female founder spotlight: jackie courtney, founder & ceo nearly newlywed
it’s officially the start of wedding season, and you know what that means!!! crying ugly tears while your best friend walks down the aisle, bridesmaid proposals [with blankbox, duh] and spending at least a month’s worth of rent on flowers. most of all, it means gaining a new appreciation for the people in the wedding industry who live to make it easier. jackie courtney, founder + ceo of nearly newlywed, is that person. from shark tank to having her company nicknamed ‘the amazon of weddings’, jackie’s story is extra sparkly… and so is her style.
for our readers who aren’t familiar with your business… what is nearly newlywed + why are you different from the rest of the bridal industry?
first & foremost because we were founded on the premise that resale should be embraced and destigmatized; not that it is for everyone, but if someone wants to pass their dress along or wear something worn one time by someone else (by the way like almost all movie premiere and oscars gowns) then it is their choice and it should still be an amazing experience. second nearly newlywed is a digital company, so we endeavor to create products and tools around digital discovery, service and commerce. as we have evolved to be a larger destination and marketplace, we both want to help customers transact and have access online as well as help physical retailers have an online presence and to ultimately help smooth out some of the pain points that exist for wedding stores and designers that are very unique to the process.
so, basically, women can buy and resell their dress, jewelry, accessories, everything for their wedding and designers/stores can sell and market on our platform as long as they adhere to our quality, transparency and sustainability standards.
you pitched your initial business idea on shark tank in 2012. we have so many questions – why did you decide to go on?
oh geez, shark tank, taking me back. well, i never intended to do something like that to be honest, the opportunity presented itself to us and we had literally just launched the business with 50 wedding dresses in my bedroom. at the time we took it as something the universe was presenting and decided to go for it (also free trip to la! haha). it was all kind of crazy and happened very fast, we taped our episode two months after we launched, so we were a super baby business at the time.
you declined the offer from the sharks, why? how do you feel about it looking back? what’re the sharks like irl?
it wasn’t a good offer! so no regrets there. the feedback was helpful and some of it i really disagreed with, so honestly it spurred me to fight on without the high profile capital (and we raised a substantial angel round at a good valuation 6 months later).
i am very glad we did it though, and thankful for the opportunity. it allowed us to put the idea and brand on a platform of millions of people and that accelerated our growth in a way i couldn’t have dreamed. i was also very lucky to have thousands of women reach out to me in support and to help me really push forward a grassroots marketing effort to spread the word. the sustainability approach to creating more value and choice in the wedding space and trying to remove stigmas that are often placed on it, especially on women, around the dress and what that is supposed to look and feel like, i think resonated with a lot of women across generations and many we would never have reached, certainly not so quickly, without the shark tank platform.
the sharks were pretty great. mark cuban was my favorite, i felt like we were really having an authentic exchange about business mechanics and ideas. i mean, it’s a tv show, it’s tv, but it’s all taped live in one session so there are authentic exchanges. in general i liked mark and barbara the best. i suppose if i am being honest, didn’t live for herjkovic.
editor’s note: follow up question. was mr. wonderful actually wonderful?!
fast-forward to now, you’ve grown to more than 1 million brides per year (!!!). first off, congratulations! secondly, aside from blood, sweat, tears & sleepless nights, what do you attribute this growth to?
you hear it time and again, but creating a base of customers that believe in your mission and empowering them to be brand advocates is key. especially in bridal, in which the consumer turns over and isn’t a lifetime one, having people that believe in your mission is priceless. lots of grit. plenty of tears. time, lots of time and waiting and inching the rock forward. some luck too i think. but yea, most of the real progress is the boring stuff, the sweat and such, the day in and day out. shark tank and a few key new york times features didn’t hurt either. and women like you ladies! supporting and sharing!
let’s rewind a little bit…you have a design & management degree from parsons the new school and worked for numerous luxury brands before launching nearly newlywed. what was the hardest part about starting something on your own?
i often say the hardest part of starting was, starting. like, i didn’t see myself as an entrepreneur or set out on that path in a traditional sense, so i had a lot of insecurities, imposter syndromes and just, straight up fear about telling people and self identifying as a business founder. i remember someone asking me that i wasn’t super close with after i had left my job about what i was working on, and i got very anxious, skittish, and she thought i was being guarded about my ‘idea’ as if i would be afraid she would steal it. which certainly i wasn’t and if, as most say if, anything is true in business it is that the ‘idea’ and the mythology of the idea is rarely where a successful business comes from. it is a part of it, but it’s execution and timing more than anything. and grit. anyway, telling her and owning that i was going to try to start a business, just saying it out loud, that was the hardest. and leaving a really sexy job in fashion was hard too. that was a very large part of my identity and understanding who i was without that, without the big company and big names to lean up against, was very difficult to push past. i mean, my boss said to me ‘you know most women would kill for this job’ when i resigned, and i mean, she was sort of right, so walking away to start something so unknown was very difficult, because i really didn’t know what i was doing.
