Rapidly growing WedPics turns to a B2B model, looks to prove that wed-tech isn't dead

By Michael Carney , written on November 8, 2013

From The News Desk

Photo sharing and wed-tech (wedding related technology companies) are two categories that have seen better days, both having peaked in the minds of investors, entrepreneurs, and consumers alike around 2011. But it appears no one told Justin Miller, co-founder and CEO of wedding photo sharing and private social network startup WedPics.

Miller started his company in Raleigh, North Carolina in late 2011, initially calling it deja mi, and has ignored the laws of startup gravity ever since. Today, it’s growing at an astounding 20 percent month-over-month rate, crossing more than 600,000 users and 120,000 weddings hosted on the platform. More impressively, roughly 1 million new photos are added each month, which is shocking given that actual usage is so incredibly hard to come by in this category.

While these aren’t quite SnapChat numbers, they’re far more impressive than any generated by the other apps in the wedding niche. Miller attempts to back up this claim by saying that one in five weddings uses a dedicated photo sharing product, and that WedPics owns 45 percent of that market based on AppAnnie data, but this is hardly conclusive.

Now WedPics is layering on a new business model that Miller believes will significantly increase this growth.

WedPics has spread entirely through word of mouth and savvy (unpaid) marketing to date. About one month ago, the company began experimenting with a new B2B(2C) model in which it allows wedding vendors like planners, photographers, florists, and caterers to co-brand the app and website and offer it to their clients as an added service. For example, rather than downloading the standard WedPics app, a bride and groom would invite their guests to download an app brought to them by “Amore Floral Designs” or a similar industry brand. For vendors looking to differentiate themselves from the competition, throwing in a “custom private social networking app” as a perk alongside their standard services is not a bad idea.

WedPics onboarded 200 beta vendors in the first month, each of which signed up a minimum of two weddings to the platform. Now it’s releasing the offer to the rest of the industry.

The company has done a number of things differently than other photo sharing and photo aggregation apps, particularly those in the weddings category. According to Miller, each of these product decisions have the dual aim of making WedPics more useful to the user and thus making the platform stickier.

Weddings are a one-time, one-day event, meaning that usage of the app is typically extremely limited. But the WedPics app is designed to be useful during the entire length of an engagement and long after the wedding. Like personal wedding websites, couples are encouraged to begin by setting up albums around topics and events pre-dating the wedding, such as, “How we met,” “Our favorite places,” “The engagement,” “Engagement party,” “Bridal Shower,” and, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, “bachelor/bachelorette party.”

The key, however, is that the bride and groom are encouraged to invite their guests to begin contributing photos to these albums from their own collections. This increases the average length of customer engagement from as little as a few weeks pre- and post-wedding – which is a primary criticism of companies in the WedTech sector – to as much as 18 to 24 months, as family and friends prepare for and then relive a couple’s journey together.

“The reason why weddings work so well is that you have a bride, which is one single person to market to, who then amplifies this message and drives the product to other users,” Miller says. “It’s extremely hard to find this analog in other markets.”

Unlike most wedding-related photo albums, only 35 percent of all WedPics content is created on or after the day of the wedding, according to Miller. This is a major differentiator and plays strongly into the vendor B2B2C business model that the company has introduced. If a photographer or florist hopes to get referral business from a wedding they’ve been hired to do, that will typically occur only after the event has taken place. With the long engagement cycles around WedPics, vendors can introduce their brand to consumers months earlier in the process.

Also, because users can manage multiple weddings concurrently within the app and can go back and view content from any past wedding, WedPics suffers less from the limited size of the wedding market. This is crucial, because there are an average of just 2.1 million weddings per year in the US, according to the CDC, with an average guest count of 175 according to the National Association of Wedding Ministers. Without achieving outrageous (read, unrealistic) market penetration, WedPics will never have 100 million users. What it can have, however, is a few million highly engaged users.

Miller admits that he and his co-founders considered making WedPics a more general-purpose photo sharing app, like Cluster or Everpix (now deadpooled). But they chose instead to focus on a single niche with the goal of building a truly beloved product for a set of loyal and highly engaged users. That said, they built the platform in such a way that it could easily be reskinned and modified slightly to address a broader audience, either as a sister product or should they choose to rebrand and expand in the future. A small fraction of users are already using the product for non-wedding purposes, like sharing family photos and documenting other life events, Miller says.

WedPics began as a paid app, but is now entirely free. Miller isn’t even charging vendors for the co-branding, at least to begin with, but this is likely a long term revenue opportunity. The company’s only monetization strategy at present is a few ancillary partnerships with and Kodak where users can print photos and order albums.

The 13 person company raised an oversubscribed $1.1 million Seed round in May of this year. Miller described the round as an absolute anomaly, given that WedPics is a pre-revenue, consumer-facing company located outside of the major startup hubs of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. The company’s backers include Red Hat co-founder Bob Young, former Trinity Ventures partner Alex Osadzinski, and ReverbNation co-founder Jed Carlson.

WedPics is going entirely against the grain by targeting this niche market that is full of startup tombstones. But it appears to have struck an early chord with consumers and now looks to amplify that fact through a smart vendor partnership program. The company is far from alone in this category, with other competitors like Wedding Party, WeddingSnap, and Appy Couple still vying for the same market. But if Miller’s metrics are to be believed, WedPics has far and away the highest levels of engagement.

Anecdotally, as a recent groom who invited his guests – a fairly tech-savvy bunch – to use Appy Couple but saw almost zero content uploaded to the platform, I find the above engagement levels particularly impressive. This is just one data point, but it is one that is echoed by others I’ve spoken to in the wedding industry, including my wife, who’s an event planner.

If WedPics can maintain its current rates of growth and engagement, it could be the company that proves the wedtech skeptics wrong. Of course, the company has yet to turn on a meaningful monetization channel, but that strikes me as the least worrisome of the obstacles in this category. One thing that will continue to work in his favor: there will always be people getting married.

[Image via DancerConnection]