By Annie Lin
When Sonali Lamba, 36, and Nicole Staple, 35, happened to grab a seat next to each other at orientation for Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management back in 2010, they never imagined they would launch a business together. But four years later, they started Brideside, an online bridesmaid and wedding dress retailer. Last December, they secured $7 million in their latest funding round. The company does not publicly disclose revenue or sales figures.
Today, customers shop and try on dresses at home or in-person at their showrooms in Chicago, New York City, Boston and Charlotte, North Carolina. Lamba, sitting on an elegant couch in their airy 2,000 square feet West Loop showroom, discussed how it all started and what she hopes Brideside will become.
How did you start Brideside?
I was planning my wedding and applying to business schools at the same time. I was experiencing how incredibly antiquated the wedding industry has been. It wasn’t evolving with the way that women were accustomed to shopping. It wasn’t evolving with the way that bridal parties specifically were becoming more geographically dispersed from one another. Back in 2010, what was happening was that maybe the bride lived in Boston, but her best friends lived in New York and Chicago and LA. They were all faxing in their measurements and placing orders over the phone to one store in Boston. Why was it that the wedding industry wasn’t delivering a customer experience that was more modern, digital and accommodating to the fact that women are accustomed to shopping online?
I had 14 bridesmaids. My wedding was a traditional Indian wedding. I didn’t have bridesmaids dresses, they wore saris, but I still had a lot of the same miscommunications. So how do we create an environment where this celebration in your life comes first and foremost, and making all of these retail purchases is secondary? That’s really how Brideside came to be. We’re about prioritizing friendships and people, delivering on great customer service, having beautiful products that everybody wants and building an experience that is digital, in-person, at home and modern.
How did Northwestern help shape your business?
Kellogg holistically has definitely been instrumental for me. I’ll never forget the very first marketing class that I had with Julie Hennessy, where she said, “When you’re building a new product for customers, think about three things. What is a group of people with a clear pinpoint? Who is not being competitively served? Who will accept the things you’re not good at?”
As she’s saying this, I’m writing down, bridesmaids – a customer base with a clear problem the marketplace is not addressing, check. They don’t have options in the market serving them, and they’re not innovating in the way that they need, check. Who won’t be mad at me for the things I’m not good at? Right now, everything sucks for them. So if we can start addressing the opportunities one by one, I think we’re going to build a strong relationship with this network of women.
Kellogg does an incredible job of reorienting your point of view to put the customer first. That has been incredibly instrumental in our emphasis on collecting feedback, iterating fast, forming relationships with our customers, trying to learn more about them and evolving as fast as they need us to. All of that definitely came from the disciplines we learned in business school.
What does it mean to you to be a female co-founder? What challenges have you faced?
We’ve certainly faced plenty of obstacles as female founders – whether it’d be me internally carrying my own insecurities into this process, or externally seeing and facing other people’s unconscious biases toward me. I feel a great responsibility as a female founder running a predominantly female organization. In over 100 people, 99% of our staff is female, and almost 80% of our executive team is female.
These days, I care more about my responsibility to build the next great workforce of women in America who are coming to Brideside. When you think of a Bridesider, you want to be synonymous with being collaborative, communicative, data-driven, strategic and just an all-around badass person to hang out with, work for and work with.
This interview has been edited and condensed.