Weddings are big business; according to IBIS World, the US wedding industry alone is worth $60 billion a year. As the costs run up for both the couple getting married and their guests, so to do the planning and logistical nightmares. Envelope Registry is a Melbourne startup that wants to eliminate at least one big hassle facing guests: finding the perfect gift.
Let’s face it, crockery and dinner sets were cute a decade ago, but young couples today would rather spend on experiences or other items that their family and friends may not understand. Of course, asking guests to gift you cash can be a bit awkward, so in comes Envelope Registry. The startup allows couples to create a crowdfunding page of sorts, where they can ask guests to gift them cash which will be put towards a particular item or experience. Guests can hand over money through the site, with Envelope Registry then transferring it directly into the couple’s bank account.
The idea came to cofounder Simon Baldwin when he and his fiancée couldn’t find a wedding registry that they were comfortable using for their wedding. They had spent so much time curating their perfect day that they didn’t want to send their guests to a registry that looked like it hadn’t been updated since the year 2000.
“It wasn’t until after our wedding, when a number of our guests asked if they too could use Envelope that we realised we were on to something,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin, who now leads strategy and business development for the startup, and cofounder Tom Holt, who works as creative director, used this early traction to raise a small seed round from Simon Chamberlain to launch a private beta late last year.
The startup has had success over the last year, with 1000 registries having been set up with launch and around 300 of those either currently live or completed. Envelope Registry was also designed to scale globally since day one. It’s active in the US and the UK, with 40 percent of business coming from Australia and the US each, and 20 percent from the UK.
Baldwin said the startup has taken insights from the personal crowdfunding space and applied some of those ideas to the wedding registry.
As well as the traditional bricks and mortar registry, Envelope Registry faces competition from other online platforms such as Zola and Honeyfund. However, Baldwin believes there are two main things that elevate his startup from the rest of the pack.
“First and foremost is our attention to user experience design. Before we even wrote a line of code, we interviewed hundreds of bride and grooms and wedding guests to understand the meaning and emotion behind gifting. Immediately we recognised that gifting is a two sided relationship, we needed to focus on the needs of both the givers as well as the receivers,” he said.
“In a way Envelope has two ‘customers’. Givers, the guests at the wedding, want to feel like they are giving something meaningful and something that will contribute to the newlyweds’ life together. On the other hand, the bride and groom want a platform that is easy for their guests to use but also gives them flexibility in how they received gifts from their guests. A big pain point for bride and grooms was just getting around the awkwardness of asking for gifts in the first place.”
He said another issue was the cost associated with setting up a traditional registry at a department store, with guests locked into buying from the store’s stock and, in turn, buying at the prices they set.
“This isn’t how people are used to shopping these days; we are so accustomed to shopping around for the best deal. With Envelope we found a way to maximise the satisfaction of the giver while at the same time ensure the bride and groom had the flexibility that they were after.”
Envelope recently added to its offering, partnering with Bond, a New York-based robotics startup, to offer couples the ability to send personalised, ‘handwritten’ thank you cards to registry contributors.
“We quickly realised after the celebration of the wedding that writing thank you cards is a pain point for couples. Everyone has the best intention to write their cards as soon as they are back from their honeymoon, but it’s a logistical nightmare – the couple needs to keep a list of who gave what and where to post their cards. Solving this problem for our customer was a clear opportunity for us to do something great,” Baldwin said.
The startup built out a quick MVP of the feature in order to test it with users, a simple interface that let customers upload a photo and message which Baldwin and Holt would write out for them by hand.
“The service took off so quickly we had to turn the MVP off after a few weeks and look for a more scalable solution, which was how we found Bond. Bond’s technology allows us to send written cards at scale,” Baldwin said.
With Envelope already having the details of what guests gave and their postal address, the couple simply needs to select a thank you card from Envelope’s collection and type their message. Bond’s robots then write the message using a real pen and “algorithmically learned” handwriting.
“At the moment couples can choose from 18 different handwriting styles, and in the near future we will be offering a service where the robot can learn to write like the bride or groom,” Baldwin said.
The plan for the next 12 months is to continue growing the business in its three existing markets, and expanding into Canada and New Zealand.
“The seasonality of weddings means that people in the northern hemisphere tend to set up their registries between December and March, which is when we are in the full swing of collecting contributions for the weddings that are happening in the southern hemisphere,” Baldwin said.
The team will also be heading to the US early next year with a look to building strategic partnerships with big name wedding suppliers.
Image: The Envelope Registry team. Credit: Lucy Spartans.