Dec. 1, 2022

What Does It Take to Disrupt the Wedding Industry?

How businesses are cashing in on the wedding industrial complex


The wedding business is one of the oldest industries that’s now worth billions. Nora talks with two entrepreneurs that have found the money in matrimony. Jen Glantz is the founder of Bridesmaid For Hire, the world’s first professional bridesmaid company. She found a market that demonstrates that not every bridal party has to be filled with close friends. Then Shan-Lyn Ma, co-founder and CEO of Zola, the online wedding planning service, unveils emerging wedding trends and which ones are here to stay. 

 For more info on our presenting sponsor, check out https://purple.com

 

Host: Nora Ali

Producer: Raymond Luu   

Video Editors: Sebastian Vega and Evan Frolov 

Production, Mixing & Sound Design: Daniel Markus & Rosemary Minkler 

Music: Daniel Markus & Breakmaster Cylinder

Fact Checker: Kate Brandt 

Senior Producer: Katherine Milsop

 

Full transcripts for all Business Casual episodes available at https://businesscasual.fm

Transcript

Nora Ali: For Morning Brew, this is Business Casual, bringing you convos with people you know, and some you may not know yet, to make business less intimidating. Because money talks, but it does not have to be dull. I'm your host, Nora Ali. Now let's get down to business.

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to talk about weddings. A wedding is one of the oldest traditions in human history, and it's also a multibillion-dollar industry, around $61.9 billion in the US alone, according to data from IBISWorld. Big wedding parties are back, powered by couples eager to spend their wedding funds paused by the pandemic. And vendors large and small are cashing in on the wedding resurgence. Today, we're taking a look at the big business of weddings, how it's changing, and how entrepreneurs are finding ways to reinvent an industry that has traditionally been hard to disrupt.

First, we talked to someone who decided to do something very different within the wedding industry. Jen Glantz is an entrepreneur and founder of Bridesmaid for Hire, a service that builds itself as a world's first professional bridesmaid company—because why foist all of the responsibilities on a friend when you could have a skilled professional take care of everything? As Jen told us, "the two big reasons why someone calls me are because not everybody has close friends, or their close friends in the bridal party would mean disaster."

Then we got some perspective from a leader in wedding industry tech, Zola co-founder and CEO Shan-Lyn Ma. Zola arrived on the scene nearly a decade ago, offering couples a one-stop solution to everything from planning and hiring vendors to creating a registry and sending invitations. Shan-Lyn shared what wedding trends are emerging and which ones are here to stay. And she explained why, if you're looking for a recession-resistant industry, you might want to consider the wedding business. That's coming up, after the break.

Jen, I discovered you on TikTok, as I'm sure many people do, and I was like, we have to get her on the pod to learn about her business. It's so fascinating. So thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.

Jen Glantz: Thank you so much, Nora, for having me. I'm super excited.

Nora Ali: I know you get to talk about your experiences as a bridesmaid for hire a lot, but this is a business podcast, so we're going to get into the business behind it. So I'm really excited. But before we jump in, a little icebreaker for a segment we like to call OG Occupations. So Jen, what was your first ever job that you've had in your life?

Jen Glantz: I'd say the first official job that I count as official...when I was in the fourth grade, I slept over my friend Jamie's house. We gathered up all the comic books we could find, we put out a table in her neighborhood, and we sold them. We didn't tell anyone we were doing this. When her parents found out, they were really upset at us. We were selling really important comic books for maybe $5 apiece. But it was back then that I realized I got such a rush from selling and talking to people and putting a product out there. I didn't know what an entrepreneur was, but I knew there was something within me that loved this.

Nora Ali: That's incredible. So you've had the bug since you were a kid. No one was making you do it; it was your choice to sell these comic books.

Jen Glantz: Yes.

Nora Ali: That's amazing. So let's talk about Bridesmaid for Hire. So you started the world's first service where you can hire a bridesmaid to support you on your big day. For context, why would somebody hire a bridesmaid in the first place?

Jen Glantz: It's a really good question, and I think the truth is that not everybody has close friends. I think you're lucky if you have friends from childhood or even friends from a couple of years ago. Not everybody has that. So there's two main reasons why people will call me. Number one is because they don't have any close friends. And number two, it's because they have friends, but having them in their bridal party equals a disaster of some sort. So they'll call me up and they'll either say, Jen, I need you plus a whole bridal party, or I want to embed you in my existing bridal party to help manage the drama. So those are the two reasons why people will reach out to me.

