The Build #40: Hitched

Samie and Ryan Roberts have created a business designed to solve the challenges couples face when planning their wedding day. Based in North Carolina, their company helps connect engaged couples with the vendors and inspiration that will make their wedding day perfect.

This husband and wife team join me today to talk about the post-wedding brainstorming session that inspired them to create Bustld. They share details about the team and technology behind the company, how they plan to scale to a national level, and why starting any new business is going to be one hundred times harder than you think it will be. It’s the story of Bustld on The Build.

More about today’s guests:


Announcer (00:02):
From 2820 Radio in Philadelphia, it's The Build. Conversations with entrepreneurs and innovators about their dreams, their triumphs, and their challenges.

Joe Taylor Jr. (00:16):
Hitched. Samie Roberts planned events and publicity campaigns at one of New York's top PR agencies. But she and her husband Ryan felt drawn to their roots in the south. A pivot into a wedding planning practice opened their eyes to the challenges couples face when organizing their perfect days. And a brainstorm on the way back from a client's reception led them to launch another business with a potential to grow even larger by turning competitors into partners. It's the story of Bustld coming up next on The Build.

Announcer (00:47):
The Build is made possible with support from 2820 Press. Providing business consulting and content strategy services to customer obsessed companies nationwide. More information at

Joe Taylor Jr. (01:05):
I'm Joe Taylor Jr. It's The Build. Welcome to Ryan and Samie Roberts from Bustld in Charlotte, North Carolina who are joining us today. Welcome to the show.

Ryan Roberts (01:15):
Hi, how are you?

Samie Roberts (01:16):
Thanks for having us.

Joe Taylor Jr. (01:18):
So, you two love weddings. You have to love weddings.

Roberts (01:24):
We do, we do.

Joe Taylor Jr. (01:27):
The pause got me nervous for a second, gotta be honest. So tell me a little bit. We love hearing origin stories. We love hearing about what happens when folks realize that there's something they're very passionate about that they want to build a business about. And Bustld is not the first business that you've built, either. So tell us a little bit about the transition from New York PR and events to wedding planning and the wedding community in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Samie Roberts (01:59):
Yeah. So, it's crazy because we started with nothing in weddings at all and now we're all in. So I started in New York as a publicist and so I worked for fashion and beauty brands and while I thought I wanted to be a fashion publicist, it turned out I didn't really love that part. But I planned a lot of really big events and so it was really cool experience and Ryan really pushed me like, hey you're really happy when you're planning events but not so much when you're doing the PR work. And so then I started exploring other types of weddings and then other types of events. And then Ryan and I got married and we were like, okay this wedding thing is pretty cool. So..

Ryan Roberts (02:42):
We actually got married during Hurricane Irene, when it hit New York.

Samie Roberts (02:48):
Yeah. So we definitely had our hands full with challenges during our own personal wedding that we kind of knew, alright wedding world is going to be something that we really love even though it was such a crazy experience. And so we moved down to Charlotte and because we're both southerners and we were tired of cold winters. And then I launched my wedding planning company called Something Perfect. And so Ryan was really instrumental in helping me with the sales and marketing and strategy and kind of being my other person to bounce ideas off of. And so that's how we got into the wedding world initially. And we were probably two years into the wedding planning company, driving back from a wedding that we had planned for the weekend and we started kind of talking about, you know, this is the wedding world we're in and this is how it is from a vendor's perspective. And Ryan comes from a background in technology and sales. So it was kind of a natural transition.

Ryan Roberts (03:54):
So I come from the exact opposite of weddings, working at Thompson Reuters and Dun & Bradstreet and very involved with a lot of different technological concepts in data and things of that nature. And Bustld really became this sort of perfect melding of both of our backgrounds. The funny thing that Samie's not talking about when we were driving back from that wedding is-- I actually assisted her on that one, which sometimes I'll do. I'm not necessarily like the A team or the B team, you know - maybe the C team. I can't tie a bow! We were driving back from that wedding and we just realized that, you know what, this wasn't a good fit. And I think that's a common thing when you're first starting a business is that you want any and every customer you can get and then as you start to get further and further into it you realize, you know what not everyone's a good fit for me or for us or whatever it is. And that's kind of really where Bustld kind of snowballed from.

Joe Taylor Jr. (04:51):
So walk us through, for folks who aren't familiar with it, what's the job that Bustld does for your users?

