bride, when I got engaged. Bridesmaid dresses, flowers, and invitations oh my! If you’re in the mood to have a good chuckle and/or do some extra procrastinating at work feel free to check out my old wedding website I made with The Knot here. I’ve apparently been married for 971 days.
I do realize that my geek level might out shine some of my more fashionable posts, but I suppose if you’ve gotten this far in the article you’re not holding that against me. While it’s a huge honor to interview Carley, I’m thrilled to be able to share her entrepreneurial story of how her and her husband had one idea that went from internet startup to a publicly traded company, a 15 year overnight success. Enjoy…
ProFASHIONal: Carley Roney – in black
Reality Chic – in pink
How did you first start in the media/wedding industry?
When I got engaged in 1993, my now-husband (and business partner) and I were excited like any other couple, but quickly realized the resources available at the time couldn’t help us. I was working 70 hours a week and no vendors were open when I finally could sit down and plan after 7 p.m. There were no etiquette tips for modern couples. I couldn’t find any ideas on how to plan a wedding for a little blonde girl marrying a 6 ft. tall Chinese guy! We were also planning and paying for the wedding ourselves and couldn’t find any tips on how to do this.
With the realization that the world of weddings was outdated, cluttered and chaotic, I and three other partners formed The Knot Inc. (now known as XO Group Inc.) in 1996 to help today’s brides and grooms (and their families and guests) plan the weddings of their dreams – whether it’s a country club-chic wedding or a tropical destination wedding.
What made you and your husband decide that an online site discussing the ins and outs of real wedding planning would work, especially with other bridal magazines in the market?
The bridal world was outdated, cluttered and chaotic. Bridal magazines hadn’t changed in 20 years and weren’t in touch with modern brides. We decided that launching a website was the best way to reach our target audience of young brides and grooms. They were first to adopt the internet, had a lot of money to spend in a short period of time and were desperate for information and to communicate with lots of people at once.
How did you decide to take the leap and go full-time as an entrepreneur?
When we started The Knot, we were looking for ways out of the work for hire world, plus we were out of work—our only option was to jump in with both feet. Failure was not an option; it was about survival for us back then.
What were some of your first steps you took at the beginning to organize The Knot?
When we first started, we launched on AOL as keyword Weddings and from there everything just took off. As the internet changed and evolved, so did we, and a year after our initial launch through AOL, we formally launched our own site, TheKnot.com
Was your plan always to grow into a lifestyle brand with The Nest & The Bump or did it come naturally?
It came naturally. We made it a habit from the beginning to listen to our community. In 2004 so many of our brides were coming back to the site to talk to each other that we created four message boards dedicated to newly married life, and the traffic exploded. That’s when we knew we needed to create another brand for life beyond the wedding, so TheNest.com was born in 2005. Once TheNest.com was live, we noticed that one of the hot topics was baby on the brain and we launched TheBump.com
Do you have any technical advice or tricks of the trade for bloggers or entrepreneurs on how to grow their online site?
Do your research, but at the end of the day-go with your gut! Believe in yourself and make it work. Be willing to make sacrifices. It will come in the form of free time, money, your social life and friends. Once you have your feet on solid ground, you can regain some. Be passionate about what you do: it is a pleasure to work for yourself and not everyone is so fortunate. Take pride in it and enjoy it. Lastly, don’t be prideful: you will have some humbling moments (speaking to 4 people on a rainy Saturday in a basement of the hotel), but don’t be ‘too good for’ anything when you are getting started… and even when you’ve made it.
What advice do you have when trying to form partnerships with advertisers especially at the beginning of a startup?
It’s not always going to be easy. In the beginning for us initial advertisers were hard to come by. Each one took hard work and effort and you have to be willing to put in the work, make cold calls, get shot down repeatedly and be willing to get up and do it all again until something starts to stick.
How did you get The Knot to stand out and be noticed among brides at the beginning?
