Ellena Ophira is a successful entrepreneur and CEO/Founder of Weddingly, a dynamic B2B2C platform that makes wedding planning more social, personal and intuitive. We conducted a Q&A session to hear about her experience of setting up her business, challenges she's overcome, and advice for budding entrepreneurs.
Tell us a little about yourself
I started my first business in my early 20's. My background is in Marketing and Strategy and I’ve worked with a range of companies and organisations in both the Public and Private sector, that range from leading household brands and billion-pound corporations to SMEs and solopreneurs.
I am an entrepreneur through and through. I love business and live to spot opportunities for growth, development and success, whether that be for my clients or my own company.
I started Weddingly in 2017 and I’m proud to lead a female driven team, who are pioneers in WedTech, bringing innovative technology to the woefully outdated Wedding Industry.
Obsessions include: Renovation/Interior Design shows, Paris, Cooking/Food, Vogue and my little dog, Arthur.
Vices include: Anything beautiful or delicious.
How did you come up with the idea to set up Weddingly?
My first introduction to the wedding industry was through my clients. I had several who serviced the wedding market, ranging from venues to jewellers. In devising strategies for them, I conducted hefty research and was amazed at how underrepresented the wedding industry was in quality technology.
There were no B2B platforms to speak of and all the B2C planning tools seemed outdated and clunky. I remember thinking that there was a real gap here – a real opportunity to bring out something smarter, more intuitive and personalised.
Simultaneously, I was Maid of Honour for my beautiful sister, Natalia. In planning her wedding, I was further confounded by the lack of tools that offered any real value to our experience, or even a basic understanding of our pain points.
That was it for me, I was hooked. The mission was clear and we forged ahead to shake things up and fill that gap.
The new Weddingly platform will be the first of its kind for the industry. Taking a data centric approach, we match couples and guests to their perfect vendors through our smart quiz search and image driven platform. We turn real wedding imagery into inspiring and effective store fronts, saving time, energy and money for all.
(MVP currently live in the market, main platform launches Q1 of 2020)
What challenges did you face while setting it up and how did you overcome them?
I am a non-technical founder, building a technical product. I had a clear vision in mind, and I knew I could take it to market, but unlike the other businesses that I’ve started, I didn’t have the technical capabilities to physically bring this one to life. I also didn’t have the capital, in the beginning, to invest in quality tech development, or find any success in searching for a technical co-founder, so I had to get creative and find another way.
I taught myself some basic code and website development and built the MVP myself. I needed something to test in the market, to validate the proposition, so I built a website that was good enough to get started. And, where there were gaps, we conducted those tasks manually and emulated what our platform would eventually do.
Funding your journey is a continual, ongoing challenge. Timing this is incredibly tough. You don’t know how long it’s going to take to raise, so you need to be prepared. We had to make sacrifices and choices about what was a priority and keep things very lean.
It pushed us to spend what little money we did have, smarter- challenge ourselves creatively when trying to attract our first customers. We couldn’t compete on ad spend, so how else could we win? We also decided to bootstrap in the beginning, just to take the heat off and buy us more time. I dipped back into consultancy, but this turned out to be a positive pivot for us. We learned so much more about our customer and have added additional features for the vendors, based on the success of this period.
In reality, every day is a challenge- and that, in of itself, is a huge undertaking! No two days are ever the same and you must be ready for anything.
What is your favourite thing about running your own business?
Being an entrepreneur is a great gift. It comes with its own unique set of challenges. The highs and lows are more acutely felt and the weight of responsibility is sometimes crushing. But, that pressure is a privilege. To be moved by your work, to be that engaged, inspired, to have that opportunity to carve your own path, to build a business and a culture from scratch, to make your vision a reality in the world - there’s nothing like it.
Why have you decided to get involved with European Women in Technology?
This is a community that I am very proud to be a part of. I went to the Women of Silicon Roundabout event in 2018 and was blown away by this world, brimming with opportunity and success. I left feeling so inspired. I remember standing outside on the terrace and vowing to return one day as a participant. Twelve months later, I was speaking at the same event- sharing my story and experience, with a room full of women who were just like me the year before.
This event helped shape that following year for me, it had such an impact. It showed me what was possible, and it gave me more confidence to go for it and represent, as a female founder in tech.
I want to pay that forward.
I couldn’t be more excited to now be speaking at the European Women in Technology conference in Amsterdam.
What topic will you be speaking about and why?
I will be speaking about how to put together a killer pitch deck for raising investment.