Ryan Roberts (04:58):
Yeah, absolutely. So Bustld is a local wedding resource that helps engaged couples discover wedding vendors and inspiration that fits them, that fits their style, their budget, things you are really trying to showcase. You're looking for a photographer, and you have x budget, and the thing that matters the most to you is time with friends and family or your favorite style is say J Crew or Anthropology, things like that. We're really trying to help couples more seamlessly find that vendor that matches them rather than, sort of, having an almost yellow pages approach that a lot of other sites do; where it's kind of anyone and everyone. And then on top of that, we actually vet every vendor on our site. So we make sure that we're working with professionals, that we have the people that are couples can trust because their biggest fear that we continually hear is that they're worried that that vendor that they hire may not deliver. Which is very, very scary when you're talking about these big dollars and one of the most important days in your life.

Joe Taylor Jr. (06:08):
Tell me a little bit more about the mix of skills that has to go into running a service like this. Because what I'm hearing is there's an editorial element because you're telling stories about what great weddings look like. I know that you put out stories about fantastic weddings. And then there's also the piece where you have to get in and dig into some of these vendors businesses. How do you find inspiration for the stories that you're trying to tell and then how do you make sure that the vendors you're listing are capable of pulling off what those expectations are?

Samie Roberts (06:45):
Yeah, That's great. So we kind of divide and conquer- being a husband, wife, team. So, I really manage the editorial and design side. So coming from that wedding planning, PR background, it really makes sense. And so for me on that editorial side of finding inspiration, we definitely look at the vendors who are a part of our community and at their work on a pretty regular occasion. So we check out their blogs and their instagram. We follow them on social media so that we can see the kind of stuff that they're putting out there and get an idea of the trends not only on a national level but also the trends on the local level. So we really want to showcase in the charlotte community or you know, now we've expanded across all of North Carolina. So in those specific communities, what are most brides wanting to see and then also showcasing cool trends that are coming down the line for those communities.

Samie Roberts (07:39):
Then finding inspiration from our brides who submit the weddings and submit questionnaires. So it's pretty cool because we get to hear all these really cool stories about their engagement and what they're planning process was like and see it all come together. Even though we weren't a part of these weddings. It's a pretty part of the part of the business, for sure. And then Ryan handles more of the sales and tech side of it being, his background. So he handles most of the vetting of the vendors.

Ryan Roberts (08:12):
Obviously, working with Samie's company over the last several years and with Bustld the last two and a half years. You really start to pick up on patterns. And we look at a lot of our vendors digital presence. We look at how many weddings they've completed, we'll look at what rates they're charging. We want to make sure that people are charging reasonable rates and things of that nature. And those are some of the, there's a number of things. We actually do an interview with each vendor as well, but those are some of the high points

Samie Roberts (08:43):
And we get feedback from both sides of our marketplace. So we talked to brides, what they would want to see and that's what we try to kind of fulfill on both the editorial side and the vendor side. And then we talk to the vendors as well, like what do they want to see? They don't want to see the same style because not all photographers are doing the same style. So that's how we've kind of mixed up our editorial and then they want to be proud of the people that they're sitting next to you on the vendor page. So we've kept that in mind and made sure that we're interviewing every vendor so that people do feel proud of being part of our community.

Joe Taylor Jr. (09:17):
I heard rates as one factor. What other things would cause you to say no to a vendor. To tell them they're not yet ready to be part of your service.

Ryan Roberts (09:28):
Sure. That's a delicate question. We would look at quality of work as well, I think that's a big one. And then also just overall making sure that our vendors have completed 10 weddings. That's the number that we really try to measure to and we've kind of evolved that since we started. The reason that we landed there is becaUse when you look at the life cycle of the wedding, it takes awhile to book a wedding, right? Because you book your photographer, your venue or your planner, usually 12 to 18 months out. And then it's going to be that full twelve months before that vendor actually gets to work that wedding. So by looking at making our vendor requirment that our vendors have completed at least 10 weddings, they're going to have to have booked and then complete. It usually takes a year to two years and by then you sort of, kind of, weed out the folks that are quite fully committed to the profession frankly.

Joe Taylor Jr. (10:28):
So tell me a little bit more about your revenue model for Bustld. Are you taking advertising from vendors? Do you do a revenue share? How are you making money?

Ryan Roberts (10:38):
That's a great question. So given it's a marketplace, right? So we have two sides to it. Our couples are free to use the site to get the inspiration to find vendors and the like. Our vendors pay a small monthly fee to be a part of the site and be promoted and things of that nature. Somewhat typical marketplace model.

