I WISH I KNEW: Entrepreneur Katie Stoltz on Creating the Airbnb of Wedding Venues

Author: Deanna deBara | August 16, 2018

In 2018, there are more female entrepreneurs than ever before. In fact, there are 114% more female-owned businesses in the US than there were 20 years ago (that’s what we call progress!).

Katie Stoltz is one of those business owners. Stoltz spent 10 years working in management consulting but knew she’d eventually make the transition to owning her own business. “I have had the ‘entrepreneurial bug’ since I was a little girl,” says Stoltz. “When I was about seven years old I made a list of ‘100 ways to make money’—and one included renting my brother out on an hourly basis!”

Stoltz saw the opportunity to make the jump to entrepreneurship when a flurry of her friends started to get engaged. “I had 5 friends who were engaged at the same time. All of them were sending around Pinterest boards and Excel sheets detailing what they found after countless calls to endless amounts of venues,” says Stoltz. “I couldn’t understand why this was such a hard thing to track down! Why do you have to search for hours—days, really—to find out how much a venue costs and what they provide?”

As Stoltz watched her friends struggle to find locations for their weddings, she had an idea— what if she could replicate the short-term rental model for wedding venues? And her business, Venues and Vows, was born.

Today, Venues and Vows provides a heavily vetted collection of estates, mansions, farms, ranches, “glamping”, and beach houses for people’s most important and fun events, including weddings, elopements, and bachelor/bachelorette parties.

Katie Stoltz, founder of Venues & Vows
Katie Stoltz, founder of Venues & Vows

We asked Stoltz to share some of her insights on what it’s like to be a female entrepreneur in 2018—the lessons she’s learned, the challenges she’s faced, and some of the most rewarding experiences she’s had as a business owner. Here’s what she had to say.

Fundbox: What have been some of your most rewarding experiences as an entrepreneur?

Katie Stoltz: As soon as you receive external validation from people outside of your friends and family, that feels great. For me, I was a semi-finalist for Rent The Runway/UBS’s Project Entrepreneur competition and I also won Bumble’s pitch competition. This validated that yes, this is a good idea and that people actually want to see this concept come to life because they would use it.

What are some things you wish you knew when you were starting out in business?

1) A great idea doesn’t equal revenue. I ran many surveys to test whether Venues & Vows was a viable business. The feedback I received was extraordinary and ultimately was the reason I decided to quit my consulting job. However, feedback doesn’t equate to awareness or revenue. So, executing on the idea and creating awareness is far more important than just having a great idea.

2) Save money. Then save some more. I worked overseas for almost five years and was able to save a considerable amount of money to fund my startup. Still, you will find yourself at the end of your rope at some point. So, whatever you think will get you through your “runway”, double it!

3) Stay energized. Some days you will think you are a mad genius for coming up with your business idea and other days you will literally question your sanity. Try to stay energized and positive.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a female entrepreneur?

Only 2% of venture funding goes to women, which is a truly astonishing number. Add to that mix that there are many, many talented women with great businesses fighting for the same pot and, you have a financing nightmare.

Additionally, and very unfortunately, you still get hit on and talked down to, regularly. A few examples: “You are going to be the prettiest girl at the venture capital prom,” “You need a male co-founder,” “When are you going to start popping kids out?” These are just a few of the comments I’ve received from men in the space.

I think the biggest hurdle though is that it’s hard to communicate to men how difficult of a journey this is for women. If you have not experienced first-hand the everyday occurrences, it’s hard to wrap your head around how a sly comment or an eye-roll would affect your progress. Indeed, those do seem like small things but multiply them by 365 days [for] 20+ years and perhaps it’s easier to understand why fundraising and starting a business can sometimes seem insurmountable.

What have been some hurdles you’ve faced in getting the financing you need to run your business effectively?

There is a constant tango of cash-in, cash-out and managing that flow is difficult because building awareness at a startup is crucial to its success. It’s often referred to as “chicken-and-the-egg”. For me, I need to be able to market—but to do that, I need money. However, investors want to see traction before they give you money.

