Nicole Staple – Co-Founder & CEO of Brideside

Episode 85

Nicole Staple is the CEO and co-founder of Brideside, which is an amazing online boutique that has completely disrupted how people shop for bridal apparel. Instead of focusing on a brick and mortar bride and bridesmaid experience, Brideside has automated the bridal process and made it easy to do as much bridal apparel and dress shopping as possible over the internet. On this show, Nicole talks about how Brideside has dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic (over 50% of weddings were canceled in 2020), how Brideside has leveraged technology to pivot their business, Nicole's biggest lessons from her entrepreneurial journey so far, and much more.

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Kara Goldin: Hi everybody. It’s Kara Goldin from Unstoppable, and I’m super excited to have Nicole Staple here. Hi, Nicole.

Nicole Staple: Hi, I’m so excited to be here.

Kara Goldin: We’re excited to have the co founder and CEO of Brideside. And if those, for those of you who are not familiar with Brideside, it’s And we’ll talk more about Nicole and lots of other stuff. But first I want to give you guys a quick intro. She’s the first online wedding boutique and all channel concierge service that has completely disrupted how people shop for brides apparel. I’ve been a bridesmaid a few times, and I have to say that it’s always challenging, right? Because you sort of depend on what that friend of yours, she went into some dress shop and for me being a redhead, it’s always like, they always pick the wrong color. So a bridesmaid dress and I go along with it cause I love my friends, but I’m always like, “Come on, let’s do this.”

So it’d be nice to be able to have that service, to be able to look at it ahead of time, but she’s really blended technology, fashion and customer service into the whole decision making process. And Nicole has created just really a high touch approach that focuses on better retail experience for the bridesmaids, making the customer journey super, super convenient, no matter where they’re located. And she’s just a really awesome person. Hands on in the company, running all the finance and revenue generating operations. She’s kind of doing a lot. So it’s very, very exciting to have you here, Nicole. Welcome.

Nicole Staple: Yeah. Thank you. Thanks so much. And now we actually are everything for bridal retail. We launched the gown last year and we are so excited to actually be able to sell something to brides now, too.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. So tell me a little bit about the founding story. How did the initial idea come about?

Nicole Staple: Yeah, so I can’t take credit for the idea. It was my cofounder Sonali’s idea and really it came from coming out of her own wedding. She had a big Indian wedding in Florida and she had 14 bridesmaids and yeah, and she claims to be friends still with 13 of them, I think. So she experienced firsthand really the inefficiencies across the wedding industry. So it wasn’t even just in coordinating lots of purchases with bridesmaids, but it was a lot of different pieces of the wedding industry from how to select a vendor, transparent pricing in the industry. And she came into business school, we met at Kellogg, she came into business school really inspired to disrupt the industry. I worked in venture capital prior to business school and so I came in with a passion for consumer technology and really scaling early stage businesses.

And this was really when, this was sort of at the time when Warby Parker was just taking off. And so there was a lot of innovation happening in e-commerce in general. And we started working on the idea together in business school and sort of uncovered this, the bridal retail space as a really interesting area for disruption, mostly because it was incredibly entrenched in a brick and mortar channel. David’s Bridal was the only company to really get to that billion dollar status in wedding retail. And it was a pretty bad experience as you sort of alluded to for women. We were like, “This is a little ridiculous that we have to fax our measurements to a local boutique where our bride lives.” Right, and meanwhile, you get a dress that doesn’t fit you, you’re paying hundreds of dollars for alterations. And so that’s sort of how it all began.

And we were friends before we were cofounders and we sort of hitched each other, to one another’s horses and ended up launching the company right after business school.

Kara Goldin: So how long, what year was this?

Nicole Staple: We graduated in 2012.

Kara Goldin: And so right after that, that’s awesome. Where are you from?

