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💡 Pivoting in the Pandemic

How I Built This

Photo by Foto Pettine / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Host: Guy Raz
Guest: Shan-Lyn Ma, Co-Founder and CEO, Zola
Category: Biz & Tech | 💡 Business Lessons

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[2:57] “2013 just happened to be the year all my friends got married at exactly the same time. […] I was buying gifts from my friends’ wedding registries and found that the experience [of] going through their registry is just one of the worst shopping experiences I had ever seen. I then was talking to Nobu (Co-Founder) who is […] married and he was complaining about [that] the couple's perspective is just as terrible. And we looked at each other and we said […] we think we can do a much better job. And that was how Zola was born.”

[5:43] “There was a lot of opposition from many places and from many investors who said […] it's not possible to build a big business in weddings because there hasn't been one yet or do people really spend that much on weddings or it's highly fragmented as an industry [so there] must be a reason for that. And that sounded crazy to me cause I knew how much my friends were spending both in time and money. I think weddings is one of the only times in your life, where you will spend on average in this country $30,000 on one day […]. And so I knew it was a lot of business opportunity. There was an underserved need that was a passionate customer base and just because investors didn't feel personally connected to the pain points didn't mean it shouldn’t exist.”

[6:46] “We started with one particular business model, which I'm proud of in that I think it's very innovative. It is truly a combination of an e-commerce business and a marketplace business. And what I mean by that is that when we first launched our wedding registry, we wanted to offer products and experiences and the ability for couples to register for whatever they wanted. But we also knew we had to find a way to make money to stay in business. And so what we ended up doing [is] creating this marketplace of products and brands that couples wanted, where we could sell them the product through Zola [without buying] all the inventory.”

[11:33] “In March [2020] when the pandemic first hit, […] we saw the majority of people start to move their wedding dates from March/April/May into later dates […] and we also saw a lot of couples reaching out to us […] on how [to] navigate rescheduling their wedding in the pandemic. […] We very quickly started to put out […], based on what we were hearing from them through these calls, […] product messages [on our wedding website] that couples could post to all their guests to communicate what was happening with their wedding as a result of Covid-19. We launched Change The Date cards […] and then we'd invest a lot more in our customer support team […].”

[16:16] “I think there were two […] things that we always wanted to do and we knew were longtime priorities for us like a wedding vendor search platform. […] So [with the pandemic] we invested many more people, time, and attention into building out that vendor search offering than before and that accelerated. Then the second category is really things that we didn't think we were going to do in 2020 but they pulled up on the road map because we saw the need was there. […] We didn't think the home store was the number one priority initially when we set up in 2020 […]. [But] we saw in our data people very quickly turning to Zola to buy things for their home, even though it was very hard to do. So, we thought what if we make it easy and let people not set up a registry if they are just looking for a pizza oven. And so that was the launch of the Zola Home.”

[21:55] “We did see again people starting to ask us [if] we [could] help them facilitate a Zoom wedding through our wedding website product. And so we very quickly built this, because we knew this was something to help couples through this tough time. We launched it and really day one we saw hundreds and then thousands of people using this primarily for the ceremonies. […] And that was just an example of something that we don't make money from, but we know it was a huge need and […] it helps people in some of their toughest time.”

Rating: 🍎🍎🍎

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify
🕰️ 29 min | 🗓️ 03/11/2021
✅ Time saved: 27 min