Nora Ali: And I understand you're not a wedding planner, so this is about the interpersonal relationships. You're there for the bride; you're this objective third party without any preconceived notions of who any other individual in the party is. So explain what exactly your duties are when you get hired.

Jen Glantz: You're absolutely right, and I always like to start off by saying, I don't like weddings. I never liked weddings. When I thought about a business I would start, it's ridiculous that it's in the wedding industry, but it just sort of happened. I don't like weddings, but I love people, and I really love working with people during challenging times, which—spoiler alert—is what a wedding often is. So what I do is I like to say I'm the on-call therapist. I am the social director, I'm the personal assistant, and I'm the peacekeeper when the drama breaks out. But I do everything a best friend would do. I'm there to go wedding dress shopping with you. I plan a bachelorette party, I wear the bridesmaid dress, I walk down the aisle, I give the speech if you want me to give a speech, and I pretend to know you from some point in your life. So I really make sure that I embed myself in your life as if I was your real friend.

Nora Ali: What is the onboarding process, then, when a bride hires you? Because like you said, there's a backstory. You have to have a plan; you have to know how to answer questions. So what does that look like?

Jen Glantz: It's actually a lot of work when you start working with a new client. It takes a lot of time, and I didn't realize this at first, but a lot of what you have to do is really get to know them. So I learn not only their fun facts, their favorite colors, their hobbies, but based on where I'm supposed to be from their life, I learn all those details. If I'm a friend from high school, I learn street corners of where I lived, you lived; I learn the pizza place that we would hang out at. I learn all of this. So it's a lot of studying to get into this role. But then the friendship part honestly sometimes comes naturally, because if we spend so much time together before your wedding, that I do get to know you like a real friend would.

Nora Ali: So it's not fun and games, necessarily. It's your job and you're doing the research. I heard on another podcast that you don't drink during these weddings because you're literally on the job. So you said that you don't like weddings, but you happen to be in this business because you like people. You have strong interpersonal skills. So this is an example of a business where someone has realized they have some skill; it doesn't necessarily require an extra degree or training or schooling. You're good at it, you're good at being a friend, you're good at deflecting questions from suspecting relatives, assuaging drama. So I think this is applicable to a lot of folks listening who might be thinking about turning their skill set into a business. So how did you decide that you have enough of a differentiating skill to turn this into a full-on business, instead of just a little side hustle for you?

Jen Glantz: I think what happened was in my early twenties, all of my friends got married and I was always the bridesmaid and I did my bridesmaid thing. And then what started to happen in my mid-twenties was that distant friends I hardly spoke to anymore started asking me to be their bridesmaid. And there was one night where two of those people called me up and asked me to be their bridesmaid. And I was panicking because I was like, this is going to cost me so much money, I don't even know them anymore. And I was venting to my roommate and she was like, Jen, of course. It's because you're a professional at this already. People know you're good at it so they just call you. And I thought to myself, okay, if people I hardly know can make me their bridesmaid, why couldn't I do this for a complete stranger?

I like to preface this by saying I had no business experience. I was working at a tech startup as a copywriter. I had majored in poetry in college, but I always had a business spirit and I loved taking risks because to me it was like, what's the downside of trying this idea? Maybe a little embarrassment. So I went on a website called craigslist.com and I put on a personal ad, it was anonymous, and I said, "Hey, I'll be your bridesmaid. I'll dance on the dance floor with your drunk uncle and I'll help you pee in your wedding dress and I'll do all of these things." And then I just let the ad live. And I never looked at it again until two days later, I checked my email inbox and I got over 300 requests from people who wanted to hire me. So unlike some businesses that start with the business plan and testing the market and all of these things, I just put an idea out there and I had no idea what was going to happen.

Nora Ali: Jen, you said you didn't have any business experience, and I think a lot of people will get surprised when they start a business. They become an entrepreneur of all the logistics and the admin of all the stuff you don't think about. What are some of the things that surprised you early on when you decided it's not just something that I'm going to do and make money on the side, but I have to actually create a business around it?

Jen Glantz: One of the most challenging things when I started as a non-business-minded person was money. And what I mean by that is, I think right after I built the website, established the business, I went on live TV and they asked me how much this costs and I literally said, "Costs? This is a free service." And my brother called me up and he was like, "Jen Glantz!" He's like, "What are you thinking?" He's like, "This isn't a free service. You have to charge." But putting a price tag on friendship, on a service like this, was so incredibly hard. And that was a mistake that I made in my business for many years, was figuring out what to charge.

