10 Dec Local entrepreneur takes wedding planning startup to prestigious Bay Area accelerator
GiGi McDowell has loved weddings ever since she was a young girl. At the age of 6, she borrowed her mom’s credit card without her knowledge to sign up for Brides Magazine. Instead of punishing her, her mom to understand and encourage this love of wedding planning, letting her keep the subscription and fostering her interest from then on. “I just always loved weddings, and I knew from a young age that I always wanted to be a wedding planner,” said GiGi.
As she moved towards adulthood, her mom passed away, and GiGi lost her biggest cheerleader. The people now surrounding her told her to give up “the wedding planning stuff,” insisting that it wouldn’t be a real job that would make her any money.
So instead, post-college she settled into the misery of a low-paying HR job. She would later accept an unpaid internship in Nashville on ABC Family’s “Job or No Job,” which would help progress her through a series of different roles where she tried to find the right fit for her professionally. Eventually moving to Oklahoma City, she worked as a nanny and still kept trying to pursue her love of wedding planning on the side.
There was nothing romantic about her entrepreneurial struggle–she was broke, with little to no money in her bank account or gas in her tank. After several conversations about the wedding business with colleagues and clients, she started to develop an idea. As she worked through a client’s emotional breakdown (due to running out of budget and therefore not being able to afford GiGi’s services), the idea for Fêtefully (fête meaning “holiday” or “celebration” in French) began to take shape in its early stage–a platform for wedding planners to access clients and help them in the digital age, no matter how small their budgets. GiGi finished helping that client anyways, despite their budget troubles and got to work on her idea.
The technology’s first iteration was called “Wed Ally.” With a pitch deck in hand, she tapped into the power of the network she had built living and working across the country to share her idea and landed a bit of funding to help get it off the ground.
“I didn’t want to disrupt the industry,” GiGi said, “I wanted to empower local business owners.”
The platform was designed to help people like her do wedding planning full time, adding additional income by accessing clients across the country who didn’t necessarily always need a full-scale in-person wedding planner but were still looking for help and guidance from experienced professionals.
“You don’t deserve a garbage day because you can’t afford a wedding planner,” she said.
After initially getting the idea up and running, she ran out of money again and found herself scraping to ends meet and trying to keep her dream alive. While still nannying in OKC, she ran into a play date’s mother, who loved her idea and helped her continue to build features and try to expand the product. As that work continued, and on a day where she literally had no money or gas left, an investor check of $50,000 finally came through and she was able to continue building what would eventually turn into Fêtefully.
As for the service itself, it’s come a long way since its first iteration. When you log on, Fêtefully first engages its new users with a short quiz to pair the personalities and style of its customers with their potential wedding planners. Packages start at $99 for a basic planning guide and meeting with a planner, all the way up to $799 for a more comprehensive and inclusive package. The goal of the service is to provide access to wedding planners anywhere in the country, and give customers the option to pick the best fit for their budget. They don’t charge wedding planners to be on the service, but rather take a percentage of the money brought in for services. Her team is currently made up of 6 individuals, including investors and advisors.
Once GiGi began effectively engaging wedding planners in the service and gaining some traction, she started applying to local accelerator programs with the hope of taking her business to the next level. While she was turned down by both Tech Wildcatters and Capital Factory here in Dallas, she was one of only eight women accepted into a prestigious accelerator in the Bay Area, Women’s Startup Lab. An intensive, two-week bootcamp that embraces the co-working and co-living model, GiGi is hopeful that the program will provide her with the additional resources and mentorship she needs to level-up her business.
On her experience as an African American and female entrepreneur, GiGi elaborated on what her entrepreneurial journey has been like, and how it might compare to others. She compared the journey to a race, where you’re trying to get to different checkpoints to get water, snacks, help, and more.
“As a woman, and as a black woman, the check points keep getting moved. We’re in the same race, but the guy in front of me had a two mile head start, and by the time I get to the checkpoint where they celebrated his arrival, there’s no checkpoint any more,” she explained.
The difficulties that have presented themselves along the way due to the uneven playing field have not deterred her, and she has persevered through them–but she believes this community can and should do better by creating an equal playing field.
As for other entrepreneurs, her advice is simple: “be a part of the community.” While it’s easy to be heads down and focus on your own company, she believes that participating in the community and being an active part of it not only helps entrepreneurs themselves, but helps the community as a whole. “There’s so much we can do together, we have to know who else is there and what they’re doing so we can help each other,” she stated.
GiGi began her Women’s Startup Lab program this past weekend, and Launch DFW hopes to follow up with her in a few weeks to revisit and report on her experience and successes.