Janessa White is the co-founder and CEO of Simply Eloped, a nationwide company that simplifies the process of planning a small wedding. She isn’t your typical entrepreneur; she was raised in the arts and obtained her degree in Theater, intending to pursue a career in that direction. After starting her own theater company and running for four years, she decided to pursue other passions, most notably scratching her entrepreneurial itch. Prior to starting Simply Eloped with her partner, she pursued lots of startup ideas that failed flat, including The Personalized Gift Gal which rendered but one mere customer. It wasn’t until she joined minds with her partner Matt Dalley that the idea of Simply Eloped was born. Now almost 6 years old, they have a staff of 30+ and are located in 34 destinations around the US. Her ambitions are hefty and with her tech-enabled service company she’s positioning to use software to make an even bigger dent in the wedding industry. Janessa feels so fortunate to be doing something she truly loves and really takes delight in watching her business change and grow year-over-year.
Where did the idea for Simply Eloped come from?
In the spring of 2015, Matt, my co-founder, sat on a bench alongside the quaint and historic Ladies Pavilion in Central Park, New York City. A man sat across from him wearing a bowtie. Curious, Matt asked why the man was so dressed up to be in the park. The gentleman explained to Matt that he was an officiant, getting ready to preside over a ceremony in the park.
The two started chatting and the officiant told Matt how difficult it can be for wedding vendors to find couples to work with. Inspired by the conversation, Matt decided to do some research and observed that there were lots of couples looking for ways to get married that were easy-to-plan, affordable, and beautiful. With that, we decided to start a company that solved all of these problems, making wedding planning stress-free and affordable for couples while giving awesome wedding vendors a way of connecting with customers. And thus – Simply Eloped was born!
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I’m so lucky that every day my job is completely different. Even though we’ve been in business for almost 6 years we’re always looking to make things better operationally. So, from overhauling our vendor program to tweaking and auditing our website, there’s always a new challenge to overcome. For productivity, I use the Ivy Lee Method which has also been coined the list of 6. Anything I don’t accomplish continues to the next day or week. It’s a great hack to ensure I’m always taking baby steps that contribute to something larger!
How do you bring ideas to life?
For starters, I have such an amazing team that is collaborative and open-minded. We truly believe that every challenge has a solution; every problem can be overcome. Since we’re like-minded in that way it breeds creative-thinking, a ‘fail-fast’ approach and just makes things fun! We’re always very clear on who is taking ownership of what, what the estimated timeline will be and how we can all contribute to bringing the idea to life. We’re always innovating so bringing our ideas to life happens on the daily!
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m really digging the no-code movement. It’s making the barrier to entry for starting a business so much lower. The ability to have an idea and bring it to life in the startup world has never been easier. I really love seeing individuals dream up something big and getting creative on how to introduce it to the world.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I talked a bit prior about the Ivy Lee Method and I really wouldn’t be where I am without it. Every week I outline the 6 or so tasks I want to accomplish for the week and daily I either accomplish the task(s) or take steps to doing so. I’m usually pretty successful at finalizing my tasks for the week but in the event I’m not, those tasks bleed into my next week. It’s so easy to get caught up in meetings and this method ensures that even though my time is in demand from others, I’m still making time to accomplish things that drive the business forward. It really is my biggest productivity hack. And – it’s so delicious to mark off a task on my to-do list.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t take things so seriously. While I had a lot of play in my life I also had a tendency to strive for perfection. If I had known then what I know now I’d have faith that I’d land on my feet in a career I really love and wouldn’t have put so much pressure on myself.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I really didn’t enjoy Hamilton (hides under the bed).
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Ask questions! One of my favorite traits in a good leader is a perpetual curiosity. When you build a strong team it’s way more fun to collaborate and rely on them to help you explore your way to answers. Thinking you have all of the answers OR putting pressure on yourself to come up with all of the answers is just not realistic, nor is it nearly as delightful as the alternative. I really love fostering the way for my leaders and team to feel heard and as though they have a strong chance of influencing the final outcome. It’s just so much more fun this way.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
If you can’t model it, build it. One unique thing about Simply Eloped is we really didn’t have a lot of examples of wedding companies that were doing things the way we wanted to do things so we had to build our software, systems and program from scratch. We did this by listening to our customer first and foremost and determining what was missing in the market (high quality, personalized small weddings). Then, we outlined what was the biggest grab of time from myself or our team members and started chipping away at automating things that were manual and time-consuming. Next, we stepped into the fun stuff like building culture and values. From software to systems, operations to culture, we created it all anew. And now, the combination of all is what makes Simply Eloped a super special and unique company.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Notice how in my last answer we started with software and systems but not culture? That was a big mistake! From hiring practices to lack of an employee handbook, we made all of the mistakes one can make when learning to run a business in the beginning. It wasn’t until we started seeing unhealthy cultural signs that we had to get really deep on where we had gone wrong. We stopped hiring friends and family (hiring practice 101: DO NOT hire friends and family), started getting really intentional about our values & culture and made a real effort to turn things around. I can say with confidence our years of diligence and hard work in this area have really paid off. We have a healthy and joyous culture at Simply Eloped nowadays. Don’t worry – we don’t get complacent; maintaining our culture takes daily mindfulness and attentiveness!
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’ve been dreaming up an app that has preloaded messages you can send to other cars on the same highway as you. Messages like “deer on the road” or “black ice up ahead.” I think something like this could really help avoid so many accidents that happen, especially on mountain roads.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Noise cancelling headphones. I’m on a mission to find the most pristine sound I’m able! Happy to take tips here.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Ohhhh jeeze we have so many: Slack, Zapier, Hubspot, GURU – the list goes on! We wouldn’t be near the size of company we are without our plethora of amazing tools.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. Never have I ever found a book (outside of this one) that made me feel less lonely about being an entrepreneur. In reading Hard Things… I felt seen and a strange kinship with the author, Ben. I read the whole book cover-to-cover in one sitting on a flight. It’s funny, quirky and super down to earth. I highly recommend it.
What is your favorite quote?
“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it; Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” – Goethe
- Tips on how to be most productive
- Food for thought on building company culture
- Why collaboration and asking questions are key
- Why Ben Horowitz is the best friend you’ve never met but you absolutely need
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.