Additionally, being a consumer-facing business that’s focused on women is a challenge. Most investors are men and many of them did not plan their wedding [and don’t understand the challenges in finding a venue].

It’s also fascinating to hear about the vacillation of investors from one business to the next. Sometimes an idea is enough, yet other times you need recurring revenue of $50K/month. It can be very difficult to decipher how to approach different investors when their decision making process has not always been consistent.

Because of this, I have turned to alternative funding mechanisms. I recently was accepted into the iFundWomen accelerator which is similar (in concept) to KickStarter but is focused exclusively on women-owned businesses. Because I don’t have… someone who can bankroll Venues & Vows, I need to reach out to my friends and family for small contributions—iFundWomen facilitates this.

How do you think the financial services industry could better serve female entrepreneurs? What would you like to see change?

Unfortunately, this is a systemic problem that needs to be addressed at several levels. I actually think that if it were possible to create a “blind” application where you didn’t know if the person was female or male, that could be extremely advantageous to women. It has been proven time-and-time-again that men and women alike judge women harshly in a business environment.

I also believe that a separate pot of money needs to be set aside for women-owned ventures within any investment group. Ideally this would be 50% of their fund but starting with at least 25% would be a great start.

I would really like to see men take a much more active role in creating the change necessary to get women funded. Creating a fund or loan for women would be a great first step. However, this should not be viewed as charity or as a donation. And for that reason, this should not be a grant/donation in the thousands – it should be in the millions. No viable business is going to get anywhere without significant investment made towards technology, marketing and systems.

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned on your entrepreneurial journey?

First: Network always.

Networking is legitimately a second job,but it is 100% necessary if you hope to be successful as an entrepreneur. This is not a one-person game—especially as a woman.

Second, planning is imperative.

Ideas mean almost nothing in the startup world, which is why most investors refuse to sign NDA’s. Their theory is that your idea may be great but execution is what creates a solvent business. For this reason, planning and implementing a strategy across all business units is imperative.

Third: Content is king.

Without awareness, your business is nothing. To build awareness, you must have content: videos, photos, blog posts, guest blog posts, Facebook, Instagram, advertising, partnerships, lead pages, SEO, PR, [and] media. They are all necessary if you hope to gain traction in any given market.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to the next generation of female entrepreneurs?

Research! Do research on many, many levels. First, make sure you run market studies to test the idea you are interested in implementing. Second, research the competitors and experts you can look to for comparisons and advice. Third, research fellow entrepreneurs who can help you along your path to growth. Fourth, be inquisitive enough to research alternative ways to the solution you came up with. There may be alternative revenue models or paths that can set your business onto a path of exponential growth. Always, always research before you delve into a venture of any kind!

And one more thing…keep on fighting for your business if you truly believe in it and always support other women in business. Without the support of one another, it will be difficult to level the playing field. In the words of Nina Shaw: “If you want to be a woman in power, then empower other women.”

Where do you see yourself—and Venues and Vows—in the next five years?

I’d like to see the wedding venue industry fundamentally upended. Couples need a better, more cost efficient and flexible alternative to what’s offered in the market today. I also want to see a shift in the way we view weddings as a society. Weddings are literally meant to be a celebration of a couple’s love—not a demonstration of how much money can be spent on an event. It’s a time for friends and family to meet and spend time with the couple—and this can’t be done in a few hours. The concept of having a “wedding weekend” demonstrates how a couple can have quality time with their guests and create a weekend that everyone will remember.

At the five year mark, I want Venues & Vows to be the leader in customizable wedding venues and also to have an international presence.

I wish I knew: Katie Stoltz, Founder of Venues and Vows

You can find Venus and Vows at venuesandvows.com, on Instagram and on Twitter @venuesandvows.

In I WISH I KNEW, we talk to business owners about their career paths, their business growth, and the lessons they’ve learned along the way. Want to share your small business lessons or stories? Tweet us @fundbox and use #IWishIKnew.

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