April 21, 2019

Burnt out with side project. Not sure what to do with it.

TL;DR — Tried lots of things, making some money, but not enough, and feeling burned out. Should I quit? Should we bring on a third cofounder?

I have a side project which I've been running on the side since August 2015. The site is called brideworthy.com. It's a wedding marketplace in the Philippines (country where i live).

I have a co-founder who is a full stack developer, while i'm into UI /UX / 360 photography, We've had day jobs ever since. The website is earning around $1,000 per month from 6 clients.

There's nothing new with our website. It's basically a listing website for wedding vendors which ranks well in search engines for venue keywords like "Wedding Venue in [City/Location]." We also have something similar to Thumbtack where we match soon-to-wed couples with vendors.

Progress has been really slow. We started earning maybe a year after launch, thats when it started ranking in google. We made money solely from advertising back then, but it wasn't a lot.

Around the 2nd year, one of the biggest catering company here reached out to partner with us. The thing with Caterers here is they need to be accredited with a venue to do business with them, since we ranked well for venue keywords we had a lot of inquiries that we can send to them since they are technically partners of those venues, we were able to charge $500++ per month to this 1 client. So we thought "aha! we finally found our business model!", just need to get more caterers on board.

Problem was we couldn't get anyone else to sign up. We called all the big caterers, we put them on a 30 day trial, they got tons of leads, but they didn't have the process in place to nurture the leads, so the leads were useless to them, unlike the 1st company we sold to who had a CRM, a room full of telesales agents, and an email marketing process. The closest we got to another caterer signing up is still on-going, we put them on trial back in November 2018 and up to this date we are still negotiating and they are only willing to pay a fraction of what we are charging our #1 client.

Aside from this caterer lead gen we also have another income stream for smaller vendors, which is if you sign up for $40/month we will send you leads. This is the similar to the thumbtack model. We have a few clients who are happy with the service and have confirmed bookings.

Problem with this model is it has a ceiling, for example I cant sign-up 100 photographers because these guys will be competing with each other, so in order to keep my clients happy they need to keep getting bookings from us and to do that we need to keep competition low. Problem with weddings is its low frequency but is high price.

In an ideal world if I can get a commission for each booking that went thru us we'd do great, but we couldn't do that because of the offline aspect that happens with weddings. Here in the Philippines couples usually meet the vendors, before they book them. Weddings has this personal touch to them vs doing maybe a corporate event, since you are only getting married once and you're spending a fortune.

When I run the numbers I just couldn't see how this website can support us both to the point where we can quit our jobs.

Right now I'm not sure what to do with it.

In the past I would get burnt out but will be back after a few days, I know its just a phase, but now I feel different. A part of me feels I should let it go so that I can work on something else. Another part me feels like were almost there but just missing something. I've come to terms with the notion that I'm not the person who can grow a business. I can come up with ideas, build stuff, but not a good businessman.

Maybe a 3rd person can come in and shake things around? I dunno, which is why I'm posting here because I wanted to get an outsiders perspective or maybe learn from others similar experiences.

What do you think I should do? (If you've come this far, thanks for reading.)

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    Hey,

    I would like to read your story but it's quite complicated as for it's just a sheet of text. Can you please split it into paragraphs?

    Thanks!

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      I edited it to make it significantly more readable, and added a TL;DR. Perhaps I need to do more in the UI to warn people when their post is excessively poorly formatted.

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        sorry about that. thanks for editing courtland. first time to post i, listen to your podcasts. thanks for putting up this website.

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        Thanks a lot! It's much better now :)))

        Perhaps I need to do more in the UI to warn people when their post is excessively poorly formatted.

        This is a good idea!

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    " A part of me feels I should let it go so that I can work on something else. Another part me feels like were almost there but just missing something. I've come to terms with the notion that I'm not the person who can grow a business. "

    Seems like there is a lot on your mind regarding the situation you are in. I'm wondering how being burnt out affects you thinking? What would be different for you, if you were not?

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      If I weren't burnt out. I'd keep making calls and doing sales. Just keep doing the work and know that it will pay off eventually. Can't seem to do this right now, in the past I'd get off days once in a while, right now its different its taking a while and cant seem to shake it off

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        I'm a coach. If you want we can have a talk about your burnout and what you can do about it.