Nora Ali: So are you doing this around the country? So you're traveling across states, right? To do this?

Jen Glantz: Yeah. In the past eight years I've worked weddings all over the country. I've gone as far as Las Vegas, Seattle, Chicago, Texas, everywhere. And that's been really interesting as well, because not only do you realize that when you do travel for a business, you don't get paid for the time you spend on the flight or the time you're at the hotel. So I think pricing is really hard if it's a service-based business where you are the service. And what really hit me a couple years ago was, how in the world are we going to scale this? Because you can only spend x amount of time with this business. So that was a huge challenge that I had to deal with a couple years ago.

Nora Ali: And you're scaling by hiring a bunch of other bridesmaids who go out?

Jen Glantz: Exactly.

Nora Ali: So talk me through that. What are the skill sets you look for? Who are the people who are applying to become bridesmaids for your business?

Jen Glantz: So very early on I realized I had two audiences. I had people who wanted to hire me, and people who wanted to work for me. And I started to get over a hundred thousand applications from people all over the world who wanted this job, and it stressed me out because I realized I probably will never be big enough to hire all of them or most of them, but is there a way that I could hire some people and then monetize the rest of the audience? And I was able to do both. So first of all, I started to hire people. Hiring for this job is really, really hard because there's not necessarily a background you need to have. I don't care if you've ever been a bridesmaid before, because a lot of being a bridesmaid has nothing to do with a wedding. So even if you're somebody who's never been to a wedding before, you can still be qualified for this job.

What makes a really good professional bridesmaid is somebody who understands customer service, who understands really how to deal with challenging teams. Someone who maybe who's managed a team before, somebody who has really awesome interpersonal skills, and somebody who can problem-solve on their toes. So when I first started hiring people, I had to meet them in person. I would meet you in person and I would start putting you in social situations just to see how you function. Were you shy in the corner? Were you social? Did you make friends? And then I would sort of understand the person that way. So I feel like a lot of my hiring process is becoming your friend first and seeing, okay, what kind of friend are you? Can you problem-solve? Can you deal with really high-stakes, high-emotion situation? I'll be honest with you: There is a really high turnover rate. A lot of people don't want to do this job for more than a year because it is not as glamorous as it seems.

Nora Ali: Oh, interesting. I mean, are you sort of doing anything to try to retain talent? That's costly to have employees leave. So what's the plan there?

Jen Glantz: I think it's really hard because there's a really big burnout rate. And I felt this, because I used to work when...I think at like year three I was working 50-plus weddings a year, and I felt the burnout of this. It's mentally, physically, emotionally exhausting. And I think a lot of people do it 5, 10, 15 times and they go, this was great, Jen, but it's not going to really further my life, further my career. So a lot of what I'm trying to do from the start is be a little bit more honest about what you're going to experience, what you're going to go through, and also find people who this job can help in the future. Because you're not going to become vice president professional prize rate, but if you're somebody who's like, you know what? This type of job on my resume can help me get a customer service job, an events job, or something else, I try to say, okay, let me see how I could mentor you, or how we could use this job to help you with whatever's next for you.

Nora Ali: So if someone's looking for a bridesmaid that doesn't fit the bill with anyone who's on your roster currently, and then you do go locally, where are you looking? Are you putting out ads, maybe not Craigslist anymore, but how do you find them if they're not already looking to do that as a job?

Jen Glantz: I'd say one of the most common emails I get, comments on my TikToks that I get are, "Are you hiring? Can I work for you?" So I have a whole email list of people who want to work for me, and every week I put out an email and I say, here's the weddings we're looking for in your city; fill out the form and then we'll go from there. So I think luckily when people find out about this business, they want to hire me if they're maybe going to get married, but more than that, they want to work for this company. So we do get a lot of inbound interest, which I do think is rare for business and hiring processes.

Nora Ali: Yeah, definitely. And I discovered you on TikTok, and I'm curious how having that exposure on TikTok has impacted your business within, say, the last year, and also, how do you stay anonymous? I know you've been asked this before, but people are starting to know your face more, you're in the media more, so how do you consider that as well?

