Brittany Haas and Adam Alter are cofounders of New York-based Happily Ever Borrowed. Happily Ever Borrowed is an online store that rents designer bridal accessories for weddings at fractions of the retail price, helping brides and guests find that perfect accessory without breaking the bank.
Brittany: I didn’t originally set out wanting to be an entrepreneur. I thought I just wanted to be with a luxury fashion brand doing something in business or design – that’s why I’ve been a Planner for Saks and Hermes. But I found myself bored in many of my jobs and grew out of them quickly. I had this idea for Happily Ever Borrowed after my three older sisters who were getting married and spent a ton on accessories they wore once. I started executing on it when I talked to people and they said it was a good idea. I was young and wanted to see what I could do. I didn’t anticipate becoming an entrepreneur, but it happened and I love it now.
Adam: To me, the word ‘entrepreneur’ is sort of on a pedestal and it is hard to see myself as that. I had been working for years in online acquisition and growth and just started seeing ways that I could do things better at work. Then it bleeds into your normal day to day – it’s about solving problems. I was at an agency and my clients were young people, small teams and very successful. When you see folks doing that, you think to yourself: “I would like to do that too.” From there, I knew I wanted to be involved in an early stage company and I interviewed at a few places but there just wasn’t anything that I was passionate about. I think a big part of that was because I was coming in after the founder level.
Why did you apply to FounderDating?
Brittany: I started the business July 2011 and was getting to the point where it was growing beyond me. I started looking at accelerators and the feedback I received was that I needed a technical cofounder. I originally started the business with a friend who ended up leaving, and I knew it would be difficult to find someone to click with on the same level. I decided to apply to FounderDating to surround myself with technical people and impressive people.
Describe how you met and your dating process.
Brittany: I remember going to the New Member Kickoff (how we welcome new members offline) and feeling very inspired by the people around me, knowing I was surrounded by very intelligent driven people. I was on my way out when Adam tapped me and said “Hey, I wanted to talk to you” and we exchanged information and ended up talking later on the FounderDating site.
Adam: Browsing the site and at the Kickoff I felt like I was the least qualified person in the network and several other people echoed that thought as well. They do an amazing job screening people and building community. The engineers I met are going to invent awesome technology. But just being in the room with those people at the kickoff was so key because you understand the playing field and it’s energizing. So I knew Brittany must have been impressive and it’s pretty great that she had this idea and just started building it. That was why I wanted to connect with her.
Brittany: I don’t remember who reached out first but one of us did and we had a coffee date. We started talking about where the company was and Adam jumped on and talked about ideas he had to bring Happily Ever Borrowed to the next level. We talked about what was missing and what needed to be done. Apart from just good ideas, we clicked really quickly and decided to keep the conversation going. We started meeting almost weekly to talk ideas, hash out the future and we realized this was going to be a fit. We made it official about 3 months after we met.
Adam: In order to support what she was doing and get a better understanding of the business, I went to a pitch competition that she was participating in and watched her from the audience. I thought she did a great job, and it was helpful to see her in a more formal setting talking to potential investors. It made me more comfortable knowing she could walk the walk as well.
Were there any challenges or hesitations in jumping on/bringing a cofounder on to a company that you were already building?
Adam: I was really happy to participate because I wasn’t as comfortable owning some of my own ideas and putting it out there. With Happily Ever Borrowed, the vision was spelled out and work already had been done. I was ready to plug in to a project then and there, and this was a project ready to go. It would have been a very different process if Brittany and I had to discuss ideas about what to work on – it would have been much more drawn out and difficult. Here was something that was ready to go that was a good fit for me and what I was looking for.
Brittany: That was actually my biggest fear – bringing someone in. This had been my baby for almost a year at that point. There’s usually general questions people bring up when we meet and these were things I had already thought about. What I liked about Adam is he brought ideas to the table that were things that I had not thought about before – I agreed with them, but I just didn’t know how to do them. People often try to bring their own ideas in and turn things into something different, but Adam and I agreed on the simplicity of the concept. I was very hesitant to bring someone on board but the moment it became official I was very comfortable with it. It wasn’t a quick thing at all – we definitely took time to finalize our partnership.
Brittany: Happily Ever Borrowed is the premiere luxury e-boutique that rents bridal accessories to brides for their wedding day. Anything, except the dress, the bride can rent from our e-commerce site. I started the business July 2011 and Adam joined the team about 6 months ago [June 2012].
Adam: Brittany has an amazing background in fashion and a vision for the product. She is the CEO and creates relationships with vendors and has the vision. My background is marketing and customer acquisition and my role is CMO. It is a 2-person team at this point and we bleed into each other’s stuff all the time. I was attracted to this project because I had met Brittany and she wasn’t poking around with a bunch of ideas. She had a lot of clarity in what she wanted to work on, and I saw how I could contribute effectively and add value to her business.
Brittany: We blend very well – I don’t have any official background in marketing by any means, but I have experience in the luxury fashion industry. It was great for us to come together because I handle operations and logistics, while Adam takes on marketing and customer acquisition. It’s a great relief to me because that is not my expertise!
Signs that it is working and plans for the future?
Adam: We haven’t done much in the way of typical online marketing but we already have a lot of customers.
Brittany: We did a hundred weddings last year with only word of mouth marketing, so it is a pretty good data point for seeing if the demand for the product is out there. We’re now in a better place to push forward with the marketing dollars that we have and push things to the next level.
Adam: We’ve been really successful in proving the concept and our customers love us.
What does the future look like?
Adam: What’s going to happen in the coming months is that we’re completely revamping the site with a focus on customer acquisition and obtaining customer data. The current site is built on Shopify which is an ecommerce platform but there are limitations. This upcoming redesign is one of the most important things we could do.
Brittany: We started finally getting some checks in which is really exciting. Investors coming on board is a huge step for us. We plan to hire a bigger team, someone more full time on the tech side and someone more focused on social media. We’re growing out of our space, so getting a bigger office is on the cards. We started in bridal because it makes sense, but customers have used us for bar mitzvahs, proms etc. and we’re willing to look into other special occasions and see where it can take us.
Adam: What gets me really excited about the business is that it is so clear that there are different areas we could tackle. That being said, bridal accessories are a $1.7 billion annual business. I like the simplicity and clarity of where we are, but I also like the potential for the future. The next 3 to 6 months are going to be very exciting with our new look, and being able to test our hypotheses about marketing and our customers.
What advice would you give to future entrepreneurs?
Brittany: Don’t try to do it alone. It is awful.
It is great to have someone to bounce ideas off of, and someone who is honest. Don’t rush into anything, but having a cofounder is crucial to having a business. I was only able to do so much by myself until I realized I needed a cofounder. Where we’re going is so huge and I wouldn’t be able to do that by myself.
Adam: It is important to know what you like and don’t like, what your strengths and weaknesses are. Joining FounderDating it has been really helpful in framing how to think about things and it has changed the way I look at any project – not just formally starting a business, but even a smaller project. People are rushing into starting things. Start small, test things and understand how people work before you move on to bigger things. Be really careful in the people that you partner with because that will have a huge impact on your final product.