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    Did you consider selling something on the site? E.g.

    • A wedding bundle where you coordinate suppliers into a single package in specific cities.

    • A Wedding coordinator site: You would get a small downpayment, and some dashboard where all suppliers can communicate. E.g. messages go to photographer's email, and when he replies goes back to this dashboard place. Sort of wedding project management. Bride and groom can communicate to all suppliers from a single place.

    • Some generic product needed by all weddings, that you can ship to all wedding searchers.

    Wedding is tough to organize, it seems like you could solve some problems there, but you gotta do this full time IMO. Right now you're mildly connecting people, but not solving the problem yet.

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      For a while we thought of selling wedding giveaways, so the site gets traffic but we get money from the orders. It was put in our todo list and got buried. I'll try to resurrect this idea.

      We had tons of ideas and said if we only did it full time but problem is I just cant see the path to going full time.

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    I think you noting that you will make all the money from commissions is an interesting rabbit whole to explore. And I think you have a couple options to be able to partner with the businesses in order to get paid by the leads.

    1. Would be to start handling the businesses issues with companies that don't know how to deal with leads. Just as @thomasm1964 mentioned in his comment. Why can't you help them not only get leads, but close them. And if you are closing the leads for them, you can get the commission.

    1a. This would cannibalize your business, but wanted to share everything I am seeing from your post. You have proven you can do SEO in your industry. In a way that you are outranking all the businesses. You can always sell that skillset to all of these businesses by helping them get their web rankings up. And you have proof that you can do it. The best might be to both keep your website and get them highly ranked web content by doing content for them on your blog. Don't know if they would be interested, but might be worth a conversation.

    1. You could help the brides. If all of these companies have trouble handling leads, its probably a nightmare to organize them and make sure they are doing everything that needs to be done in order for the wedding to happen. Becoming a wedding planner business could also work and you could run the money through your business so that once again, you get paid commission.

    I don't know the wedding industry well, but hopefully I can spark some ideas to help!

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      One of the venue owners we met on a sales meeting said she won't subscribe to us because she found it too expensive but she was asking if we can do their website. Which we declined at the time but yeah this is something we can look into.

      For 2, I agree the wedding planners are the gate keepers. I guess we can just partner with planners and they'd do the work and we get commissions from them. Thanks for the inputs Jeremy

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    Hi Milo,

    Thanks for taking the time to expose all those aspects of your business.

    I am an entrepreneur in the bridal market in São Paulo, Brazil. I have two wedding dress shops. The oldest was started in 2011, the other in 2017. belloebella.com.br and donnanoiva.com.br in case you are interested.

    I kinda know what you are feeling. Even though the bridal industry has large numbers, sometimes we don't see them hitting our bank account. I know that from experience. It takes a lot of guts to operate in this market, so you got my respect out of the gate.

    That said, let me share with you some of the things I experience in Brazil with a local company that operates a business just like yours. They are a successful company in a competitive -- and wild -- market. casamentos.com.br

    This company is part of a large international group called "The Knot". You might know them.

    Long story short (1), you could approach them and offer a partnership. You have contact with local vendors. You know and are known. You have people in your address book you could call and negotiate further steps in a different kind of service once you have the potential that "The Knot" can offer. At this point, you would be their local rep and could be transitioning your customer base to theirs with clear benefits to you once you negotiate them beforehand. Casamentos.com.br has a strong local team. They run a real business around here. And I bet The Knot trust them enough to leave them to represent the global brand locally.

    Long story short (2), you could do something that The Knot does which is the living blood of their business: brides' opinions. Yes, the most valuable asset of this business is a positive comment/rating from a real bride. You know this. This creates a competitive advantage and differentiation to the advertiser. So when you set up your service to prioritize those comments, making everything else go around it, you are adding value to your own product.

    In my case, whenever a bride a mine posts photos of her wedding in social media, I ask my consultants to contact her and ask her to share her comments about us in Casamentos.com.br. With that, we were able to get 4 consecutive annual awards of "Best Vendor". We have the awards framed in the waiting room of our shops. That counts a lot and I pay some 200 USD a month to be entitled to have them in my wall and have my consultants talking about it to prospective customers.