Jen Glantz: From day one, I've always realized this might be some sort of issue because from day one, I've done a lot of press, I've done a lot of putting myself out there. I like to say that oftentimes, clients are not so worried about me being discovered. I can go to your wedding. I have worn wigs before. I've changed my hair color before. I feel like sometimes I go to weddings and on the rare occasion someone will look at me and go, "You look really familiar." And I'll just go, "So do you. Do I know you from tennis?" So I've never been at a wedding, and I've been doing this eight years. I've never once been at a wedding where someone's like, "That's Jen Glantz!" But I know that if that was going to be the case eventually, that's a good problem to have. And throughout the past couple of years, too, I have been doing less and less weddings and my team has been doing more and more weddings. So I've sort of become the representation of this brand and let other people be on the ground.

Nora Ali: So to that point, you have said before that you've always been very good at deflecting. So when a friend or a relative starts to really ask questions: "Who's this person that I've never seen before?" And I think respectful deflection is an important skill in a lot of jobs for entrepreneurs, business leaders, when you maybe don't have all the answers in the moment. What is the secret to deflecting effectively?

Jen Glantz: The secret is growing up painfully shy and not wanting to talk about yourself, and then you get really good at making the conversation about you end. And I think I have 34 years of experience there. But the other thing I think you realize in any type of job, when you are a leader or you're in a sales role, is it's not about you, it's about your audience. And a lot of what I remember and I think about on the spot is they're asking me questions, but they really want to talk about themselves. So I keep my answers really short. "Where are you from?" I'll say "I'm from this location, and what about you?" And then you go into the questioning process of that. So if you get really good at asking the question "why" or "how," you can continue on a conversation for 25 minutes without it being turned around to you.

Nora Ali: That is amazing. And I think a lot of people can learn from that. I am the same way. I want to get the conversation off of me as fast as humanly possible. And I suppose that's why I'm an interviewer. So I get to ask the questions. Well, we are going to take a quick break. More with Jen when we come back.

Jen, let's get into the wedding industry overall. The New York Times reported that roughly 2.5 million weddings were expected to happen this year. That is the most since 1984, according to The Wedding Report, a trade group that gathered this data through a survey of vendors and consumers. It's a boom year for weddings. Makes sense after peak pandemic times. How has that affected your business?

Jen Glantz: It was interesting because during the pandemic, we faced a problem that a lot of wedding vendors face, which was people were pushing off their wedding date or they were eloping or they were going virtual. And during that time we launched different packages and services. We did virtual bridesmaids, where we were on your Zoom call as your bridesmaid on a Zoom call. We did a lot of weddings like that. Now, I feel like we are getting a constant boom. We are actually getting a lot of people who are last minute, who are like, we're getting married in a month from now. So we're dealing with a lot of that, and we're dealing with a lot of bookings of weddings from 2024 to 2025, which is so far out. I think a major challenge from my perspective is pricing. Do I want to charge you the same amount I'm going to charge you in 2023 that I might in 2025? Do I want to get a roster of weddings for two plus years from now? And that's something that as a business owner, I'm thinking really strongly about and having to make decisions about, because planning and booking and taking money for two years out is really risky and unusual.

Nora Ali: With inflation where it is now, you gotta consider that too.

Jen Glantz: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.

Nora Ali: Yeah. That's so interesting. So what do you do now, then? Are you taking bookings that are that far out, or you're still kind of thinking through the process?

Jen Glantz: As of right now, I'm not putting anything on the calendar for 2025, but we are doing 2024, which also seems like an eternity away. It's a challenge, because I think the pandemic woke up a lot of people and said, hey, your business is not gonna be foolproof for so many things. There's things that could mess you up that you can't even plan for. I personally think the wedding industry will never die down. I think it's going to keep exploding. So I think there will always be a need for this service, but I also don't know if by 2025 this will be the exact service we offer. What if we change it up? What if we offer something different? I do think the role of bridesmaids is going to change within the next five and 10 years, and I want to make sure that with those changes, we're changing with them.

Nora Ali: I have learned so much in this conversation. This has been so fun. Okay, last thing is a game. It's called Wedding Bell(es). So I'm going to give you a few clues about a celebrity wedding and you have to guess the bride. Bonus points if you can guess their spouse. So the source today is an article titled “The Best Celebrity Wedding Moments” in Vogue. And that's by Christian Allaire and Elise Taylor. We'll link to all of that in our show notes for this episode. Okay, this is kind of hard, Jen.

Jen Glantz: I'm nervous.