Joe Taylor Jr. (11:02):
So one of the things I heard you say, and one of the things I've observed on the site is that you're taking this market by market approach. You've started in Charlotte, you're fanning out across North Carolina and you're building a regional presence., Whereas a lot of larger sites compete with you and they are very big national multinational. What are you doing to ensure that you are carving out the right kind of space versus some of that large competition?

Ryan Roberts (11:32):
Yeah, I think that's a great question. For us, as we grow Bustld, honestly every single day, every single market there are so many learnings that come along with that. And we're also a pretty small team. There's only a handful of us. And we really to make sure that we deliver on our mission and we deliver on our promises to our vendors. So we know that as we scale responsibility, as we always say, we want to make sure that our couples are happy, our venders are happy. And then once we feel like, okay, we're in a good spot here, we sort of hit a nice supply demand on both sides of the marketplace then we can then start to grow and go into another market. But again, we're really trying to, do it thoughtfully I guess is probably a better word for it.

Samie Roberts (12:23):
When we first launched, we stayed in Charlotte alone for a longer period of time and as we've grown, we've kind of launched quicker and quicker. So we've had a lot of learnings that then we can apply to that next market. And also we want to take the time to really understand the market before we go there. So Charlotte being our home market, that was a lot easier. We had the wedding planning business here, we had a really good understanding of the market. Before we expanded we wanted to make sure we had a good understanding of what was the difference between Charlotte and our second city, which was the Raleigh Durham area. And then as we get ready to expand to outside of North Carolina to South Carolina, we want to make sure that we have a good understanding of what that's gonna look like as well. So we want to be really thoughtful in the way we do it and we want to build really good relationships because other sites out there don't do the vetting process that we do. So we want to make sure that we can effectively do that and deliver, like Ryan said, not only our promises to the vendors but our promise to the brides that we're going to bring you the best vendors in your local area.

Joe Taylor Jr. (13:25):
One of the things that listeners might not understand. So for myself, my wife, we lived in Charlotte for quite a bit of time. The culture in the Carolinas from city to city can be very different. And that may not be the same as folks up here in the Northeast will talk about New York and Philadelphia. A lot more similarities than differences. But I could see something like Charlotte and Asheville-- very different. Charlotte and Raleigh, even Raleigh and Durham sometimes, even though they get the slash between them often. So what are you doing to make sure that you have systems that are repeatable, but still really dig into that local culture in each place that you're setting up shop.

Samie Roberts (14:17):
So we definitely have, I think, by being in just one city for a long period of time, we're able to build good systems for the business as a whole. So how the editorial runs, how the sales run, how we build out that vetting process. So that was kind of like the operational side of it that we can kind of build out in those first initial year or so that we were just in Charlotte. Then from there, once we go to the other cities, we really like to talk to the local vendors and get a feel. So we actually kind of target certain vendors to them, get an idea of what the market's like and get their feedback before we actually launch in that city. So really get a chance to go to that city and, kind of, immerse ourselves. We get a chance to actually talk to the vendors, get their feedback, find out what are their pain points.

Samie Roberts (15:06):
So as we've gone to different cities, some cities we hear- okay, we have no networking events. So that's something that's really important to us. Whereas other cities it's like, we want to find brides who are not local or different things like that and then we can kind of adjust our marketing accordingly based on that feedback. So we're really building something that's what our vendors want. That way, you know, they're going to buy in and it's going to be a community. Being we are vendors, we really want to build this for the vendors, for them to them to have a place that makes sense and that's going to be the right kind of bride for them. Because they're the ones who are delivering the service. So we want to make sure that it's a good fit on both sides, not just the bride's happy about who she hired, but we want the vendors to be happy about the bride hiring them. So that it's just a more sustainable business for those vendors as well.

Joe Taylor Jr. (16:00):
That makes a lot of sense because it feels like you're taking what you've learned about getting good at client selection and applying that to the folks that you have in your marketplace. So I think that segues into my next question, which is how do you help those brides and probably some grooms too learn about Bustld? How do you get that mind share so that you become that trusted partner for them during their planning process?

Ryan Roberts (16:27):
Yeah, that's a good question. We can do a number of things, I'll let Samie take some of it, but from an educational standpoint, we try to put out content that is coming from vendors themselves. So rather than having just someone who maybe knows a lot about writing or editorial but doesn't know anything about weddings. We take a different approach where all the content that we put out is coming from vendors themselves. Either, obviously, in house or externally. We want to make sure that people that work and live weddings are the ones that are educating couples. That's a big part of our strategy from an educational standpoint.