    Customer focus is key. Customer opinion is [[ GOLD ]]. Vendors who can help me promote positive opinions about me, making me successful, will have my cash (thanks!).

    All the best luck! In case you decide to come to Brazil someday, let me know. I can tour you through some bridal places in São Paulo.

    https://www.casamentos.com.br/lojas-de-noiva/bello-&-bella-noivas--e107859

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      thanks for sharing your experience @koello . Yes i am familiar with the knot, they're one of my inspirations. Actually just saw now that they've merged with wedding wire. damn! wedding behemoth!

      As for your suggestions (1), we could do this have not tried but I think the reason they're not here is because the numbers are not so good. The Philippines is a small country, maybe its not worth their time to open up here, or maybe this will probably one of the last markets they'd enter when they've done conquering everything else. Actually thought (wishful thinking) if we got big they could acquire us.

      There were a few asian wedding related startups started in other countries not the Philippines, that tried to enter our market but failed. I think they realized the same thing. The only reason were alive is we're a cock roach. lol. In terms of SEO we're pretty much in the 1st page for a lot of keywords but with that our traffic is still not that high, we don't have a blog yet but if we do put up one i'm not sure how much traffic it will bring. We've hit a plateau in terms of traffic, but I believe because it's so niche plus we're a small country. I've seen the analytics of a similar local website for the food /restaurant niche and their traffic is crazy times 10 - 15 of what were getting, and their traffic is down compared to few years ago.

      I didn't go hard doing keyword research initially maybe I could have seen this before hand but like what everyone else says just start your project and see how it goes. Well now we're almost in the 5th year and though we have good traffic problem is monetizing.

      For (2) I agree as well, reviews work. we actually just want to copy theknot and wedding wire but just cant as of the moment because of the limited capacity that we have.

      For a while we really considered just opening some sort of wedding service since we have a lot of leads we can offer them to. But its hard getting into a service based business and both of us are developers.

      You are right weddings is a lot of word of mouth and social proof which is why those reviews are helping your business a lot.

      what do you mean by " I pay some 200 USD a month to be entitled to have them in my wall ".?

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        What I meant was that because I pay 200 dollars per month of subscriptions to their service I am entitled to put the "best choice" awards we won over the years -- 5 so far -- in my shops' walls. Bragging has a price... lol take care.

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        This comment was deleted 6 months ago.

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          Majority of that population probably don't have internet. In the provinces we even have mass weddings done in public covered basketball courts. The CALABARZON area mentioned there is where the money is at. Thanks will study this some more.

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    This comment was deleted 6 months ago.

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      thanks for the inputs @thomasm1964 . This was actually one of our visions for the site. It will become a concierge for weddings, you can ask anything from paper works to looking for suppliers, and like you said we can recommend suppliers who we trust. So we send "qualified / ready to book" leads.

      We were able to test the idea by partnering with a local wedding planner, since it was difficult to do it on our own. We thought that if it worked, then that's when we decide to setup our own. We sent her (the wedding planner) leads for a city she was expert in (where she was based), and we sent venue inquiries to her. She assigned 1 person to take care of all the leads.

      Her feedback was it was difficult since the couple had so many questions about the venue that her employee didn't know (which could be solved with training, but that means if we had 100 venues they should know every little detail about those 100 venues).

      Another problem was the scheduling, she didn't know the availability of the venue she needed to constantly ask the venue if a certain date was available, so each question a couple ask they basically say "we'll get back to you". This could be solved with software too by placing a scheduling system in our website that the venues directly change. And despite all that effort that venue was only going to give us very little commission. In the end she said it was very difficult to play "middle man" and she suggested we just go with monthly payments.

      This idea could still work, but not with our setup. I think a VC funded startup can execute this. Raising funding crossed my mind a few times but we really wanted to run something we own 100%. This could all just be excuses on my end, but I guess what I'm trying to say is we "sort of" tried this but yes I get you and I really wanted that idea to work.