Shopping for bridesmaids dresses is not a particularly pleasant experience for many reasons. Why do you think it takes upwards of four bottles of champagne for six girls to get through a single appointment? It's downright stressful. Bridesmaids walk in feeling like Gisele Bundchen and walk out feeling like Roseanne Barr. But who cares about their body issues anyways? This is the bride’s day. Bridesmaids will wear that salmon taffeta gown whether they like it or not.
This is why bridesmaids far and wide are hailing Brideside, a young company betting that women are eager for change and the bridal industry is ripe for innovation.
After lamenting terrible bridesmaid experiences while at Northwestern's Kellogg, co-founders Nicole Staple and Sonali Lamba knew there had to be a better way.
The pair is reinventing the bridesmaid experience so that it not only doesn't suck, but is enjoyable for both the bride and bridesmaids. Exploiting omni-channel technology and digital personal styling trends, Brideside is taking on the brick-and-mortar bridal industry.
So far, their bet has been spot on. The company has experienced 300 percent user growth in the past year and is currently working with over 5,000 bridal parties. Revenue is doubling month-over-month, driven largely by creative online content and referrals.
Brideside boasts many advantages over traditional brick-and-mortar retailers. For one, brides and bridesmaids are not constrained to their geography. Brides in remote parts of the country now have access to the trendiest SoHo boutiques. Brideside brings both lesser-known and mainstream designer styles online, creating a huge selection of styles and colors – over 200 to be exact.
Not only that, but maids can try on gowns in the privacy of their own home, or at the bride’s home if she chooses. Here’s how it works: the bride signs up for an account, giving her access to a personal stylist. After perusing the selection online and consulting her stylist, the bride pick her top three dresses. For $10, Brideside sends a “Brideside Box” to whatever locations the bride specifies. Each box includes the sample dresses, measuring tape and other surprise goodies. Bridesmaids can keep the dresses for up to a week before sending them back. From there, sizing tools and personal stylists ensure each bridesmaid orders the right size and style and that she receives it on time for the wedding.
Ready to scale, the company has big plans for 2014: “We want a ‘Brideside Box’ in every bride’s hand,” said Staple.
The company currently employs eight people full-time and plans to grow their engineering, creative and styling teams this year. Aside from growing the team, Brideside is growing their collection of designers and expanding their accessories collection.
“We’re also focusing on optimizing the mobile experience," Lamba said. "Not just making it responsive, but making it more collaborative. We’re learning how customers are interacting with each other and their stylists, and we want to optimize that experience.”
It’s not all chiffon and satin though - there has been a fair share of challenges in launching their business. Designers who were used to selling in retail stores were hesitant to sign on to sell online. They feared they’d lose control of their brand. To combat this, Lamba and Staple maintain strict quality and user experience standards so designers feel proud featuring their collections on the site.
Being non-technical co-founders aiming to build a streamlined technology platform also posed a challenge. Finding the right engineering talent was key to launching and scaling the site.
When asked why they chose to set up shop in Chicago, Staple said, “It’s been important for us to plant our feet in Chicago and grow the business here. For us, it’s the biggest wedding market in the country. It’s not only that we have Chicago pride and want to grow that entrepreneurial community, but it’s also good for our customers.”
Staple also added that the advisers and mentors you need to start a tech company exist in Chicago, you just have to know where to look: “They might not be as visible as in New York City or Silicon Valley, but it’s important to take the time to understand the network and who can be an allay to your business in Chicago. It’s all here, just find the time to find it. Don’t give up on Chicago. It’s going to be a major tech hub."