Samie Roberts (17:05):
Yeah. And then also just getting our word out there through where brides are are looking. So on social media, using that editorial and those real wedding inspiration so that people can come in and see that this is local weddings in my market is what it looks like, this what it feels like and these are the vendors who can make it happen. That's another piece of getting them to buy into our mission as well.

Joe Taylor Jr. (17:32):
In terms of the customer journey, which is usually the way that I frame these up with our clients. I feel like there are probably some folks in that journey that are thinking very aspirationally. They might not even yet have a partner at this point and thinking about their wedding. And then I think further into that journey, you have folks that are maybe under some urgency. Maybe they need something sooner than that 12 to 18 months. Where do you find that folks start to fall into that pipeline for you? Is it okay he popped the question, now I've got to get serious about planning? Or is it more that you're creating a little bit of top of mind awareness so that when it's the right time, you're the first person they go to?

Ryan Roberts (18:21):
So initially it obviously wasn't top of mind when we first were getting started. Right? Now we're starting to see a lot more of that come in as we're established as we've grown the company.

Samie Roberts (18:34):
I think a lot of it, too, is that people do follow us on social media and places like that. It's a lot of those people who haven't maybe popped the question yet, but they're thinking about it so they might be kind of peeking around. Maybe they don't fully sign up or they're just following us on social media, but then once they get engaged, because we are putting out so much content, we're kind of that person they see first. And so that brings them into the fold of that customer journey.

Joe Taylor Jr. (19:05):
I think there's a couple other interesting dynamics about running a marketplace here, because you're still continuing to run your wedding planning business. Is that right? So at that level, how do you make sure that you are applying enough energy to both businesses without spreading yourself too thin?

Samie Roberts (19:27):
Yeah, that's a great point. So, luckily I have a super amazing team and so that was something coming from an agency background that I knew I wanted to build even before Bustld was even a thought. And so building a team has been really helpful because they can take on a lot of of their own weddings as well and so we can continue to run that business and I still can have nmy piece of, kind of, creativity in the planning world. So that's really nice. And then kind of just structuring the time in the day, making sure that we do build a great team on both sides, too, to kind of help with that division of work.

Joe Taylor Jr. (20:10):
The thing that strikes me, too, is that at a certain point you're also technically onboarding competitors for one of your companies onto the platform of your other company. So walk me through what you've learned about that process.

Ryan Roberts (20:28):
So that's an interesting one, Joe. You know, because this was built with the mindset that not every customer is perfect for every customer-- for every vendor rather. Sorry. There's enough room out there. There's enough weddings out there for everyone. So we really try to make sure that we have, kind of, a wide range of types and styles and price points and things of that nature. That being said, we've been very intentional in keeping the businesses separate in terms of how the functionality of the site works and things of that nature.

Samie Roberts (21:07):
Well, I think yes, there's definitely that competitive feel and so by keeping it very separate that's obviously a good thing for our other competitors who come onboard. But also, kind of, putting it out there that it was created by a wedding planner and that we're very pro planner. Because some sites out there will tell couples that you don't need a wedding planner. We can replace a wedding planner or, you know, things like that. And a lot of times people think of wedding planners as a luxury and we really try to encourage our couple to hire wedding planners. So we're very pro hiring the right wedding planner. So that's not always going to be our wedding planning company and it might also be another company that is a part of our community. And so really kind of putting that community first and making sure that we are supporting the full wedding community. And that includes competition, and knowing that there's more than enough business to go around and that we can kind of support everybody with Bustld.

Joe Taylor Jr. (22:09):
One of the things I observed from looking at the website is you've got a user experience that's very focused on assembling a team. So tell me a little bit more about how you're making sure that you've got the right technology to give your users the ability to see deeper into how you're assembling a team of highly qualified individuals, even though you're still focusing that energy on a planner who's going to be doing a lot of the day to day deliverables.

Ryan Roberts (22:38):
Yeah, absolutely. So one of the first things that we've done with Bustld is we built a matching algorithm where essentially our couples will come on and they'll take a quiz, a very qualitative type of quiz, where they'll answer questions like, what is your budget? What is your personal style? What matters the most on wedding day? What sort of a venue location are you looking for? Things of that nature. And that's all driven based on, again, a planner and other vendors experience we've worked with. The way it works for vendors is they'll take the exact same quiz as if they were their target couple. Sort of like a marketing persona exercise and then we're matching them to the couple based on that fit. So a lot of this has just been refined and iterated as we've gone and obviously through the experience of Samie and again in vendor peers as well.