and then, not quitting when things were flat and hard and just, felt sort of like cross-country skiing in quick sand, that’s the other hard part. because shiny things sustain you, milestones anchor you…. but gritting your teeth and getting up and trying day after day, that’s where & how success blooms, in my opinion. man, can i reference the word grit anymore? grit grit grit grit grit, i still need more of it, so i suppose i can’t really say it enough. grit! 😉
did you have an “aha!” moment that made you start nearly newlywed?
oh and no aha! moment, ha, really just that i felt the bridal industry was innovating very slowly, much slower than luxury fashion which i had thought prior to getting engaged was behind all other industries (which it was) but then i realized bridal was even further behind, so i figured innovation had to happen at some point and i saw some real problems around value and transparency and sustainability – so i decided why not and went for it.
talk to us about storefront! what was your thought process behind creating this and how can other founders apply that thinking to their own brands?
i saw that the wedding market was ready for more commerce and discovery online. the customers had been for awhile, i was one of them, but the industry took a longer time to evolve, so i was really waiting for the moment in which i thought there was enough need and appetite on the b2b side to coincide with the already existing demand of the customers (brides).
there is a lot of chatter about disruption in spaces, and i don’t necessarily see nearly newlywed and our role in weddings as that. it is, in a way, disruptive, but ultimately there are incredible designers and stores in the wedding space and outside of it that want to sell and market to wedding customers. some are very anti-change and sustainability but many, many are open and want to innovate and adapt. i don’t want to disrupt the industry, i want to support and offer the customer what she wants – choice, value, amazing products and i want to help those in the industry that are open to market to the changing landscape and customer, to help fit the pieces together, offer them a digital voice and expertise and hopefully, create prosperity and value for everyone in the process.
you see one million brides a year – i repeat, one million. what is your strategy to make sure you stay engaged with an audience of this size?
i think scale is a tough thing. not scaling fast enough makes you feel like a snail and scaling fast is hard to keep up with. we did a good job of taking it slow, a million is big but seven years is also longoooo. but that is still a challenge. it is very hard for me that i can’t help every customer, talk to every designer, write every message to someone that messages us on social. i try, because that is part of our dna, but it’s a challenge. the biggest thing we do is keep things in house. we don’t outsource customer service, social, any of it. so everyone is part of the nearly newlywed team and brand full-time, [they] believe in it and are just as much a part of building it as i am. so even though, they aren’t me or maybe weren’t here from day 1, they are a part of the nearly newlywed team now and i think you can feel that when you interact with our brand and experience.
best advice to brides or funny bridezilla story?
if you find a dress you love, especially if you buy it, stop looking at dresses. amazingly and also frustratingly the world is full of incredible, amazing, gorgeous things and gowns. the architect of the idea that there is one dress and one look for every bride was a marketer, trying to close a sale. you will see something else that piques your interest and it will only upset your satisfaction with your current dress. that really goes for most things. look, be selective, and by all means, wear two dresses! three! five! but once you decide move away from inspiration boards and browsing to something else so you don’t unnecessarily wage war on yourself with fomo which you just don’t need.
you’re a business owner and a mom…how f*ck do you do it?
ask me tomorrow? haha. honestly, women are incredible. all of them. every single one. we make time and space for things and fight battles that inspire me all the time. motherhood is just another facet to that and it has made me much more measured about my time and forced me to get better at saying no. and i suppose also more bold. not sure if it is because i am constantly tired? or because i want to set an example to my son and think, well shit, if i am not going to be the person i want and set out to be now, then when will i? that definitely helps curb the moments when i want to throw myself out a window.
i am also very thankful for some of the female founders and networks i have been a part of and many of which are for mothers or are mothers. heymamaco in particular is a great resource and connector for women that are mothers and in business.
now for our signature question… inspiration behind the name?
ah. well, we wanted a play on the idea of new vs used. newlywed was a term i always loved and thought it transcended just the wedding day idea because it speaks to the idea of fresh, fun, happy love. that honeymooning period (which we need to extend and keep reigniting rather than demarcate to the first year, but i digress) but the idea of a newlywed or someone on that path felt fun and light and lovely. and someone that was nearly there was on that journey to lifetime commitment and love. and then the play on nearly new was there, as we started with only used dresses that were ‘nearly new’ and we marketed to ‘nearlyweds’ and ‘newlyweds’ – also so many urls were taken, so we were like, ok it’s a mouthful but we like it.
in other words, jackie is just your average new yorker who turned down the most famous investors in the world, has disrupted the bridal industry to grow to over 1 million brides per year, and simultaneously raised another baby….all while maintaining killer style, confidence + the sparkliest personality you will ever meet. jackie, thank you for being you!
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**this is not a sponsored post. all obsessions are 100% real