Bride Meets Blog: Abby Larson on Style Me Pretty’s Explosive Growth
When people try to defend Boston’s validity as a consumer tech startup hub, they point to the success of brands like TripAdvisor, RueLaLa, and Wayfair. But there’s another that’s managed to stay pretty under the radar, pulling in 18.6 million page views per month, and serving as the 12th biggest source of traffic on the social media site Pinterest (beating out much older websites likes Amazon.com and RealSimple.com in the process, according to a February 2012 study by the business intelligence firm RJ Metrics).
I’d guess it’s the site’s volume of flowers, lace, letterpress stationery, and happily-ever-after kisses that scare the average business reporter away. But not the 1.5 million brides, wedding vendors, and aficionadas that visit it each month.
I’m talking about Style Me Pretty, the wedding style blog founded by Boston entrepreneur Abby Larson in 2007 after she sold her stationery business. She leads the site with her husband Tait, who has his master’s degree in computer science from Stanford. It’s since sparked countless wedding blog competitors and copycats—which Larson says is a good thing for customers. The blog’s relationship with Pinterest goes well beyond the loads of traffic it serves up for the site; Style Me Pretty has amassed more than 635,000 followers on the social media platform, and every image in every one of its blog posts comes with a Pin It button that can quickly shoot the photo off to Pinterest, crediting the photographer in the text of the pin.
Style Me Pretty has grown from a blog showcasing wedding style, décor, and cuisine into a place for wedding industry vendors to connect with choice customers. It recently launched a network of regionally focused sites to better accommodate the 600-some-odd wedding photo posts it receives each week, and has big plans for serving as an online inspiration source for lifestyle niches beyond weddings.
I e-mailed Larson some questions to learn a bit more about how Style Me Pretty grew its audience, what its technology back end looks like, how it innovates in an increasingly crowded space, and more.
Xconomy: You started Style Me Pretty in 2007 after selling your invitations company. What were the types of things you first blogged about and how did you gain traffic/followers? What can you attribute the growth to?
Abby Larson: During the early days of SMP, we didn’t have access to the incredible content that we do today, so we did the next best thing and crafted our own. We designed inspiration boards for specific readers, we built color palettes based on particular wedding styles, and we did vendor profiles and Q & A’s. We connected with our readers. We engaged them. We built a sense of intimacy into the very foundation of our blog that welcomed them and encouraged them to come back day after day to check out what was going on. Because they too, were part of the conversation.
I attribute our early traffic to a few things. First was the actual conversation that we were having with our readers. Every day. Consistently. Our readers knew that they could come to Style Me Pretty day after day and find fresh, new, thoughtfully crafted content that would resonate with their own lives. The second traffic motivator was the blogging community in general. At the time, some of the larger blogs were looking to feature fresh, new faces in the industry and were happy to promote our blog to their own readers. The support that we got from other established blogs was critical to our initial success. And lastly, I made blogging my job from the get go. I was 100 percent committed to the site and I didn’t ever see it as a hobby. It was something that I wanted to transform into a business, a career, and that drive was very powerful in establishing success early on.
X: When did you first start accepting ads and bringing in revenue for the site?
AL: We joined a third party advertising network about 6 months after we launched. We held steady with them for a good year before we started selling in house banner ads. We now sell 100 percent of our ads in-house and have fully built our ad sales teams to support that. Our Little Black Book is a revenue stream for us as well, as a highly curated paid vendor directory. It was launched publicly at the beginning of November 2007, though was actually formed offline months prior.
X: What were your monthly traffic numbers after the 1st/2nd/3rd/4th year?
AL: At the end of July 2008 we had 472k page views and 60k unique visitors; at the end of July 2009 we had 2.8 million page views and 245k unique visitors; at the end of July 2010 we had 6.4 million page views and 428k unique visitors; at the end of July 2011 we had 11.6 million page views and 1.4 million unique visitors; currently we have 18.6 million page views and 1.5 million unique visitors.
X: How did you adapt your technology/operations as you scaled? When did you start bringing on other staff? What are the company’s employee numbers now?
