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Kellee Khalil On Failure And Pioneering Bridal Technology

People

The bridal industry is big business, especially for those who cater to brides without big budgets. Just ask Kellee Khalil, a spirited entrepreneur who is helping no less than 200 DIY-minded women simultaneously plan their weddings with her newest virtual wedding planning venture.


“Only 15 percent of couples in the US hire a wedding planner,” says Khalil. “We are focused on helping the 85 percent that are doing it themselves.”
With hundreds of thousands of users, and over 1.3 million fans and followers, Loverly Virtual Wedding Planner is poised to revolutionize the way women plan their weddings.

Kellee Khalil by Dustin Senovic

“Our vision is to be the biggest wedding planner in the world, basically wedding world domination,” says Khalil. “How we get there is still to be told.”

The Loverly Virtual Wedding Planner is a chat-enabled application that assists brides throughout their wedding planning, as much or as little as they like. Flat fee wedding planning packages range from $49 to $399.

“It’s the first ever virtual wedding planner,” says Khalil. “We help with everything she could need, from setting the budget, to helping find dresses, stationary, decorations, hotel room blocks, to creating your registry and your wedding website to purchasing engagement ring insurance. Who even thinks of that?”

The app, which launched this spring, grew out of the Loverly website, a wedding-focused media engine that allows brides to discover ideas and evaluate vendors.

“We have this database we’ve built for four years of all this inspiration, content, and are using it to power our recommendations,” says Khalil of her new app, which features a chat bot virtual assistant named Eva.

“Eva chats with the customers, and downloads information to help customize experience. Of course there’s always human involvement, but there are things she can do that are faster than a human does. That’s how we are able to offer things so quickly.”

In The Family

For Khalil, becoming self-made was only natural, as entrepreneurship ran in the family.

“We spoke about business around the dinner table,” says Khalil. “It was something I was always around as a child. I definitely had a lemonade stand in the summer. In high school I taught myself how to code, and built my own eBay store. I always had a little bit of a hustle. It’s in my DNA, and in all my siblings too.”

When it came to launching her own business, which in her case was the Loverly website, Khalil says she waited until the right moment.

“I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I hadn’t found a problem I thought was big enough,” says Khalil, a graduate of one of the country’s first entrepreneurship programs at USC.

To satisfy her desire for creation, she quickly jumped onboard her sister’s bridal public relations business, which was focused on promoting the key players in the niche market.

“I started learning the mechanics of the bridal industry,” says Khalil. “When my sister got engaged and started to plan her wedding, I was on Google three pages deep [helping her do research], and I thought ‘this is really hard. Why are there no resources for this?”

According to Khalil, it was at that moment when the lightbulb went off, and she decided to marry her years of experience in the bridal industry with a new idea that would make it easier for overwhelmed brides to get help planning the details of their wedding.

“I couldn’t shake idea of a place where you can find all the ideas and inspiration, products, vendors, and brands that spoke to me as a consumer and showcased real couples, not Barbie and Ken,” says Khalil, who moved to New York in 2010 to pursue her new venture. “We launched in 2102 with mission to make wedding planning easier and more fun.”

Her site, which allows brides-to-be wedding search filters like color, theme, and style, began to evolve into a content-rich destination for information and inspiration.

“We create three to five pieces of content a day,” says Khalil, who utilizes a team of about eight full-time employees as well as a contributor network to keep her site rich. “We have all this data and content, so the question was what can we do to take to next step?” It was then that the Virtual Wedding Planner was born.

In terms of funding, Loverly raised close to $2 million in its seed round in 2011, an additional $3 million in 2014 through Montage Ventures, and another $2 million from Loverly insiders in 2015. Although the numbers sound lofty, Khalil says it’s not as much as one might think.

“It’s been challenging to fundraise,” says Khalil. “It sounds like a lot of money but I have been fundraising since I started the company. It’s a misconception that you get it all at once.”

Learning Lessons

Interestingly it was a failure that spurred Khalil into her newest idea. After closing her Series A Funding, she was thinking of how to monetize her blossoming media business, at the request of investors, and jumped on the bandwagon of offering shoppable content via proprietary e-commerce.

“I was getting feedback from investors saying you need to figure out a business outside of advertising in media, so I went down this rabbit hole [of e-commerce] that wasn’t really in line with my business, but I was chasing the investors,” says Khalil, who in February, 2015 introduced Loverly e-commerce, offering the Loverly Collection, an exclusive e-commerce brand of wedding products and fashions. “We thought we were so good converting for others (via affiliate channels) that we could do it ourselves. I barely survived as a human, the company barely survived. I call it the dark days of Loverly.”

"We thought we were so good at converting for others that we could do it ourselves."

The reason for the failure, Khalil says is that she was out of her wheelhouse.

“Operationally running a content business is completely different than running a commerce business, and because of that you need so much money to offer operational experiences like free shipping, and free returns,” she says. “We asked why are we doing this.”

Ever the forward-thinking entrepreneur, Khalil soon noticed that rather than about purchasing merchandise, customers were asking for wedding planning advice. She connected the dots.

“I’m not a wedding planner but that’s what everyone was asking us to be,” says Khalil. “That’s when I thought, OK that’s what we should be, and the lightbulb went off again four months before the e-commerce failed.”

With the concept of creating a wedding concierge, Khalil said people began signing up like crazy. She plans to continue growing her app by remaining focused on her niche, offering additional services as her customer asks for them.

“We are no longer making big bets without information to back it up,” says Khalil. "I’ve been beat up along the way, and had doors slammed by investors, but I will say the way we will grow is to always listen to our users, looking at data and making small incremental changes as we go.”

Career

Male Managers Afraid To Mentor Women In Wake Of #MeToo Movement

Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.


In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.

What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.

Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.

Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.

While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.

According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.

In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.


Source-Alex Brandon, AP

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.

Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.

The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.