Hey ladies, it’s Anna from Fash Boulevard here with another edition of my Ladies Who Laptop interview series. Long before the Internet was brimming with wedding blogs, Abby Larson used her innate entrepreneurial spirit and keen smarts to fill an inspirational void in one of the most lucrative businesses on the planet: the wedding industry. What followed was her field guide to planning a picture perfect wedding and the life that follows; a little blog that would soon become one of the most profitable and sought after digital destinations in the world, appropriately titled: Style Me Pretty. Today, Abby opens up about her favorite weddings, the launch and sale of her first business, and why weddings today are better than ever. Let’s dive in…
Let’s start from the beginning. Where did the idea for Style Me Pretty originate and how did you take it from idea to conception?
My husband was getting his grad degree at Stanford and they were offering spouses continuing education classes at a discount. So I took a blogging class and it all waterfalled from there. The professor told us that 99% of bloggers would never make a penny blogging. And yet I was watching sites like Design*Sponge and Oh Joy gain more and more traction. News-based sites were starting to break major stories, the world was beginning to crave and consume content much faster and with much more gusto than ever before, and the one industry that hadn’t jumped on board was the wedding space.
Now keeping that in my back pocket, I also knew that tens of thousands of weddings were being celebrated around the country each year, the vast majority of which were never being published. In fact, only 6-8 real weddings were making it into each magazine per quarter, which left VOLUMES of publish-worthy events on the cutting room floor.
I made it my goal to bring those very weddings online and give them a fresh, new audience. And thus, SMP was born: A place where brides could come throughout the day to be inspired.
What did you do before launching Style Me Pretty?
I designed wedding invitations! Actually it was a bit of a long and winding path. First a stint in PR, then a glorified secretary at a hedge fund, and finally, a line of wedding invitations. Makes perfect sense, right? Ha!
You ultimately sold your wedding invitation company. Can you tell us a little about this process and how it came about?
Absolutely! After about 2 years of running this little brand that could, I was approached by an incredible woman who was looking to grow her stationery collection to include wedding. I was at a point in the life of my business where I really needed to make a change – find investors, bring on additional employees, develop my offerings even more – so this opportunity really couldn’t come at a better time.
I have to say, that first jaunt into entrepreneurship (born from Sunday nights that I found myself in tears, dreading going into the office), was ultimately what nurtured my ability to run a company successfully. It was my hard knocks school of business and I learned so many “what not to do’s” along the way. I still think about the years running that stationery company as the place where I learned the most about myself as a business owner.
What are some current wedding trends that you’re loving?
I love that weddings are far more personal than ever before. The fashion choices in bridesmaids wearing mismatched dresses that they truly love, the menu choices and the favors, the passages that are read during the ceremony and even the music that people choose to walk down the aisle…everything is so incredibly personal and that is exciting.
What is a day in the Style Me Pretty world like?
It’s ALL over the place. In the best possible way. This past week I was in New York filming a video for InStyle, for HGTV.com and hosting a luncheon for One Kings Lane. Then, I headed home to style and execute native shoots for one of our advertisers, and then we crashed a wedding on Cape Cod for Facebook live. Sprinkled into all of this fun, front facing stuff though we are heads down in trying to grow our traffic, trying to nail our social presence, building out new portfolios and services for our vendors. It often seems like days blend into nights and the ideas are never-ending.
Can you share with us what Little Black Book is and how you almost sold it?
The Little Black Book is a curated collection of the best vendors in the world. We basically wanted to offer something more to discerning brides out there that needed a little bit of help vetting the thousands of vendors in their cities.
For the first couple of years we were ultimately running Style Me Pretty on a $9.99 type pad account. We launched our Little Black Book on this very account and ultimately gave birth to this brand that truly would stand the test of time with very little overhead. About a year in, we got an acquisition offer from a well-known company who was hoping to land more firmly in the wedding space. I was very pregnant (as in negotiating this sale in the delivery room) and working on SMP with only one other employee at the time.
This was the first time that my husband and I were able to take a step back and see more than just what was right at our fingertips with SMP. We were able to see a clearly defined future for the brand and it was in that moment, that he chose to resign from his technology job and come help to build SMP full time.
What’s the best and most challenging part of owning your own company and working with your husband?
