Since launching its wedding-focused content platform and vertical search engine in late 2011, Lover.ly has been about two parallel missions: help brides design their dream weddings, and help wedding publishers better monetize their content. Today, the company took a massive step toward both those objectives through a new partnership with Time, Inc.’s Real Simple.
Beginning this morning, content and search technology from Lover.ly will be integrated into the wedding channel on RealSimple.com. Visitors to the site will be able to click through hosted content to the original publisher, whether it be a wedding blog like Snippet and Ink, or an etailer like Nordstrom.com. This is a huge win for the startup given the popularity of the channel and the heft of the Time corporation.
Just as impactful is the fact that Real Simple will begin selling ad inventory on behalf of Lover.ly’s partner publishers. Now, when a brand like Vera Wang or Twigs & Honey wants to reach brides, they can purchased bundled advertising packages across a variety of these sites.
“Time’s lifestyle division is really forward thinking,” says Lover.ly founder Kellee Khalil. “It’s amazing that they’re open to partnering with startups, and exploring experimental content relationships.”
The partnership is a win for both organizations, despite their size disparity. Real Simple needs additional content for its wedding channel. Without question, Lover.ly’s biggest accomplishment in its early phase has been curating and structuring the best wedding-related content on the Web. The startup, in turn, needs to drive additional audience and advertising opportunities to its publisher partners, with whom it shares advertising revenue. Time has decades of relationships and track record in doing just this. In both cases, the synergies are obvious. This is before you consider the fact that the two brands, and audiences, could not be more similar.
Much of Lover.ly’s unique value comes from its content acquisition strategy. Rather than allowing user-generated content to be uploaded, such as Pinterest, the site relies only on professionally created content from its publisher partners – primarily leading blogs and retailers. The company then manually tags and categorizes each image making it searchable by a number of different criteria like color, theme, item, designer, and publisher.
Looking for inspiration around yellow bridesmaids dresses, pink diamonds, or lace veils? The Web’s best examples of each can be culled with just a few clicks. Today, the site has indexed several hundred thousand wedding photos and products from the top publishers in the category.
“We’re more like Google Images than Pinterest,” Khalil told me previously, “because there’s so much data behind our images. Our goal is to be a portal for search and discovery.”
Much like Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley describes the first three years of check-ins on his platform as a data gathering loss leader, Lover.ly too has been in information gathering mode up until this point. The company’s newly refined vertical search product is akin to Foursquare’s recently launched Explore feature. Both companies have developed significant, targeted domain expertise and are now moving to capitalize on that knowledge in richer and more powerful ways.
Lover.ly’s team has grown to 10 people in the last year, and the company recently moved out of what Khalil describes as a “200 square foot conference room” into a 2,700 square foot office in New York’s Flatiron neighborhood. The company announced $500,000 in Seed financing on Valentine’s Day 2012 from Joanne Wilson, Michael Edwards, Michael Yavonditte, Charles Smith, Anu Duggal, Jordan Levy, and Rick Webb.
An SEC filing by the company (Dublee Media) indicates that it raised a yet-unannounced additional $468,000 in May. Khalil tells me that she has no immediate plans to seek further financing and that her team has been “heads down” focusing on product development since announcing its Nordstrom partnership in June. A mobile app is in the works, according to the founder, along with a number of other “exciting announcements” promised for Q1, 2013.
Along the way, Lover.ly has faced competition in from a number of fronts. Other startups tackling the wedding inspiration problem include Carats and Cake, and previously 500 startup’s Tailored.co which recently shut down. On the larger side, industry 800 pound gorilla The Knot recently launched a redesigned search product that appears heavily inspired by Khalil’s site – the two companies have a rocky history.
As much as it may seem counterintuitive, Khalil and Lover.ly are positioned to emerge as the victor in this space. Brides and industry professionals prefer to support small and personal publications rather than the mega-publishers like The Knot and Weddings.com. Also working to her advantage is the fact that Khalil’s older sister Leila is one of the industry’s leading publicists and business consultants. Together, they have a leg up in most meetings within the category.
Lover.ly has a long way to go to realize Khalil’s founding vision of “fixing search” in the wedding category. To do so, content and user data are key, as is the ability to monetize traffic around search activity. Today’s partnership – a precursor to significant upcoming product improvements – is a big step toward obtaining all of it, and is likely the first of many.
[Image source: Dinafo Photography]