DMV CEO sat down with entrepreneur, founder and CEO of MissNowMrs.com, Danielle Tate. She discusses the beginning of her business, the future of MissNowMrs.com, and why the DMV is such a great place to be when you’re an entrepreneur.
Can you tell us a little bit about you, and what brought you to start MissNowMrs.com?
Back in 2005 I was in medical sales and driving 1,300 miles a week and enjoying that wonderful rat race of corporate life. I got married and decided to take a day off to change my name. Being a very organized person, I had all my forms in order. Through a series of events I managed to take three trips to get my state driver’s license and my new married name. The frustration of burning an entire day off work, and not even accomplish the beginning of my goal for that day, that frustration sparked the idea for an online name-change service for new brides. I basically came home to my new husband and said, “Why isn’t there a Turbo Tax type of service for name changing?” I would pay any amount of money not to deal with this problem. He’s a serial entrepreneur and so he just smiled at me and told me I should do that. So despite the fact that my last computer class was in 8th grade and I had a bachelor’s degree in biology, I embarked upon the bootstrapping of a niche bridal business.
Did you have a background of starting any businesses while you were younger, or anything entrepreneurial?
I’m a third-generation salesperson. The love of the hustle is big in my family….my grandfather, my father, myself, and actually now my five-year-old. While we all work for different corporations we all had our own innovations. My father actually holds 22 patents at this time. I was top of the pack in Girl Scout cookie sales in the Girl Scouts for 11 years. There’s a lot of drive in this family. But I’m the first one to have my own business.
With your background in sales, what advice and tips would you give to business owners?
I would play to your strengths as a salesperson. You know how to hustle, manage accounts, and how to set goals and hit them. You know how to make those goals drive and grow your business. If you have weaknesses then I would suggest finding a partner that their strengths compliment your weaknesses. I think it’s very hard to be an entrepreneur in a vacuum. I think having a partner is almost vital to having a successful business in the long term.
When did you start your business and what was the process like from then to now?
I had experience with frustration in the summer of 2005 and we launched MissNowMrs.com in October of 2006. Within 30 minutes of turning on Google Ads we had our first customer. All of that time, effort, and research was so validating to have an immediate customer. From there we have averaged between 30 to 40 percent growth annually. I expect to double this year based on MissNowMrs gift cards being launched in RiteAid stores across the United States. We went from this online service and pioneered this niche in the wedding industry. It’s a great industry but it’s a defined industry. So to come in with this technology innovation and create a new niche in there really took some time to infiltrate the industry and education the population that there’s A) a problem and B) a solution. Most recently we’ve launched MarriedNameGame.com which is an online quiz for brides which uses an algorithm to determine what their ideal married name change option is. We’ve made this game to educate brides on all of their options. Coming up with this interactive quiz places us and the concept of the name change much earlier in the planning process.
How were you able to educate your audience and the brides?
We started with Google advertisements and being relevant. If you were searching for online married name change product, at the time not many people knew it was an online source. There was a 200-page book on how to change your name and I didn’t think it would be the most successful way for people to learn. I definitely did not want to read that book so I could change my name! What we found to be the most effective way to capture the bride’s attention, as well as industry attention, was creating strategic partnerships. One of our very first partnerships was with Wedding Wire. Building these partnerships within the industry gave us instant credibility and instant access to our partner’s bridal traffic. That’s always been one of my key suggestions for startups. You can live in fear of the big giant coming and taking your idea, or you can partner with them and it is beneficial for both of you.
Can you expand on those partnerships?
I think it’s important to make sure you have built said idea. Ideas are ideas and while everyone says they have the million dollar idea, but unless they’ve built it then it’s just an idea. Once you have built said business, and have a functioning product, you have to find the partner that you’re either the most afraid of or are the most beneficial to you – usually they are the same. Stop and think about it. You can’t be greedy if you’re brand new. You’ll have to give to the point where both of you benefit. I’m not suggesting 50/50, but you need to start there and back up to the best point. You want to be so good and offer something that’s so attractive that they just can’t help themselves from being your partner. You just need one.
What’s the anti-diva?
