04 Jun Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Summer Forum: Part 1 with Timothy Chi and Company Showcases
This morning, I attended the “Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Summer Forum” in Tysons Corner, VA where a full room of business leaders, CXO’s, angels and VC’s got together to listen learn more from one of the industry’s leading CEOs, as well as about the areas up and coming startups and from a panel about early stage funding. For those of you who couldn’t make the sold out event, I wanted to make sure you at least could access the highlights.
Let me just start by saying it was packed this morning…
Fireside Chat with Timothy Chi, CEO WeddingWire and Co-Founder, Blackboard
The event was kicked-off by Tien Wong, CEO of Tech 2000 and Appnetic, where he thanked guests and sponsors before Timothy Chi, CEO for WeddingWire and Co-Founder for Blackboard took the stage to lead the event’s fireside chat. Prompted by questions from Tien, he gave background on his up bringing, noting he was born in Ohio and ended up at Cornell University, where his career started. He’s only had two jobs in his life: Blackboard, which he started during his time at Cornell and WeddingWire, for which he considers himself very fortunate.
Timothy got started with Blackboard when he met some people freshman year that stayed with him throughout college. Starting with class website and realizing a demand for curriculum online, they started to develop software to automate this process? so it could scale. Soon after they started, Timothy and team were introduced to other developers moving toward a similar goal, and together, they launched Blackboard.
Chi noted how much fun he had growing Blackboard, raising a ton of money and surviving both the .com boom and bust. He noted because they were more of an enterprise software company than a .com, they were able to survive and scale in the early 2000’s. The company went public in 2004.
Later in 2004, Chi, recently engaged and planning his wedding, couldn’t figure out why it was so difficult to secure services for his upcoming nuptuals. So, he set out to solve the problem. There were a lot of companies in the “wedding planning” space and the value they provided was inspiration preparation – they gave the wedding vision, but then left it up to the consumer to figure out how to make it happen. He thought there had to be a tech solution to make the actual execution easier. So, he created WeddingWire, which today is one of the largest sites for local wedding services, and is expanding globally. Brides and grooms come to the WeddingWire site for consumer reviews and recommendations about local businesses. Its all crowd sourced so it’s robust and recent and helps couples make better purchasing decisions.
A look at funding and cash flow:
- The company has currently taken $33million total in 3 rounds of funding
- WeddingWire turned cash flow positive in 2011
- In 2008, they got funding from Martha Stewart Living, which proved to be a significant partnership in launching the brand
- Approximately 85% of revenue comes from advertising
- Competition includes anyone chasing local ad dollars
According to Chi, WeddingWire still has a ton of opportunity for growth, but the industry doesn’t come without noted challenges. He pointed out an interesting anomaly of their ecosystem – their merchants need to reacquire customers each year, unlike businesses such as the restaurant industry. Additionally, WeddingWire has experienced the challenge of scaling operations and maintaining corporate culture along with rapid growth.
Chi stated, “We want to hire the best, keep great people around and have them believe in what we’re doing. But, you’re also hiring so many people its hard to find that balance…When recruiting, we just look for really talented people. I ask myself, would I want to spend a 4-hour layover with this person?”
He noted they had a very challenging time hiring engineers, and found that knowledge and learning was incredibly important to the candidate pool in this space. So, they went out and hired an internal RUBY trainer to create engineers in house. That trainer now holds coding and HTML classes in the evenings that are overflowing. He says offering these additional resources for educational advancement has been a huge part in retaining great employees, specifically Millennials.
Incredibly interested in the science of motivation and why people do certain things and lead in certain ways, Chin shared some reading/speaker recommendations:
- “Thinking Fast and Slow”
- Daniel Pink lectures
In concluding his talk, Chi noted that his key to success has been surrounding himself with great people.
Next up, the company showcase presentations, which highlighted up and coming tech companies in the DC metro area, all of which are in the process of being funded or looking to be funded. Be sure to check them all out:
- CirrusWorks – David Giannini, Executive Chairman
- Dashub – David Sandler, Principal and Strategic Advisor
- AgoraVR – Jason Ganz, CEO
- DelightMe – Marie-Louise Murville, CEO
- Rosetta Health – Buff Colchagoff, CEO
- Helix – Tom DeWitt, President & CEO
- valAUrum – Adam Trexler, President
- SwitchPitch – Michael Goldstein, Founder
Check out “Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Summer Forum: Part 2, All Star Investing Panel “ next week to hear more from the rest of the event!