Owning your own company is not for the faint of heart. It relies on more than hard work, which is something that I brought with me from my first company. It requires you to be savvy, quick on your feet and yet thoughtful, excited and ambitious and yet subtly cautious, you are the first call in the middle of the night when your site goes down, you are responsible if revenue is going down, you hold the hands of the employees who help you so much in both business and in life. Being an entrepreneur is the most rewarding experience that you might have in your life, and it’s also one of the toughest.
Working with your husband is another story entirely. Tait and I started working together nearly 10 years ago. And while we’ve certainly been bumped and bruised along the way, we still like each other, we still love each other and we wouldn’t want to do this with anyone else in the world.
The real secret? We completely own two different parts of the business. Me in creative, him in technology. We come together in business development. By having total ownership over one side, and knowing entirely that we could never do one another’s job as well, we have an innate respect for each other and we truly do need each other.
What was your first “OMG, pinch me” moment during the early years of launching Style Me Pretty?
When we signed our deal with AOL! AOL acquired the majority share of SMP 3+ years ago and the moment we signed the dotted line, I felt like I was sending my baby to college. My work wasn’t yet done, but we were getting there.
For brides on a budget, where do you think they should splurge and save?
Figure out the three things that are the most important to you…and splurge on those and those alone. Maybe it’s looking amazing in your gown, maybe it’s serving an incredible meal, maybe it’s a 12-piece band to dance the night away. If you make just a few meaningful areas of your wedding truly sparkle, your guests will never remember the areas to which you might have skimped a little bit. Whatever you do though, don’t skimp on seating, on bathrooms or on transportation. So many couples often overlook the practicalities of what makes a wedding move incredibly smooth. And even if the meal was incredible, the fact that there was nowhere to sit will always overshadow the greatness.
Best piece of advice for a bride-to-be?
Remember that “the wedding” is so much more than the big day. The planning, while sometimes amazing and sometimes tedious, is also a part of the wedding. It’s spending extra time with your mom or your girlfriends, it’s building in amazing date nights to help lighten the planning load, it’s helping your dad or your best friend plan their toast over a bottle of wine and buckets of laughter. The planning of the wedding gets a bad rep. It can actually be incredibly fun and beautiful if you fold it into the great wedding story.
Another? Hire a wedding planner. She will save you SO much money in newbie mistakes. And she’ll afford you the luxury of truly enjoying your day.
What are some of your favorite weddings so far and why are they standouts?
I have SO many more. Here are a few…
I LOOOOVE this wedding. The lucite heart escort cards will forever be imprinted on my heart.
This wedding holds a special place in my heart because it was the wedding that inspired our first digital magazine. And one of my favorite photographers, Jose Villa, was behind the lens. I love the bride and how ethereal she looks and I LOVE the dog that sneaks his way into the photos.
This wedding first introduced me to the genius of Julie Song—an incredible artist and stationer in California. We’ve become friends and I truly believe that she has made Style Me Pretty even prettier.
While this wasn’t a real wedding, for me, it’s probably the most inspiring piece of inspiration we’ve ever put up on Style Me Pretty. I refer to it time and time again when I’m trying to dig deep and design a shoot or if I just need a little pretty-pick-me-up. See it here.
This wedding was kind of epic in that it totally redefined what we think is standard bridesmaid attire. It was a game changer.
How many wedding submissions do you receive a week?
We get between 400-600 real weddings per week.
How can a bride get her wedding featured on Style Me Pretty?
Well first, you go here! We’ve built a submissions server to help make the process super duper simple. That said, we love when a photographer submits as he/she will be able to curate the wedding story for us in the submission. Then, we want to hear ALL about it from the bride. The little details that made her wedding so very special, the nuances, the special something’s that she infused into her day.
You wrote a book! How did that idea come about?
We get so many requests form vendors and brides to have something in print. We thought about a magazine, of course, and are still keeping that in the maybe bucket. But a book, a keepsake book that could be bought for pure inspiration for the bride or a beautiful gift for the couple, seemed like a logical and doable next step. We wanted the incredible vendors that were a part of SMP and helped to make it what it is today, a place in print that they could really showcase their work. And lastly, we wanted to provide a little bit of a blueprint for what it means to have a picture perfect, magazine or blog worthy wedding. It was a beast of an experience but we are SO glad we did it.
For all of the dreamers out there, the fresh out of college future entrepreneurs, what advice would you give them?
There are no rules anymore. What you thought you would be or could be or should be has no bearing on what you will be. So dream. Dream often, dream big. Then get off the couch and make it happen.
Who would you like to see me interview for my next Ladies Who Laptop?
Let me know in the comments below!