Two years ago, when several of Jess Levin’s friends started getting engaged and searching for wedding food, vendors, and DJs, they realized that, shockingly, there was not an app for any of that. “It was a running joke in my group of friends that the brides thought the hard part was getting the ring,” says Levin, 29, “until they realized it was way more challenging to plan the wedding.”
That thought led Levin to found Carats & Cake, a Pinterest-like platform that allows couples to browse photos from real, local weddings, and connect with the vendors that produced them. Roughly eight months after its launch, the site touts more than 2,000 images from 300 weddings—and counting.
The Carats & Cake narrative is becoming increasingly familiar. In the last two years or so, entrepreneurs—many of them female and under 30—have launched at least a dozen wedding-centric web and smartphone apps, hoping to lure a new generation of “I do”-ers (and echo the success of The Knot, the web’s current wedding-planning hub). “We got Facebook in college, we got the first iPhones,” says Ajay Kamat, 27, who co-founded the photo-timeline app Wedding Party. “We have an expectation that when we travel or shop or do anything, there are services and apps that will help make that experience better for us.” Adds Joanne Wilson, an angel investor who has funded two wedding startups, “Brides are using the Internet to do everything now.”
To be sure, it’s not like all recent weddings were analog. Services like Paperless Post and Amazon have been streamlining invitations and gift registries, respectively, for years. What sets this generation of apps apart is that they’re designed specifically for weddings—everything from aesthetics (Lover.ly‘s Pinterest-like homepage is filled with images of bridal gowns, wedding cakes, and grooms’ ties) to interface (Wedding Party’s Instagram-like photo stream includes a slot for a couples bio) to privacy settings (most apps are invite-only for guests).
But will these startups be viable? It’s tough to say. Although there’s a lot of money to be made on weddings—they’re a $53.3 billion annual industry in the U.S., according to Wedding Report—many of these services aren’t charging, choosing instead to focus on raising venture capital, growing their userbase, and, most importantly, getting great recommendations. After all, unlike food-delivery or even dating apps, wedding services are, ideally, for one-time users.
Here’s a look at six of the most promising.
Launch: Private beta – May 2012; public – January 2013
Pitch: Lets users create stylish custom apps for different groups of wedding guests—say, bridesmaids, relatives, and friends—that they can download onto their smartphones. That way, details like transportation and hotel information, dress codes, and registry information can be updated for everyone in realtime. There are also privacy settings to keep, say, the raunchier bridesmaids’ plans secret from Grandma.
Payoff: Co-Founder and CEO Sharmeen Mitha-Sehgal was mum on how many couples have actually used the service, which costs $28 to set up, but did share that it has helped more than 700,000 wedding guests.
Launch: November 2012
Pitch: Helps brides and grooms to connect directly with trusted local vendors. The site hosts pictures from real weddings, all accompanied by lists of the various vendors used at each event. If a couple sees something they like, they can contact the newlyweds who posted the photos, or reach out to the vendors directly.
Payoff: There are already 5,000 images from 300 weddings, and 2,000 vendors tagged on the site. It’s free to use for now, but CEO Jess Levin says she has plans to launch some sort of paid service for vendors.
Launch: August 2012
Pitch: Guests can upload photos from various wedding events—the shower, the rehearsal dinner, the big day itself—to an interactive photo stream that all attendees can see. It’s like a custom Instagram hashtag, only more curated.
Payoff: Wedding Party is free to use and doesn’t have a concrete business model yet. But it has raised $1 million in VC funding.
Launch: Site – December 2011; App – August 2012
Pitch: Helps couples crowdsource funding for their honeymoon activities. It also logs donor information so couples can send thank-you notes in the mail—often with photos of them using the gift.
Payoff: Guests have given couples “tens of thousands” of gifts using both the Wanderable app and site, says cofounder Marcela Miyazawa. Wanderable takes a 2.5% fee from each transaction, which is cheaper than similar sites like Honeyfund.com (3%) and UponOurStar.com (2.5% for the couple + 6% for guests).
Launch: August 2012
Pitch: Aggregates registries from all over the Web into a single portal. The site also includes items of its own, mostly from little boutique shops in San Francisco. Although there are now others, they were the first.
Payoff: Co-Founders Marika and Sophia Chen say the site has close to 10,000 users, and makes money by taking a cut of all site sales.
Launch Date: February 2012
Pitch: Brides can browse images of products and decor (all selected by Loverly) by theme, color and brand, among other tags, and save things they like in “bundles” to share with friends, family or even wedding planners. It’s a lot like a bridal Pintrest, except highly curated.
Payoff: The site receives about 40 million image views per month. The corresponding mobile app, which launched 8 weeks ago, has already been downloaded 50,000 times. Lover.ly mostly draws revenue from ads and paid collaborations with brands like J. Crew and Saks Fifth Avenue.