Putting the deck together can be a daunting task, but it can be conquered. I’ll be covering specifics on content, structure and layout - plus top tips on what I’ve found investors respond well to and the things to avoid.
I’ll also share tips on pitching and follow up, to help you get to the closing finish line.
A founder will always be raising, one way or another (!), so this is a document that I have continually been working on and refining over the last few years for our business.
I’ve learned stacks of brutal lessons, faced a ton of rejection and finally made it over the finish line. Bruised, but elated! I’ll be sharing my first-hand experience and the amazing advice I’ve collected over the years.
Whether you have a deck and have raised investment, or are just starting out and have no idea where to start, I’ve aimed to put together a presentation that should support everyone, at any stage of their journey.
What advice would you give to women who wish to set up their own business?
What are you waiting for? Do it. There is never a right time. There will always be risks. Just get started.
Don’t let your quest for perfection hold you back, just make it real, really fast and see if it’s viable. If it is, then go for it.
Dreams are useless without tangible steps and structure. Set yourself realistic milestones, grounded in goals and tasks, that you can easily follow and achieve.
Own your vision, unapologetically. Figure out a way to make it work.
Everyone has an opinion, therefore only ask it of those you truly respect. Being challenged is a great thing, but take on board what resonates with you and find support in those you trust.
This is a marathon and not a sprint, so be prepared. Take care of yourself, be kind to yourself and give yourself a break-there is only one of you. Surround yourself with people who can pick you up, refill your wine glass and keep you going.
No-one will care about your business as much as you. And that’s ok. But, if you’re lucky, you’ll find people who share your vision and are committed to making it a reality with you. Be good to these people and treat them well.
Just keep swimming - nothing changes if you stay still, but if you move- in any direction- you’ll end up somewhere new. You can’t wait for something to happen; you have to move towards a new destination. Keep going!
Understand your Why. What is motivating you, what is your purpose, driving you forward? When you’re up at night- it needs to be the answer you tell yourself. It needs to make it worth it. It should be enough to keep you going.
Do not compare yourself to others - they are on their own path, focus on yours. You can’t see where you are going if you are distracted.
Build a network and a community around you. Speak to everyone and anyone, you don’t know where a conversation can take you.
And, finally- win or learn, there is no lose. It’s only over if you stop. You are braver and more resilient that you think. Be bold and go for it.
Some great books that I recommend:
- The Lean Startup - Eric Ries
- Start With Why - Simon Sinek
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things - Ben Horowitz
- Hooked - Nir Eyal
- Creativity Inc - Ed Catmull
Who is your female tech inspiration and why?
I think all women who pursue innovation and demonstrate supreme skill are truly awesome. Doing something fearlessly and brilliantly is beyond inspirational, whether you’re a man or a woman.
Some of my female heroes include:
Katrina Lake, CEO and Founder @ Stitch Fix:
As a non-technical founder herself, Katrina’s story really inspires me. She started off as pre-med and then moved to study business, getting her MBA at Harvard. She came to Stitch Fix from a similar angle to me, through spotting an opportunity, rigorous data and in the early days - she manually mirrored the activity that she would eventually digitise. She showed me that this is just as valuable and a viable way to start out. Katrina went on to be the youngest woman to ever take a company public in 2017. And, even better, she rang that bell at the NYSE holding her baby son, telling the world this is exactly who she is.
Whitney Wolfe, CEO and Founder @ Bumble:
Whitney was one of the founding team at Tinder. She left under a dark cloud of sexual harassment lawsuits. However, she took that stressful experience and turned it into something positive, creating Bumble. She showed that you can come back swinging and that great strength, perseverance and resilience will win in the end.
Karlie Kloss, CEO and Founder @ Kode with Klossy:
I think Karlie Kloss has done an incredible job of making coding accessible for young women, with her ever-growing Coding Camps. She’s used her celebrity and platform for such a wonderful mission.
Melanie Perkins, CEO and Founder @ Canva:
Canva is a superb product. From humble beginnings as a platform producing year books to now, a huge disruptor in the design industry. Resources like Canva change the game for start-ups, SMEs, and people with limited resources. Melanie and her team made quality design software affordable and accessible and has empowered an infinite number of businesses and individuals. She’s bold and fearless and continues to take Canva to new heights.
I love the ‘How I Built This,’ podcast series, from NPR. Some of these women share their amazing stories here and they are well worth a listen!
Join 4,000+ industry professionals for two days of career-boosting workshops, inspiring keynotes and networking opportunities at European Women in Technology on November 26-27.