As a female entrepreneur there are more and more of us now, which is fantastic. When I started back in the day there weren’t that many. Entrepreneurship was not socially unacceptable, but it was not prevalent. Finding any articles written for entrepreneurs was great. Finding any written for female entrepreneurs was virtually impossible. Now I run into women all over getting coffee and networking and there’s this glorified idea that I’m going to be an entrepreneur and be on the cover of Inc. and my office is going to be full of bean bag chairs and white boards and it’s going to be all about me. The road to entrepreneurship may lead you to that, but I don’t know that many people where it actually started that way. So I proceeded to write the anti-diva guide to entrepreneurship. Just to offer a voice that says hey, it’s amazing to be a female entrepreneur and it’s exciting to foster women in the community. But if you’re there to be a star and it’s all about you that may not be the greatest way to go into entrepreneurship. That’s actually a great way to fail fast. The reality is, you need to want it more than anyone else. You need to be willing to work harder than anyone else, usually for free for quite some time. If you expect venture capitalist to come running to you and offer you the world…that probably isn’t going to happen. You need to put in a lot of work and effort before you’re at that point.
How do you define hustle and how does it shape what you do?
Hustle to me is getting up each day, sitting down and thinking about what are my 5 top ideas for growing my business, and then hitting every single one of those. It’s a day in, day-out pushing as hard as you can and in every way you possibly can to grow your business. It’s knocking on doors and picking up the phone. Sometimes people are scared to death to pick up the phone and make the big meetings, but you have to do it.
What other exciting things do you have on the horizon and where do you see your business going?
I think one of our big changes going into this year is that we have been focused so much on the bride. There are 2.3 million marriages every year in the US. 80.6 percent of those brides change their name in some way. I wanted to widen my piece of the pie in some way. I have been driving and driving at that. I walked into our local RiteAid and there’s these new things called swing arms. They look like the shepherd’s hook. They were hanging in the greeting aisle and had gift cards on them. There was nothing hanging in the bridal section. And I thought, wait a minute. There was a huge shift in focus. It isn’t just the 2 million brides; it’s the 200 million wedding guests looking for a gift. It’s a totally different segment of the population to market to about MissNowMrs. The concept of retail for our gift cards is a huge paradigm shift for the company and is a new, very exciting part of the business. We have rolled out into all the RiteAid stores this late summer. There are some other partnerships that we’re working on and we’re really excited about. We also launched a website called MarriageLicenseNow.com. It’s a content site for engaged couples looking for information on how to file their marriage license. It’s a tool for the bride and an elegant funnel into the MissNowMrs.com and another thing we’re working on.
Could you explain the process of what you do when a customer comes to you with a gift card?
A bride will receive a MissNowMrs gift card for a gift. On the back it will say go to the site and type in your code. It will help her create an online account. So instead of this woman going to all of the different offices, collecting all of those forms, and sitting down to manually complete them, and then determining which form to file where and what order, which takes an average of 13 hours overall, we are very similar to an online tax preparation service. We will ask basic questions and we use that information to auto-complete all of the necessary forms for her such as driver’s license and voter registration. We also help her do notification letters for her banks and utilities, things like that. Even down to her gym membership. And all of this takes 30 minutes. So instead of 13 hours, she can take 30 minutes online. She’ll print them out and sign them. Our instructions are very simplified for the bride and information on anything she needs to include and we also give specific filing instructions on what she needs to do now. If you would like to speak to us then we can help and we also provide information on all the people you need to contact in your local offices just in case you have further questions.
Since we’re in the DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virginia) area, do you feel like this area is unique?
I love the entrepreneurial spirit in the D.C. area now. I love attending events for entrepreneurs in the area. So I just think that we are very rich in entrepreneurs and very diverse in what we all do. The proximity of having so many cities close to us, such as Baltimore and D.C., it’s such a big collaboration of ideas and it’s such a great community.
Do you have any other comments for our readers?
Educate your mind. If you’re a business person then obviously you read business books. Personally, I rotate a business book and then a biography of a prominent woman. Then I read a fun book. I think that kind of rounds out your brain and gives you a perspective in all those three categories. Some of my ideas come from reading junk chick lit or from reading Dorothy Parker. Feed your brain is one of my suggestions.