I believe it’s our fresh, real life voice. We’ve always striven to communicate with our users like we’re their best girlfriend giving them advice. So many women today turn to their friends for advice; we are their ultimate, knowledgeable best friend who will tell you how it really is.
I’m sure back in the day you were asked this question constantly, but at the beginning how did you make revenue off of an online website before it was well-known in the industry?
We didn’t rely on it at first, actually. We were lucky to have some startup financing and leveraged the brand in more traditional media platforms like books to gain recognition.
What’s your opinion of the changing media industry, and do you think bloggers are influencing it at all?
We love bloggers at The Knot. I think that the more passionate people there are out there, the better our industry as a whole stays afloat.
What are some of the tasks you love or hate to do as the Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of XO Group?
My favorite parts:
- Knowing that we actually help people and make their lives easier. Seeing the responses from our audience is touching. And knowing that we have provided friendships and a community for so many.
- Going Public! It was definitely a milestone and huge feeling of accomplishment beyond most’s wildest dreams.
- Seeing all of the wonderful, intelligent people that work for us. It is a great sense of achievement to see how excited our employees are about what we do.
This isn’t what I hate, but what I find/found the most challenging:
- The world of weddings that we entered was non-established and we had to pave the roads. We really had to go with our gut instincts.
- The wedding industry was entrenched/dated/old-fashioned. It was easy to get the brides on our side, but the money and initial advertisers were hard to come by. Each one took hard work and effort.
- Being married to my cofounder. Having a marriage and a joint business is all about finding a balance. While the company means so much, you must make time for your marriage. It took us about 7 years to do that—and finally start vacationing.
What are some of the skills you’d recommend learning for 20 somethings interested in one day starting their own company?
The same as that for those starting an online business:
- Do your research, but at the end of the day-go with your gut! Believe in yourself and make it work.
- Be willing to make sacrifices. It will come in the form of free time, money, your social life, and friends. Once you have your feet on solid ground, you can regain some.
- Clear-cut roles: divide and conquer. You must be willing to let go and trust your partner. You can’t do everything, and certainly won’t be efficient or effective if you do.
- Enjoy what you do: it is a pleasure to work for yourself, and not everyone is so fortunate. Take pride in it.
- Don’t be prideful: you will have some humbling moments (speaking to 4 people on a rainy Saturday in a basement of the hotel), but don’t be ‘too good for’ anything when you are getting started.
Do you have any advice for 20 somethings who would love to one day work in the XO Group?
For us, the most important thing we look for in employees is personality and passion. So if you have the passion for what you do, we’ll recognize it and help you grow it.
Why do you think niche networks and social commerce sites are becoming more popular, and what do you think their role will be in the future?
I think people really like to keep in touch with others they already know on the larger social networks, but when you’re shopping or when you’re in a particular niche moment, like wedding planning, you want to communicate with people who have had or are having the same experiences as you. That’s why these types of sites are great, you can get real advice and opinion from people going through the same experience as you.
After working in the wedding industry for many years what’s the best advice you’ve heard when it comes to choosing the “perfect” wedding gown?
When choosing your gown, the absolutely most important thing is to not worry about the current trends, but to find something you feel is uniquely you. You have to wear it on the big day, so you should love it and feel comfortable in it.
Last but not least, are there any new projects you’re currently working on that you’d like to share?
We just launched a new app The Knot Ultimate Wedding Planner. What I love about it is that within the app, we’ve combined all of the most popular interactive tools that brides on TheKnot.com love and use. We’ve packaged the tools to sync from the website to the iPhone and iPad, so they can have everything while on-the-go. Couples can create and update their wedding to-do list, track wedding budget expenses, browse thousands of wedding dresses and bookmark inspirational photos of cakes, wedding décor and more. Today’s engaged couple is busier than ever so this app offers them the flexibility and ease of wedding planning tools that are available, and fully synched, on the web or on mobile devices.
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