Learn about Florida Entrepreneur Michael and Jennifer Burns:
In 2018, Michael and Jennifer Burns, husband and wife and Co-founders of Wedzee, set out to create a vertical smart marketplace catered towards soon-to-be and recent newlyweds. They envisioned an easy way for brides and others involved in the wedding industry to buy, sell and securely ship their used wedding items. Michael, who graduated from the University of Tampa and has nearly 20 years’ experience in sales and digital marketing, shared the story behind their journey and explained how Wedzee differentiates itself from other similar marketplaces.
“eBay is slowly being ripped apart,” Michael said. “The result is that you’re seeing more vertical marketplaces sprouting up. Wedzee is kind of like an eBay meets Etsy with some additional functionality and security.”
As Michael shared, Jennifer has spent the past 15 years of her professional life in the wedding industry. She has extensive experience with wedding planning and events and, over the years, has picked up on a “gap” in the wedding business.
“Soon to be brides would always ask Jennifer where to find deals on wedding items,” Michael said. “Things like linens, centerpieces and décor are expensive and there never existed a dedicated place to sell and buy these items. There have been some other businesses that have attempted to set up similar marketplaces, but they never panned out. We said, ‘let’s learn from their mistakes and build a site that can execute the way users want’. In 2012, Jennifer got into Poshmark and really liked their model – a model that we ultimately followed when we created Wedzee.”
By combining her knowledge and experience from the wedding industry and proceeds from a previous bridal boutique ecommerce business – called Kadlee – that was acquired 13 months after she launched it, Jennifer and Michael officially launched a private beta version of Wedzee in 2019. They’re now in public beta and the response has been great, but as Michael shared, there are many current and future challenges expected.
“With any marketplace, you’re going to face the chicken or the egg dilemma,” he said. “You need sellers to sign up before you can push buyers to your site. However, sellers are slow to sign up if there’s no one buying. We’re currently pushing to get Etsy sellers on our site.”
Michael added, “Most new marketplaces typically take three to five years to take off and reach maturity. It’s also very expensive and very time consuming, especially for me since I still have my full-time job. We’re definitely still in startup mode, but we’re all working 40 hours a week and we’re determined to make Wedzee successful.”
To date, Wedzee has not initiated a formal marketing strategy. They’ve reached out to select groups – including Etsy sellers and certain Facebook groups – but have relied mainly on gorilla marketing tactics. Even though they already have 1,100 users, there’s still more work to be done.
“As we move past public beta, our go-to-market strategy is pretty specific,” Michael said. “The campaign will include PPC, SEO and a lot of social media marketing. We’ll target mostly sellers in major metro areas across Florida including, Orlando, Tampa and Miami. Once that plan proves successful, we’ll replicate what works and take it to other markets. We also have paid sponsorships with high profile bloggers and we’ll start doing wedding trade shows when things pick back up again. As we continue to gather important customer feedback, we’ll make additional changes along the way.”
Looking ahead, Michael and Jennifer’s first goal is to raise a round of funding through angel investors, venture capital or a combination of the two. They’re cognizant of the fact that in order for a marketplace like Wedzee to be successful, it has to go nationwide. For that reasons, they’ll need a strong infusion of capital. Long term, they want Wedzee to be synonymous with the wedding industry and to eventually be acquired by one of the large national players.
What advice does Michael have for aspiring entrepreneurs? “Life’s a risk as it is,” he said, referring to the risk of starting a business. “You might as well take a risk on something you’re passionate about. Also, I’m someone who has to work organically. My attributes are better served when working for myself. I think most entrepreneurs are like that. Finally, you need to keep your feet on the ground, but also think big – take the risk and do it. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing and you believe in it, there’s no reason you shouldn’t do it.”
When it comes to business and entrepreneurship related resources, Michael recommends the podcast How I Built This on NPR. He’s also a strong proponent of Embarc Collective and Tampa Bay Wave, two organizations that provide tremendous resources and support for new and existing entrepreneurs.
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