Getting your husband interested in the bridal industry seems like a long shot for most women. But Carley Roney said her husband of nearly two decades, David Liu, is a smart guy, and knows a good opportunity when he sees one.
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The duo co-founded the XO Group 17 years ago, and today the company publishes the The Knot, The Nest and The Bump magazines, books and websites. The focus is “five years of firsts” in the domestic space, she said, meaning weddings, first homes and first children for couples.
“David recognized the complete opportunity for technological disruption in the wedding space,” Roney said. “It needed the concept for an online marketplace where you could find everything across the country in terms of weddings.”
And brides just can’t get enough of what the XO Group is putting out. In a world where print is supposed to be dying out, Roney said the print aspect of the business is growing 18% year over year. Globally they publish nearly two million copies of their 17 different magazines each year, and have 500 employees across the country.
“Weddings are something people are really passionate about, so they will spend a lot of money in a short period of time,” she said. “Our wedding books are selling like hotcakes—the consumer is so hungry, and largely price insensitive. This is a unique opportunity in the media space.”
And her partnership is also unique, and not something Roney said she takes lightly. Liu and Roney are operational opposites, which make them well-suited as business partners, she said.
“It’s nice to know that you have 100% support and backup,” she said. “You never have to explain—he is yin to my yang, or whichever I am. Whenever I am thinking operational, he is totally strategic.”
In a business that is so trend focused, Roney said the company has continued its growth strategy by focusing on product first. Getting out the newest thing to customers immediately may lead to expansion that is too rapid, and ultimately harm the brand. She said it took XO Group about ten years to stabilize and see the growth they have today.
“The biggest obstacle to growth is distraction and lack of focus,” she said. “People are getting their first round of financing, but are having a difficult time getting their second round. They focus on ideas that are too small, and to scale your business, that opportunity is not enough.”
And going too niche can isolate potential investors and customers, she said, especially in the tech space.
“In the Internet space, the big seats at the table are taken,” Roney said. “There is a new thing every second, and the Internet gives preferred dominance to big players. That’s why it’s hard to get visibility for yourself—there’s not that many Twitters. People’s playbooks are full—the main screens of their iPhones are taken up.”