Nora Ali: I'm nervous too. Our producer Katherine put this together. She did an incredible job. It's beautiful imagery, but I would not know the answers, so keep that in mind. All right, Jen, I'll give you hints as we go. Number one, this bride wore a one-of-a-kind Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda lace and satin corset mini dress inspired by 1960s Italian lingerie, all accompanied by a sweeping veil. Hand embroidered into the head piece were flowers inspired by the seaside town's many Mediterranean gardens, as well as a depiction of the Virgin Mary. Who is the bride? I'll give you a hint: She's part of a family.

Jen Glantz: Is it a Kardashian?

Nora Ali: Part of a famous family. Yes, it is, Jen.

Jen Glantz: Is it Kourtney Kardashian?

Nora Ali: It's Kourtney Kardashian. And who did she marry?

Jen Glantz: Is it Travis Barker?

Nora Ali: It's Travis Barker. She knows her stuff. Okay.

Jen Glantz: Oh man, that was hard. I'm sweating. That was hard.

Nora Ali: You're literally crushing it. Okay, number two. This bride chose three Ralph Lauren dresses for her Georgia wedding to her groom. The gown she wore down the aisle was made from a thousand handkerchiefs and 500 meters of fabric all cut into ruffles.

Jen Glantz: I would say maybe J-Lo, but I don't...

Nora Ali: Yes!

Jen Glantz: Are you kidding me? Oh my god.

Nora Ali: And who did she marry most recently?

Jen Glantz: Ben Affleck, right?

Nora Ali: Yes.

Jen Glantz: I don't know celebrities at all. So this is magical right now. This is like a miracle.

Nora Ali: Wow. J-Lo and Ben. Okay, number three. This bride wore Oscar de la Renta to wed her hubs at her grandfather's former estate in Bel-Air. The wedding took place on November 11, 2021. "This date is special to my spouse and I. It represents our love story, which both of us knew was meant to be." This one's hard and I'm trying to think of how I can give you a hint. She has a tiny dog.

Jen Glantz: Paris Hilton.

Nora Ali: You are crushing it. I'm going to have to give you harder hints for the next two.

Jen Glantz: Oh god.

Nora Ali: Two more. Okay. November 2017, this bride, a superstar athlete, wed her groom, an internet entrepreneur in New Orleans, just two months after welcoming their first child together. Who is it?

Jen Glantz: Is it Serena Williams?

Nora Ali: Yes.

Jen Glantz: And I'm trying to think of the husband's name. He was the founder of Reddit.

Nora Ali: Correct. Yes.

Jen Glantz: Or a co-founder of Reddit.

Nora Ali: Alexis Ohanian.

Jen Glantz: Alexis.

Nora Ali: Friend of Morning Brew. We love Alexis.

Jen Glantz: Yes. Yes. Yes.

Nora Ali: Serena and Alexis. Amazing. One of my favorite couples on the planet.

Jen Glantz: Yes.

Nora Ali: Okay. Number five. Ahead of her 2014 wedding to a Hollywood A-lister, this bride, a human rights lawyer, was photographed by Vogue during a final dress fitting with the late designer, again, Oscar de la Renta, who designed her ivory beaded tulle dress. "[This person] and I wanted a wedding that was romantic and elegant and I can't imagine anyone more able than Oscar to capture this mood in a dress," she said. "Meeting him made the design process all the more magical, as he is so warm and such a gentleman." Who is it?

Jen Glantz: Okay, well, you're going to like be so mad at me because I only know it's George Clooney, but I don't remember her name.

Nora Ali: Our Queen Amal. It's all good. Amal married this random actor named George Clooney. We stan Amal.

Jen Glantz: I'm never going to forget her name now. She should be more famous than him and she's beautiful.

Nora Ali: Totally.

Jen Glantz: And drop-dead gorgeous.

Nora Ali: I love her. Yes, Jen, you win everything. You win this game, you win life. This has been such a delightful conversation. Thank you, Jen, for joining us on Business Casual.

Jen Glantz: Thank you so much, Nora. It was a blast.

Nora Ali: We just heard from Jen Glantz, founder of Bridesmaid for Hire, who started her wedding business with an ad on Craigslist. For a little more context on the state of the industry, we spoke with Shan-Lyn Ma, co-founder and CEO of Zola, the online wedding registry and planning retailer. Shan-Lyn has been at the front lines of the wedding business for almost 10 years. I started by asking her, how exactly is the wedding business doing?

