Kellee Khalil On Failure And Pioneering Bridal TechnologyKellee Khalil OnFailure and Pioneering Bridal TechnologySharesThe bridal industry is big business, especially for those who cater to brides without big budgets. Just ask Kellee Khalil, a spirited entrepreneur who is helping no less than 200 DIY-minded women simultaneously plan their weddings with her newest virtual wedding planning venture.“Only 15 percent of couples in the US hire a wedding planner,” says Khalil. “We are focused on helping the 85 percent that are doing it themselves.”With hundreds of thousands of users, and over 1.3 million fans and followers, Loverly Virtual Wedding Planner is poised to revolutionize the way women plan their weddings. Kellee Khalil by Dustin Senovic“Our vision is to be the biggest wedding planner in the world, basically wedding world domination,” says Khalil. “How we get there is still to be told.”The Loverly Virtual Wedding Planner is a chat-enabled application that assists brides throughout their wedding planning, as much or as little as they like. Flat fee wedding planning packages range from $49 to $399.“It’s the first ever virtual wedding planner,” says Khalil. “We help with everything she could need, from setting the budget, to helping find dresses, stationary, decorations, hotel room blocks, to creating your registry and your wedding website to purchasing engagement ring insurance. Who even thinks of that?”The app, which launched this spring, grew out of the Loverly website, a wedding-focused media engine that allows brides to discover ideas and evaluate vendors.“We have this database we’ve built for four years of all this inspiration, content, and are using it to power our recommendations,” says Khalil of her new app, which features a chat bot virtual assistant named Eva. “Eva chats with the customers, and downloads information to help customize experience. Of course there’s always human involvement, but there are things she can do that are faster than a human does. That’s how we are able to offer things so quickly.”In The FamilyFor Khalil, becoming self-made was only natural, as entrepreneurship ran in the family.“We spoke about business around the dinner table,” says Khalil. “It was something I was always around as a child. I definitely had a lemonade stand in the summer. In high school I taught myself how to code, and built my own eBay store. I always had a little bit of a hustle. It’s in my DNA, and in all my siblings too.”When it came to launching her own business, which in her case was the Loverly website, Khalil says she waited until the right moment.“I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I hadn’t found a problem I thought was big enough,” says Khalil, a graduate of one of the country’s first entrepreneurship programs at USC. To satisfy her desire for creation, she quickly jumped onboard her sister’s bridal public relations business, which was focused on promoting the key players in the niche market.“I started learning the mechanics of the bridal industry,” says Khalil. “When my sister got engaged and started to plan her wedding, I was on Google three pages deep [helping her do research], and I thought ‘this is really hard. Why are there no resources for this?”According to Khalil, it was at that moment when the lightbulb went off, and she decided to marry her years of experience in the bridal industry with a new idea that would make it easier for overwhelmed brides to get help planning the details of their wedding.“I couldn’t shake idea of a place where you can find all the ideas and inspiration, products, vendors, and brands that spoke to me as a consumer and showcased real couples, not Barbie and Ken,” says Khalil, who moved to New York in 2010 to pursue her new venture. “We launched in 2102 with mission to make wedding planning easier and more fun.” Her site, which allows brides-to-be wedding search filters like color, theme, and style, began to evolve into a content-rich destination for information and inspiration.“We create three to five pieces of content a day,” says Khalil, who utilizes a team of about eight full-time employees as well as a contributor network to keep her site rich. “We have all this data and content, so the question was what can we do to take to next step?” It was then that the Virtual Wedding Planner was born.In terms of funding, Loverly raised close to $2 million in its seed round in 2011, an additional $3 million in 2014 through Montage Ventures, and another $2 million from Loverly insiders in 2015. Although the numbers sound lofty, Khalil says it’s not as much as one might think.“It’s been challenging to fundraise,” says Khalil. “It sounds like a lot of money but I have been fundraising since I started the company. It’s a misconception that you get it all at once.”Learning LessonsInterestingly it was a failure that spurred Khalil into her newest idea. After closing her Series A Funding, she was thinking of how to monetize her blossoming media business, at the request of investors, and jumped on the bandwagon of offering shoppable content via proprietary e-commerce.“I was getting feedback from investors saying you need to figure out a business outside of advertising in media, so I went down this rabbit hole [of e-commerce] that wasn’t really in line with my business, but I was chasing the investors,” says Khalil, who in February, 2015 introduced Loverly e-commerce, offering the Loverly Collection, an exclusive e-commerce brand of wedding products and fashions. “We thought we were so good converting for others (via affiliate channels) that we could do it ourselves. I barely survived as a human, the company barely survived. I call it the dark days of Loverly.”“We thought we were so good at converting for others that we could do it ourselves.”The reason for the failure, Khalil says is that she was out of her wheelhouse.“Operationally running a content business is completely different than running a commerce business, and because of that you need so much money to offer operational experiences like free shipping, and free returns,” she says. “We asked why are we doing this.”Ever the forward-thinking entrepreneur, Khalil soon noticed that rather than about purchasing merchandise, customers were asking for wedding planning advice. She connected the dots.“I’m not a wedding planner but that’s what everyone was asking us to be,” says Khalil. “That’s when I thought, OK that’s what we should be, and the lightbulb went off again four months before the e-commerce failed.”With the concept of creating a wedding concierge, Khalil said people began signing up like crazy. She plans to continue growing her app by remaining focused on her niche, offering additional services as her customer asks for them.“We are no longer making big bets without information to back it up,” says Khalil. “I’ve been beat up along the way, and had doors slammed by investors, but I will say the way we will grow is to always listen to our users, looking at data and making small incremental changes as we go.” Belisa SilvaBelisa is an editor with more than 10 years of experience. Prior to SWAAY, she worked as freelance writer, covering lifestyle, fashion and beauty industries. Belisa was a Market Editor at Women's Wear Daily for five years, where she interviewed rockstar business women like Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Lopez and Iman. Belisa also contributes to Cosmetic Executive Women, where she highlights female executives making an impact in the beauty industry.