Nicole Staple: I’m originally from North Carolina and spent a number of years in Princeton, New Jersey as well, and went to school in Boston. So sort of all up and down the East Coast, but we founded the company out of Chicago because we’re Chicago born and bred to this day because that’s where we went to business school.

Kara Goldin: Awesome. So you’ve partnered with a lot of celebrities and the, I’m not going to be able to pronounce some of these names, but Micaela Erin-

Nicole Staple: Micaela Erlanger.

Kara Goldin: Okay.

Nicole Staple: I know that’s a tough one. [crosstalk 00:04:49].

Kara Goldin: Lots of photo shoots, weddings and red carpets. What do you feel like she’s brought to your business? I always get this question like, is it worth like working with influencers and what’s your, I think it just depends. Right. But, but it seems like it’s working for you guys and I’d love to hear your opinion why.

Nicole Staple: Yeah, I think it’s actually a really good point and over the years we’ve done a lot of experimentation and worked with a lot of great influencers, blogs. We have a huge partnership with Betches and we’ve definitely honed in on partnerships that we feel … sort of fewer, better partnerships. Partnerships we feel can be a real launch pad into something bigger that can be longterm in nature that are really on brand for us. And so we’ve actually sort of shied away from a traditional Instagram influencer approach. And Micaela is a great example of one that we really invested in. Micaela, actually her styling business is in Manhattan, she’s at Miami and Manhattan, and she was walking by our showroom before it was open.

And she could see Brideside coming soon on the windows. And she was herself getting into wedding stylings, traditionally just in more wet red carpet, celebrity styling. And she said, she went to our site and said, “This feels like a really modern way for women to shop. I need to like figure out who this company is.” And she got in touch with us actually.

Kara Goldin: That’s the best.

Nicole Staple: And we’ve really become such great friends now. And I’ll say, because we are really aligned in our mission, she thinks that women deserve that red carpet moment during their wedding. She really believes in creating looks that are really affordable and accessible. She loves the service component of the business. So we’ve launched several bridal gowns together and we are promoting each other all the time in terms of the types of services we provide.

Kara Goldin: I love it. That’s awesome. So obviously we’re recording this during COVID and due to COVID you quickly pivoted to virtual styling appointments. Can you share just a little bit more about how that all went down and what the experience was and what you will remember from this crazy time?

Nicole Staple: Sure. Yeah, it’s definitely been a crazy year. I think more than 50% of weddings were canceled or postponed in 2020. It’s probably the only time … It’s almost unimaginable that a very stable industry like the wedding industry would actually change so dramatically in one year. And while this year it’s been incredibly challenging, they think actually next year the industry is going to grow tremendously. And so many of those, that volume will be recouped next year. So we’ve had to adjust to that real time. Brideside was built as online first. So if you’re a technology company, we, data and data-driven customer experience is really at the core of why we’ve been successful.

And so our stylist program was always online before we ever launched showrooms. In 2017, we started scaling up a brick and mortar experience that lots of people know us for now. And so when COVID hit, we sort of had to go back to our roots, but with our new infrastructure and say, “Okay, how can we leverage everything that we have, a great stylist/sales team, amazing technology, appointment booking platforms, an eCommerce site. How can we leverage that in really a matter of days to make sure that we can recoup as much volume as possible and to shift all of that online?” And I think the world shut down around March 14th and within four days we had launched virtual styling. We sent all of our stylists home from the showrooms with swatch kits and sample dresses. We transformed our appointment booking platform to all virtual. So you could do virtual for the bridal gown or bridesmaid dresses and did some quick training for our stylists and were sort of up and running. And we ended up recouping a lot of volume over those few months by just allowing women who just didn’t really know what to expect for the rest of the year to continue the shopping process and still work with her stylist online.