Shan-Lyn Ma: Yeah, the wedding business, wedding industry and weddings in general have never been better. 2022 was a huge year for weddings coming out of the pandemic. There was a buildup of people who had wanted to get married and engaged and weren't able to in 2020. And so as a result, '22 was the biggest year for weddings in decades. At Zola, we also saw we had our biggest year ever, and actually the momentum is continuing into next year, where we see a lot of people who wanted to get married this year weren't able to because everything was booked up so quickly, and so they had to move their weddings to next year. And so similarly, a lot of optimism for the coming year.

Nora Ali: So there's more weddings. Does this also mean people are spending more on weddings? How has spending been?

Shan-Lyn Ma: Spending has been relatively stable. And we do see in our most recent survey, which we sent to 4,000 couples getting married in 2023, so getting married next year. The average amount that a couple is spending on their wedding is between $20,000 to $40,000. That's actually very consistent with past averages we've seen where it is right in that same range.

Nora Ali: And your data and reports and the survey also shows that people are trying to be a little bit less traditional in their weddings, more creative, trying new things. So I guess that doesn't mean they're being creative in skimping on their weddings. What does that actually mean? Because they are still spending $20k to $40k. What does it mean to go nontraditional?

Shan-Lyn Ma: I think couples today really want a wedding that reflects who they are as a couple. First and foremost, I think what was deemed appropriate or the right etiquette is not something that couples have top of mind when they're thinking about their dream date together. Couples today are also more unique than ever before. And what I mean by that is we see an increasing number of couples coming from different backgrounds, whether it's different races, religions, cultures, and so that's reflected in their wedding. Often we have people who want to use Zola because they want to reflect their two cultures or religions in the same day. And that is special to that particular couple.

Nora Ali: Of all the data that you've gathered for the last year or even couple of years, what is something that has surprised you the most as to what some of the focuses are or the trends are in the wedding business?

Shan-Lyn Ma: I would say the biggest surprise is how quickly couples bounced back after the pandemic to really want to celebrate in person together. And we weren't sure if that would happen. We thought it may be that actually Zoom weddings and smaller weddings are here to stay, because people made it work during the pandemic. But actually we saw much faster than we expected, much sooner than we expected, we saw people inviting on average 150 guests again. Now, actually one big shift which I've been surprised about, particularly coming from Australia where we have a warmer climate, is that actually the vast majority of couples are now choosing to get married in outdoor venues, which now makes sense, but that's certainly surprising given how might not always have been the case in past decades.

Nora Ali: You also found that couples are staying engaged for longer before they have their wedding. Do you expect this to A, continue, and how do you think that might impact the business of weddings ultimately?

Shan-Lyn Ma: Now, I do think part of that is due to the fact that we had this buildup of people who weren't able to get married who wanted to. And so there's only a certain limited number of venues in the US, and so there's certainly a limited number of dates in the year that you can get married. But the other part is that, I think coming back to this idea of, tradition has somewhat gone out the window for many couples. And I think couples no longer feel bound by what is "expected of them." Couples are saying we're fine to get engaged for however long we want to be engaged for, and we'll get married when we feel like it. And so a lot of things that historically people expected to come after the wedding, we are seeing some of these things come before the wedding day, whether it's purchasing a home together, having a baby together, making a major investment together outside of the home. I think all of these things couples now feel comfortable entering into before that big wedding day.

Nora Ali: Zooming out to our macro environment, how does the economy generally impact the wedding business? And now we have an impending recession. How does that impact either how much couples are willing to spend or the timing of their weddings?

Shan-Lyn Ma: What's interesting is that ever since we launched Zola in 2013, so nearly 10 years ago now, we've always been studying past data and behavior around economic cycles, past recessions. We've looked at what happens to the weddings industry in a recession. And what we were surprised to see was that it is remarkably resilient. The number of couples getting married is still 2 million couples a year. But the other piece I think is that couples dreaming about their wedding and their wedding day for many, many years and in many cases saving up for it for some time. And so I think it's one of those areas where people don't necessarily want to cut from. I've heard people say, we'd rather put off our wedding to next year or take longer to save up for it if we need to. We may see the things that are not as important to a couple, they might spend a little bit less on, but the overall budget and overall willingness to spend on the things that are important to them remains the same.

Nora Ali: So it's a bit of a recession-resistant business to be in.

