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    The Porch — wedding vendors raleigh

    RALEIGH HUSTLES HARD - WEDPICS

    RALEIGH HUSTLES HARD - WEDPICS

    The first time I visited HQ Raleigh in early 2014, I knew it was providing something special for Raleigh’s entrepreneurs and start-ups. Immediately upon walking in, I could feel the energy. People were racing through the halls, some congregating and sharing ideas near the bar, and scores of teams working together diligently behind glass offices. Everyone seemed inspired and with purpose. I knew this wasn’t an ordinary workspace. While there, I would continuously hear about WedPics and their CEO / Co-Founder, Justin Miller. As the head of the fastest growing crowd sourced wedding app on the market, Justin and his team are helping to define Raleigh’s startup boom. We sat down with local hustler and successful entrepreneur, Justin Miller, for our latest installment of Raleigh Hustle’s Hard.

    From a networking perspective, HQ Raleigh was a huge boost to WedPics. “We didn’t know anybody at the time because we spent 18 hours a day in my basement building the app.” However, the road there wasn’t always clear. Justin graduated from the NCSU School of Design with a major in graphic design. And like many graduates in Raleigh before this current culture of entrepreneurship took hold, Justin accepted a corporate design job at IBM. At the time, Justin was intrigued with what was happening in social media and curated content online. His experience with large-scale marketing events at IBM presented a chance to capitalize on what he saw as a wasted opportunity. “There was a major fault on the marketing side where IBM would spend millions of dollars on these large scale events, and after the fact there was no way for them to easily gather the photos from all the participants.”

    Founded in 2011 in Justin’s basement, Deja Mi was conceived around concerts and other live events, to provide a location-based platform for event-goers to share experiences and form a connection socially. This was pre-hashtag days so aggregating that experience in a concise way without social connections was difficult. “Early on we had some friends and family that believed in the idea and were willing to cut us checks. We got really lucky. We were basically working for peanuts so I extended equity where possible, which provided much needed incentive and drive.” Most of the people who started at Deja Mi in the beginning are still working together today. After merging with a Durham startup at the end of 2011, the company doubled to twelve people.

    Upon merging, the first build of Deja Mi was scrapped and rebuilt from scratch. “We rolled out the new version, Apple featured it in 90 countries as a new and noteworthy app and Deja Mi started getting 6k+ downloads a day with no marketing.” Unfortunately, when Apple stopped pushing the app, momentum quickly fizzled. In early 2012, with funding waning and no clear vision ahead, they began exploring other use cases for the idea. After a great response to the app at a local bridal event, they began looking hard at the $50bn wedding market. “It just made sense. In this space, we could provide a real solution to a problem that actually existed.” With WedPics, they could replace the need for disposable cameras at weddings and provide a tool to aggregate all of the content from guests, who may or may not know each other, but can still share collectively in the experience.

    By the time WedPics launched in 2012, they had received some great press locally, and nationally from most of the major tech companies. Unfortunately, not all press was good press - at least not at first. After an N&O article featured Justin and the team, they were quickly served with an eviction notice from Justin’s basement or they would face fines in excess of $500 per day. Again, Justin used social media as a solution. He shared his ordeal and was immediately flooded with not only offers for working space, but also $25k in funding from a local angel investor. The team ultimately landed at HQ Raleigh. This was the perfect springboard for partnerships with other companies and outside funding. “It was just a really good connector”, said Justin.

    WedPics didn’t start as the robust platform it is today. Ultimately, Justin sees simplicity as a reason for WedPics early and continued success. “When you come up with an idea, there is a tendency to want to put every piece of functionality in it, so it’s as big and powerful as possible. That is where you think the bar is set, but that’s absolutely wrong.” Justin and his team stripped WedPics down to the bare minimum. “We had giant whiteboards on the wall of my basement where we’d list every feature we wanted in the app, then each day would come in and erase multiple features.” They were left with only the functionality necessary to make the app work. After the launch, Justin and his team carefully monitored the backend analytics to understand how people were using the app and what kind of feedback they provided. Coupled with constant competitor analysis, they took that insight to evolve the product and scale the capabilities of the platform. “Luckily, in our market we had a huge advantage, because brides love to provide feedback, whether good or bad. Listening to our audience was key.”

    Fast-forward to 2016, WedPics has received over $12M in outside funding and has grown into the #1 wedding app on the market. Operating in every country and with over 5 million dedicated users, the thirty-person team has made an undeniable impact in the wedding industry. Over 1 million photos are shared from the 10k+ weddings hosted on the app each week. While the app has triumphed significantly from an acquisition perspective, WedPics began moving from an acquisition-based model to a revenue-based model in January. Along with its app invite cards and hi-res printed photos, which account for most of the current revenue, they’ve diversified their revenue models by bringing in non-traditional advertising. “We sell dedicated email lists, as well as offering impressions for hand selected retailers inside of the app.” WedPics now also provides an opt-in opportunity where retailers can offer exclusive deals and connect with its customers directly. “We’ve taken a different approach to advertising and are currently testing this model to understand it’s scalability and how it resonates with our audience.” He says that so far it’s been well adopted.