AL: Style Me Pretty’s secret sauce is my husband, Tait, who received his masters in computer science from Stanford University and has been privileged enough to work on a handful of really great start-ups. He has transformed our site into one of the most widely read bridal publications in the world and has built tools that keep the brides coming around for more. We have streamlined our submissions process through tools he has built, allowing us to push out a ton of highly edited content; he has built out incredible image galleries and color extractors and inspiration board builders, all which encourage brides to stick around and stay inspired. He has a small team of three and they are all motivated to develop SMP into the best resource for brides online.
Total full time employees is around 12 and we have another 12 that contract.
I hired our first full time staff member back in 2007 and it was only 2 of us for the first full year. My husband joined after year one and we then began building out the team so that we could really grow SMP.
X: When did you start seeing competition? The bridal blog world is huge now. How do you innovate and stand out in a much more crowded landscape?
AL: I started seeing real competition after a few months. We actually saw a couple of blogs pop up from brides who had entered various contests on our site and now their blogs are very much a part of the industry landscape. Now, as you know, the industry is saturated with various online publications and competition is definitely a part of the discussion. With that said, we are workers. We tend to put our nose down and focus on what we are doing, rather than what everyone else is doing. We really trust our creative and technical instincts and know that it’s simply not worth it to evaluate yourself based on everyone else. It’s actually quite incredible that there are so many resources out there for a bride. She has so much creativity and innovation at her fingertips, and that is always a good thing.
X: People say building a consumer-focused technology in Boston can be difficult or at least rare. What has your experience been? Have you attracted much attention from the local business/technology press or does the wedding-industry focus keep them away?
AL: You know, we haven’t utilized the Boston market as much as we should. There are incredibly smart, innovative people in the area and there is always something very cool and inspiring happening in technology here. As a wedding brand, we aren’t really lumped into the technology industry. Which is a bit odd as so much of what we are doing is technology driven, but it’s okay. We are on the radar of online tech talk and we get a fair amount of credit across multiple industries.
X: What does running a company as a husband and wife team look like?
AL: It looks pretty fantastic actually. For a few reasons. The first being that we have very different skill sets. We trust each other’s knowledge and strengths and we take complete ownership over our own work. While decisions are made together, we respect the idea that my knowledge base is very different than Tait’s. Working together has proved to strengthen our relationship and our roles within our home as parents. We love it and honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.
X: What does Style Me Pretty’s business model look like today and how will it continue to evolve? How has it gone from a blog to a media site with advertisements to now a marketplace/e-commerce store? How were these decisions made along the way? How has the addition of locally-focused blogs and the Little Black Book shaped the company? What additions are next?
AL: SMP is a content driven site that focuses on inspiration. Our goal is to continuously provide readers a place where they can plan and design a wedding that is as style centric as those you see published. That comes in different forms, from our vendor directory, to a handful of branded products, to our stream of locally driven content. We launched local as another platform to get vendors’ work into the hands of brides. We receive nearly 600 real wedding submissions a week, many of which are lovely though get declined because we simply don’t have enough space in the content schedule. These local blogs allow us to not only accept more content, but to introduce more and more people to the vendors that are doing such innovative things. It’s a win/win for all.
Working with vendors is hugely important to SMP. We’ve forged relationships with the best vendors in the industry who trust us to preserve the authenticity of their work online and to market each feature to the best of our abilities so as to maximize exposure. It’s a relationship that fuels SMP’s very foundation and one that we hope brings new business to vendors of all shapes and sizes. The vendors that we work with are at the very core of the SMP brand.
As for what’s next, so many things. The most important is to continue to find more ways to drive business to local vendors and to showcase the work of the best out there. We want SMP to be a place that brides never want to leave, so we’re continuing to innovate with tools, ideas and content that will inspire them. Further, we’re really hoping to focus on life moments and bringing the idea of lifestyle into our brand. We want the readers that fell in love with us while planning their wedding to have a continuous stream of inspiration, from planning and designing intimate parties at home, to trying different recipes and cocktails, to welcoming their children into the world. All with the same sense of style and inspiration that they found while planning their wedding. So much to be excited about when it comes to the future of SMP!