Shan-Lyn Ma: Exactly.

Nora Ali: So we see a lot more wedding content these days on social media, especially with TikTok. You have #weddingtalk. People getting lots of ideas, you know, how to buck tradition, from social media. What has social media done to Zola and to the wedding business?

Shan-Lyn Ma: Yeah, I think it's really accelerated the rate at which couples are willing to have a more unique nontraditional wedding. So we do see that actually 33% of the couples that we survey getting married are using TikTok as one of their main sources of wedding inspiration. And I think some of the things that we see that can show up in real-life weddings are things like more and more pets involved in a ceremony in some way. Friends or family officiating in very unique memorable ways. I think people are really thinking about, how do we incorporate everyone that we love into our wedding in some way? Memorial elements for people that might no longer be with their family, increasingly incorporated. That's really a reflection of what people are finding on social media that other people have done that they think "Oh, I'd like to do that as well."

Nora Ali: Well, weddings are mostly fun, but there's also serious issues that are related to it to weddings and marriage. And Zola took out a full-page ad in the Washington Post calling on all senators to codify the Respect for Marriage Act. So why did you think it was important for Zola to publicly advocate for the passing of this bill, and how do you make decisions around what you want to be vocal on as a company?

Shan-Lyn Ma: This was so important to us, for a number of reasons. First, we are a weddings company and so we live and breathe weddings and marriage. Every day, we think about how can we better serve our couples. And from the very beginning, we said our mission as a company is to serve all couples, no matter race, religion, sexual orientation. From the very first day that we launched Zola, very conscious to not assume that it was just a bride and a groom using our product. And in fact, one of the reasons we were so passionate to even launch Zola was when I used other wedding planning sites when I would just check them out to say, oh, what are people using out there? I saw other sites just automatically assume it was a bride and a groom, and they would say, what's the bride's name? What's the groom's name?

And we were the first site to say no, we're going to ask for the names and say, is this a bride and a groom, or groom and a groom, or bride and bride? And now actually we just ask for the names. It doesn't even need to be classified. So that has been part of our mission from day one. And then, how can we get the message across to the people that need to hear it, which is the senators voting on this Respect for Marriage Act, and the Washington Post was the place that we hope they look to while they read.

Nora Ali: So it's been at the core of your mission from the beginning, not doing it for publicity. That is clear. So just looking ahead, lastly, what do you think the wedding business will look like five, 10 years from now? Are there any big changes that you foresee?

Shan-Lyn Ma: Well, we are really working on, first, a future where every wedding starts with Zola. So we hope that is the number one change that's happening. But apart from that, I would say we will continue to see a lot of these shifts that we were talking about. So an increased shift towards customization and the individualization of every wedding. We'll continue to see social media playing a huge force, particularly TikTok. I think people will share more about how they planned, created their individual weddings and then get inspiration from there.

And so I think one shift that certainly changed over the decades is that it's no longer an expectation or a belief that parents are paying for their kids' weddings. The vast majority of weddings are paid for by the couple, and I think Zola helped accelerate the normalization of putting a cash fund on your wedding registry as part of a broader wedding registry, it's just one element that people, if they prefer to give cash, they can give cash for either their honeymoon, travel, purchasing a new home, or really, the list is endless what people use their cash funds for. But that, again, is part of the way that couples can help pay down their wedding.

Nora Ali: Shan-Len, we will leave things there. Thank you so much for joining us on Business Casual. This was great.

Shan-Lyn Ma: Thank you so much for having me.

Nora Ali: This is Business Casual and I'm Nora Ali. You can follow me on Twitter @NoraKAli and I would love to hear from you. If you have ideas for episodes, comments, thoughts on episodes you loved, fun segment ideas, feel free to shoot me a DM and I will do my very best to respond. You can also reach the BC team by emailing businesscasual@morningbrew.com, or call us. That number is (862) 295-1135. And if you haven't already, be sure to subscribe to Business Casual on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen. And if you like this show, please leave us a rating and a review. It really helps. Business Casual is produced by Katherine Milsop and Raymond Luu. Additional production, sound design, and mixing by Daniel Markus, Rosemary Minkler and Nick Torres. Kate Brandt is our fact checker. And AB Silver is our senior booking producer. Sebastian Vega and Evan Frolov edit our videos. Music in this episode from Daniel Markus and the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. Thanks for listening to Business Casual. I'm Nora Ali. Keep it business, and keep it casual.