    Justin has become an unofficial ambassador for Raleigh, even accompanying Mayor Nancy McFarlane to speak at SXSW. He credits both the city and the continuously deep talent pool for much of its recent success. “Now that we’re getting a larger footprint of small business and tech, options for graduates have expanded to much more than just corporate opportunities. This makes Raleigh much more attractive for an early stage entrepreneur. The cost of living and creating a business is so low in Raleigh, it really provides the opportunity to operate with much lower risk.”

    While Justin agrees that Raleigh can be a nourishing environment for entrepreneurs, he recognizes the challenges of evolving from the old way of doing things. Bureaucracy and lack of innovative, solution-focused thinking sometimes presents a real challenge to helping new ideas materialize. “Things aren’t as complicated as they are sometimes made to be. Instead of always going by the book or saying no when an idea reaches uncharted territory, I’d like to see the city think bigger picture and be a partner in developing innovative solutions.” Justin has been trying to launch his side project, El Taco Cartel since early 2015, but has run into challenges bringing it to market because Raleigh hasn’t decided how to classify his food cart. He’s working with city and county officials to build out a mobile food and beverage guide to provide a framework for not only him, but to pave the way for future entrepreneurs in the same space.

     

    When asked whether he would rather be blessed with luck, talent, or hustle, Justin answered emphatically, “Hustle, 100%. Luck runs out. Talent is not necessary. With hustle, you’ll always figure out a way to get it done.

    What more needs to be said?

    Learn more about WedPics as well as a few of Justin’s favorite small businesses in the area below:

    RALEIGH HUSTLES HARD - THE STOCKROOM / GLASSBOX / ALL SAINTS CHAPEL

    We all remember that epic wedding, hilarious company party, or life changing networking event. Whenever groups of people gather together, memories are made. However, behind those amazing memories are preparation, planning, and vision. There’s a team making sure all the pieces fit together perfectly, so we don’t have to. Mollyann Russell and Alexandra Hughes, the event managers behind The Stockroom, All Saints Chapel, and the newly minted Glassbox are the team behind the scenes making the magic happen. If you’ve lived in Raleigh long enough, it’s pretty likely you’ve attended a wedding at All Saints Chapel and/or an event at The Stockroom. Both buildings, rich with history, have emerged as Raleigh’s premiere event venues. With holiday season (which means holiday parties!) quickly approaching, we sat down with Mollyann and Alexandra for our latest installment of Raleigh Hustles Hard.

    The Stockroom is housed on the second floor of 230 Fayetteville Street, a historical building that used to house Raleigh’s bankers, doctors, and insurers in the early 20th century. The venue has been restored into a chic event space with exposed brick and beams, as well as rustic hardwood floors. All Saints Chapel has an even deeper history. After being built in 1875, it has since been moved (intact) twice, landing in 2006 in its final home (with a $1.5 million restoration) at the edge of historic Oakwood in downtown Raleigh. But with such rich history, it’s important to craft a vision for the future. That future is The Glassbox, a beautiful and bright open space at the top floor of 230 Fayetteville Street (above the Stockroom) with floor to ceiling windows, and a living room sized rooftop patio overlooking downtown Raleigh. Open since June, The Glassbox was created to function as a private event space or an add-on bridal suite for weddings.

    Mollyann and Alexandra took over management of the venues in May of 2014. They may not be business owners or entrepreneurs, but their hustle is undeniable. With only two (2) weekend bookings left in 2016, the proof is in the data. Managing three thriving event spaces comes with a multitude of ever-changing demands, but Alexandra and Mollyann are built for this. Both are NC State alums, and jumped knee deep into event management directly out of college. Mollyann who graduated in 2011, first managed events with Empire Eats, eventually transitioning to event management for the properties side of the company. She studied Interpersonal Communications at NCSU, with the hopes of an event-planning career in the future. She was always the one planning, organizing, and hosting events in college, even working with Live It Up on Hillsborough Street for a short period. “My mom was a room mother when I was growing up, and was always the one to organize the events, so I guess it got this from her.” Alexandra, who studied parks, recreation and tourism management with a concentration in program management, started her position the Monday following her graduation in 2014. “This was my first job out of school, but as a student I interned everywhere I could to get experience.” She worked with caterers and event planners in Raleigh and Charlotte (during the summer) and even returned to the Queen City to work the Democratic National Convention in 2012. “That was the craziest, most hectic week ever, but I loved it so I knew this what I wanted to do.”

