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Zola Raises $100 Million: The Wedding Planning Startup

Zola, the wedding planning startup have recently raised $100 million in a fresh round of funding. Airbnb is for travel, Uber for Cab, Zillow for Real Estate and Zola is for Wedding Planning. Most industries have been changed dramatically by tech startups in recent years. Zola Inc. just tied the knot on a big financing round to try to do the same for the costly and complex business of weddings.

The startup, led by former Gilt Groupe executive Shan-Lyn Ma, said Thursday it raised $100 million from investors including Comcast Corp. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. The deal values Zola at about $600 million, according to a person familiar with the deal.

Founded in 2013, Zola runs an online wedding registry that lets couples see what guests have bought them before the gifts are delivered, letting them swap out unwanted items and avoid the hassle and cost of returns. Last year, Zola added guest-list and website-building tools. Ma said she wants to build more products to become the dominant company in what Zola estimates is a $100 billion market.

As per Zola’s official website:

We’re Zola, the wedding company that will do anything for love. We’re reinventing the wedding planning and registry experience to make the happiest moment in our couples’ lives even happier. From engagement to wedding and decorating your first home, Zola is there, combining compassionate customer service with modern tools and technology. All in the service of love.

“Today a couple has to use probably 20 different products or apps or services,” Ma said. “Some of these products aren’t even designed for wedding planning and some of them were designed a decade ago. It shouldn’t be that way.”

The roughly $600 million valuation would make Zola worth around the same as XO Group Inc., a publicly traded company founded in the late 1990s that runs wedding-planning websites and a marketplace for wedding services. Much of the rest of the industry is fragmented.

The round, led by Comcast’s venture capital unit, brings Zola’s total funding to about $140 million. Lightspeed and Thrive Capital also participated.

“Unlike most e-commerce businesses, I would say it features a handful of really attractive attributes,” said Ian Friedman, who led Goldman Sachs’ investment in the deal.

Zola can predict how much of a certain product it needs to order well in advance, because people fill out registries weeks, if not months, ahead of a wedding. The company avoids most returns, or what Friedman calls “the silent killer of retail,” by letting couples switch out things they don’t want. And Zola doesn’t carry inventory risk by stocking up items in its own warehouses.

That all makes the company an “e-commerce business that exhibits the predictability of a software business,” Friedman said.

Ma started Zola in 2013 after leaving Gilt, the flash-sale e-commerce company that was eventually sold well below its peak private-market valuation.

Zola’s new $100 million is more than Ma initially set out to raise, but it doesn’t change the company’s plan, she said. “One of the things we want to mitigate against is often when startups raise a large round they get tempted to spend money on things they would not have spent on previously,” she said.

The company has around 110 employees now, and plans to grow to round 150 by the end of 2018. Marketing will ramp up though, and Zola plans to spend more on TV advertising to get its name in front of millions of Americans, Ma said.


Zola’s Leadership Team

Shan-lyn Ma

Shan-lyn Ma

CEO

Rachel Jarrett

Rachel Jarrett

President

Kevin P. Ryan

Kevin P. Ryan

Chairman

Nobu Nakaguchi

Nobu Nakaguchi

Chief Design Officer

Felix Lung

Felix Lung

CTO

Mike Chi

Mike Chi

CMO

Kate Furst

Kate Furst

SVP Operations

Maya Simon

Maya Simon

SVP of Growth

Whenever couples request cash, Zola charges a 2.7% fee, which couples can choose to pay themselves or pass along to their guests. Most of the company’s revenue is the portion it receives for selling a company or brand’s products and services. And since Zola is a universal registry, you can add gifts from anywhere online, or create a honeymoon fund, or even add unique experience gifts (like cooking classes, adventure weekends, or even a hot air balloon ride), so your wedding registry will actually look like it belongs to you.

Zola, the New York-based e-commerce startup led by Shan-Lyn Ma, is on a mission to reinvent the Wedding Registry by transforming how couples and guests share, buy, and ship wedding gifts. Zola’s digital platform allows couples heading to the alter to conveniently personalize and streamline their wedding registry, simplifying the process and making it fun for everyone involved.

Since Zola’s launch in 2013, over 100,000 couples have created a registry. Innovative features include an all-in-one registry management system, a 200+ name brand product selection with the ability to add items from any store on the web, a Zola smartphone app to scan the bar codes of any in-store products, plus the opportunity to design a registry page with personal photos and a welcome message for guests. Zola has raised more than $15 million in venture capital funding before this round.

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