As a female lead tech company, there is a special place in our hearts for other women who are leading the charge! As you can imagine, there are not a lot of people who build start ups (without a background in technology) and actually turn their ideas into something tangible. So, when you meet another woman who is walking a similar path and straddling the same industries, you get excited.
Marissa Gibbons is the CEO and Co-Founder of Riley & Grey; a purveyor of unique and modern wedding websites. They design, build, and release four collections of beautifully designed wedding websites each year and her team is raising the bar when it comes to what couples expect from wedding website templates. So, naturally, we wanted to sit down and chat with her about her experiences, the business, and where she finds the inspiration to keep pushing technology in the wedding industry forward.
What has is been like to be the female head of a tech company?
Well, I think I’ve been lucky to avoid some of the challenges others face. Mostly because we made the decision early on to focus on profitability and revenue and not fundraise – so that would be my first piece of advice to women who are starting their own companies. There are not a lot of women in the room when you pitch potential investors, so if you’re pitching a product that’s targeted at women, it’s better to come to those conversations with a proven model and some cash in the bank so that you don’t desperately need buy-in from people who aren’t the most likely to “get it.” Second, I would say (for any non-technical co-founder, male or female) is respect the tech. That doesn’t mean you need to know how to code, but understand the process and the day-to-day of your engineers and respect the fact that there’s a bunch of stuff you’re never going to understand, so pick tech team leaders you trust enough to make the calls when you don’t have the full picture.
You went to some pretty prestigious schools for your undergrad and grad school. How did your experience as a student in a very competitive environment influence your path to becoming an entrepreneur?
I wouldn’t say the competitive vibe (which I think for the most part people invent in their own heads) influenced me as much as just being around talented people from a wide range of industries. At Harvard Business School especially, I learned about so many new worlds I could explore career wise. Despite going to prep school and Cornell, I didn’t really get exposed to the entrepreneurial ecosystem until business school, and that’s when I realized I could really do this myself.
How do you balance life as the mom of a little who is driven to constantly push herself professionally?
Balance is probably not the right word in my case, because it implies an always even division of time, etc. I just try to have a clear hierarchy of priorities: my family and health/happiness are above everything else. That doesn’t mean that in every micro-moment I always choose to go home early or go to the gym, etc. I know what my driving purpose is and I trust that I’m committed to that, so it helps me feel less guilty about every little decision on either side of the equation. At the end of the day, do I feel like my family and I (this is the part a lot of moms leave out unfortunately) feel supported, loved, and happy? That’s what’s most important and some weeks that can mean I was still answering emails late at night and some weeks that can mean I only worked 4 days.
Let’s switch gears a little! Who is the Riley & Grey couple? What do they do? Where do they live? What is their style?
The R&G couple is modern and unique, but still wants to honor tradition. They just want to make that tradition their own. Style wise, it can range from preppy to edgy to bohemian, but what they all have in common is an elevated approach to their look. In terms of profession and location, I’ve actually been amazed at how widely distributed our users are. They are truly all over the world and are everything from accountants to artists.
For wedding planners, their client experience doesn’t just stop at the couple – it extends to experience that the couple’s guests are having. How do you and your team hope that R&G contributes to the full wedding experience?
We are very focused on the guests actually. Couples often come to us thinking they want one experience for their website and we actually try to push them to think more about the best guest experience, which can sometimes be very different. For example, a lot of couples want to list 20 hotel options, when guests actually find that overwhelming and really only want 2-3 options that have been well curated. Another example is our mobile experience. It mimics the best aspects of an app, but it’s not actually an app, because as sexy as it sounds to have your own wedding app, guests don’t actually want to download a whole app just for your wedding!
Because R&G is “non-wedding-y wedding inspiration,” where does your design compass come from?
It’s mostly influenced by non bridal fashion, home decor, and web design.
What are your favorite trends right now in both design and technology?
Minimalism for both. Doing less, but doing it really well and really beautifully.
What are your goals for both yourself and Riley & Grey? What are you most excited about for 2016 and beyond?
Our focus this year has been a return to the promise of the product. Last year we were really focused on getting the word out, but now our brand recognition is pretty strong, so we want to make sure we’re really executing the best version of our brand. We’ve got some really cool changes coming!
Check out Riley & Grey’s line of wedding websites for the modern couple at rileygrey.com