Joe Taylor Jr. (23:34):
Now coming back to something I heard you say earlier with both businesses, to be able to scale anything like this you really do have to rely on a team. So who gets to work at Bustld? Who are the right team members that you want to attract as you grow?

Samie Roberts (23:50):
I mean, the people who we like to surround ourselves with are people who are very entrepreneurial in spirit and that they are go getters and very proactive. So being that we're such a small team that we want people who can kind of wear a lot of hats as well. So that you know when, yes, we might divide things on editorial versus sales, but if sales needs help more than editorial that day, we can all kind of jump in. And so we're looking for people that can really be flexible and proactive and that have an overall very positive attitudes because it can always, as with any small business, can feel very overwhelming and hard at any moment in time. We want people who can really bring that positivity because it is such an exciting time for the couples who are engaged and it's also such an exciting thing for our vendors because they truly love what they do. And so we want to bring that same positivity because we also love what we do. So we want the people who joined our team to have that same kind of feeling.

Ryan Roberts (25:06):
And love change

Samie Roberts (25:06):
Yes and love change because Ryan loves to change things.

Joe Taylor Jr. (25:10):
And how small is a small team? How many people are you right now?

Speaker 3 (25:14):
We're currently three full time people including the two of us. And then two part time people.

Joe Taylor Jr. (25:22):
The site looks like it's got a lot more people behind it then five people, that's for sure. So with that in mind, tell me a little bit more about your relationship as a couple and as a family and how you're making sure that you've got the right fit between business time and family time.

Samie Roberts (25:43):
Yeah, so that's definitely always a struggle and we actually had our first baby eight months ago. Nine months ago now, just the other day. So it's definitely kind of put things into perspective for us and made us, kind of, step back and not work 24/7, 365 days a week. But I think that's been a really good thing because it kind of made us reevaluate that we do need to have time. So now Ryan and I come the office during the day and then from 5:00 - 7:30 or 8:00, when our baby girl goes down, we make sure that that's really dedicated for family time. And then find later on that night, most likely we have to take our computer back out and work. But we're really, really strategic about that. So I think that's one of the nice parts about working together is that we can kind of separate that time and space.

Joe Taylor Jr. (26:40):
And so thinking about, as you've got a baby that's growing and you've got a business that's growing, how big does this business get? What's your dream for this company?

Ryan Roberts (26:51):
That's a great question. So I think that in my mind and I think at Samie's mind, we always envision this going nationwide but always maintaining the, the mission of being hyperlocal. Making sure that we're always adhering to, again, making it easier for couples to assemble their team and educating them along the way and also help alleviate some of the stress that goes along with this. That being said, I think that if we ever got to a point where we felt that the quality or the mission wasn't been upheld, I think that's where we would start to kind of take a step back and reevaluate where we are and make those fixes along the way.

Joe Taylor Jr. (27:37):
So we're almost out of time, but I want to take you back to that initial car ride where you're thinking about this idea. The version of you now gets to tell one thing to that couple that's in that car dreaming up this idea. What's the one piece of advice you'd give to your past self?

Ryan Roberts (27:54):
This is going to be at least a hundred times more work than you think it's going to be.

Samie Roberts (27:58):

Samie Roberts (28:02):
That's good. Yeah. No, I think that's about it, probably, because it is so much more work than that initial idea or like- oh, this would be so cool. We can connect brides and vendors with this one quiz. And now it's like, yes, that is totally our mission, but there's all the other things on the outside of that that go into it.

Joe Taylor Jr. (28:21):
Well, Ryan and Samie from Bustld. Thanks so much for joining us on The Build.

Samie Roberts (28:24):
Thank you so much for having us.

Joe Taylor Jr. (28:27):
Thanks again for listening to this episode of The Build. Our producer is Katie Cohen Zahniser. Our production coordinator is Nicole Hubbard. The production team for this episode included Amelia Lohmann, Jess Ryan, Faiza Samreen and April Smith. Podfly Production manages our post production and our theme music is performed by Arrows & . Sound. I'm Joe Taylor Jr.

Announcer (28:51):
Thanks for listening to this episode of The Build. We hope you'll share this series with your friends and provide us with feedback

Joe Taylor Jr. has produced stories about media, technology, entertainment, and personal finance for over 25 years. His work has been featured on NPR, CNBC, Financial Times Television, and ABC News. After launching one of public radio's first successful digital platforms, Joe helped dozens of client companies launch or migrate their online content libraries. Today, Joe serves as a user experience consultant for a variety of Fortune 500 and Inc. 5000 businesses. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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