    Clients have the opportunity to book all three of these amazing venues as a package deal, or rent each venue exclusively. For Mollyann and Alexandra, change is a virtue. “Although we do a lot of weddings, we like the variety of events. It keeps things really interesting. There is no wedding off-season for us because our venues are inside but towards the holidays it tilts more to company holiday parties and events, which is fun.” Currently, Mollyann and Alexandra run the show with just a single intern but with business growing and with the addition of The Glassbox, they see a potential need to expand the team. Currently, they split duties based on pre and post contract. Mollyann handles all the sales and marketing, including (but not limited to) pre booking tours, and contract negotiations. Although, she admits her favorite part of the job comes the night of the event. “Whether it’s a wedding bringing together family members who haven’t seen each other in a while, or people gathering collectively to benefit a cause. The hug from the brides mom at the end of the night makes it so rewarding.” But before that night can happen, Alexandra handles the day-to-day planning and vendor coordination for the event. With the venue(s) soaring recognition on wedding websites and magazines, Mollyann admits that cold leads are hardly necessary, but referrals from other vendors in the industry are vital, so networking is a must. Alexandra tells me, “I really enjoy the collaboration with other vendors. We network a lot internally with other professionals in the industry and it’s great because you meet a lot of great people and develop professional friendships. Once you continuously work with a trusted colleague, the professional relationship becomes pretty personal.”

     

    Both Alexandra and Mollyann grew up elsewhere, but like so many others who come here for school, they never left. Raleigh has become home to an amazing mix of young professionals, entrepreneurs, and creatives all working towards one common goal - the constant improvement and vibrancy of our community. We're lucky to have Mollyann and Alexandra as a part of that future.

     

    Looking to book an event?

    Email mollyann@empire1792.com or call 919-459-3212

     

    Learn about some of Mollyann and Alexandra’s favorite places around the area below:

     

    Thanks for stopping by the porch,

    Porch Fly Clothing

    RALEIGH HUSTLES HARD - BUNN DJ COMPANY

    If you’ve ever been to a wedding or corporate event in North or South Carolina anytime in the last decade there’s a decent chance that you’ve heard of Bunn DJ Company.  We recently sat down to talk with the owner, Joe Bunn, to hear about how he went from a small town act to owning one of the most well respected DJ companies in the Carolinas.

    Joe grew up in Wilson, NC loving music at an early age. You’d be hard pressed to pinpoint a time in Joe’s life where he wasn’t involved with music in one way or another. His parents were music lovers and had an extensive collection of albums that he would listen to and eventually sample. Growing up, music was on everywhere, all the time. “I’m the same way now. When I walk in the house and it’s silent, I hit a button and turn noise on immediately.” At age 13, Joe booked his first paid gig at a teen club in Wilson, NC. “I had about 90 minutes of music for a three hour party. I feel certain that I played Stairway to Heaven like, three times,” said Joe laughing at the memory. After a couple of years playing to local kids in the teen scene, Joe started booking events regularly around Wilson. Soon after, he got an opportunity that many entrepreneurs crave- “This DJ in town says he’s going to be the new golf pro at a country club and wants to know if I want to buy his business. I was about 16 at the time because I remember driving over to get this trailer full of equipment. From then on, it really felt like a business.”

    Growing up, Joe played drums in a band called, Warning. “We were terrible”, Joe put plainly. In the 90’s, he produced music and managed emerging North Carolina artists. All the while, continuing to DJ.  “I was just playing at bars at the time which was helping to fund other projects I was working on.” After a while, Joe started booking weddings and corporate events and began to make the pivot towards creating Bunn DJ Company. He incorporated in 2000 and quickly hired his first DJs. Clients can now choose from a roster of 15 DJs under the Bunn DJ Company umbrella, a few of which have been with him from the beginning. “My guys are what make the company. This is the best group we’ve ever had and without them, this company could never be successful.”

    Today, Joe plays the role of DJ and booking agent. With locations in Charleston and most recently Charlotte, he spends a lot of time managing relationships. “There’s a guy operating on the ground in each city, completely autonomously, both who used to work for me in Raleigh but have relocated to help expand the brand.” The vision is eventually franchising the company, but the current focus is establishing the Charlotte location.

    Joe is a true North Carolina native. He grew up in Wilson, attended school in UNC Chapel Hill, lived in Wilmington, and eventually found his home in Raleigh. “For me, Raleigh is the perfect size and there’s everything here that I love to do. I love to go see live shows and plays. I love to go to the beach and mountains. After all these years, there’s no better city and state to live.”

    It's refreshing that unlike most life-long entrepreneurs; Joe isn’t married to that life. He admits with the right circumstances, shared vision, and room for autonomy, he could see himself working for or with someone else. “As long as the money is good, there’s room for creativity, and a chance to make a difference then I’d consider it.” But like most of us, Joe is drawn to the allure of control and self-management that comes with being an entrepreneur. “I love the freedom to be able to do whatever I want (to an extent). I’m 9-5 like anyone else, but if I want steer off the path, I have that ability. The freedom that owning your own business allows, to be able to take a turn at a moments notice, is the real beauty.”

    Book your next event with Bunn DJ Company and learn about a few of Joe’s favorite small businesses in the area below:

     

    Thanks for stopping by the porch,

    Porch Fly Clothing