Kara Goldin: I love it. One of the things that I talk about in my book coming out, it’s called Undaunted, Overcoming Doubts and Doubters is that everyone has fears and everyone has doubts, but it’s the people that actually go and try, right? Are the ones that ultimately become unafraid, go out and change models and disrupt industries, et cetera. And I mean, frankly, I talk about this not just for entrepreneurs, but I think it’s a life lesson. And I mean, I’ve talked to athletes about this as well. It’s the same kind of thing. I mean, people think that just because you are running a company or just because you’re a pro basketball player, you don’t have fears or you don’t have doubts. That’s not true at all. It’s what you do with those. And how, and I think that your example is such a great example of you didn’t have this like playbook or roadmap for dealing with COVID.

We didn’t either, but we basically said, “Okay, here’s what I think we can do to solve the problem,” which is really, really important. And I think that when we’re all, when we get a vaccine and we’re all sort of out of this, I really think that there will be leaders studied maybe at Northwestern or Harvard or whatever, studying leaders that actually like, what did they do? And during this time, and I think it’s a really, really important thing. Because there were a lot of people that just said, “Let’s not do anything and let’s wait.” And we made some very fast decisions as well in our business. So I love hearing that. And like you said, it was okay, right. You had a new revenue model that stemmed there. It just didn’t end overnight. So that’s awesome to hear.

Nicole Staple: Yeah. I think that’s really true. And we’ve definitely had over the years, our fair share of challenges as a business. I mean, we were in the Midwest, a women’s consumer focused business, women founders. It’s like, you can do the math, like the percentage chance we were ever going to raise as much capital as we did was so small. And we’ve always thought of ourselves as very resilient. And I’ll say I never expected to have to exercise a level of resilience as we did have to this year. And it’s been amazing to see how much you sort of experience that rising tides moment with your team to say, if you believe in the vision fundamentally, and even from an investor perspective, if you believe that there is sort of an end to this or another side of the storm, then you’re incredibly motivated to find what is it that we do really well? Who is it, who are we as people, as a company? And it gets down to sort of the raw values that you have and how you can use them to find a way.

Kara Goldin: Absolutely. I think that’s so important. So you’ve launched your bridal try at home, you mentioned, and nationally, which is amazing. And also you launched another big collection, the newest price driven collection, Poppy. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Nicole Staple: Yes, sure. So when we first started the company, we were selling all designer dresses by existing bridal designers. And over the years, we’ve moved into manufacturing our own product and becoming more vertically integrated. And we’ve always sort of played in a slightly more premium price point for bridesmaid dresses. And actually, our bridal gowns tend to be in a more affordable price range. We believe that women shouldn’t have to spend like $5,000 or more today to buy a bridal gown. And so we had launched this really amazing high quality affordable collection of bridal gowns. And we said, but in bridesmaids, we still think that we’re blocking out a customer who, maybe this is a one and done purchase for, or maybe particularly in a time like COVID is just more budget conscious. And we said, “We have the capability to do this. It’s really time that we expand our offering.”

So we’re launching Poppy in just a few weeks. It’s a more affordable bridal gown line. We did a lot of product innovation on the production of the gowns, on the fabrics that we use. It’s really built around inclusive sizing, stretchier fabric, for example. We have hundreds of thousands of fit data points from customers. And so we were able to look at all of that data across all of our purchase history and design something that just really felt like a no brainer. Right. Very easy for … You don’t even know if the wedding’s going to happen at the moment. You can be sort of, you might wear it again. You can sort of be safe in this purchase. So yeah, that’s launching in just a few weeks and we’re really excited about it.

Kara Goldin: That’s super, super awesome. So what advice would you give your 20 year old self knowing what you know now? I bet you weren’t even thinking you were going to start a company when you were 20.

Nicole Staple: No, and certainly not in this space. It’s so funny. I was so oriented around social entrepreneurship and social justice issues and I never thought I would start this company and it’s been an absolutely amazing experience. I think if I were to look back, probably one is to not take myself so seriously. I think that would probably be advice I maybe would have continued through my 20s. I think that I was a pretty serious person at school. I was a serious athlete and I look back and I say maybe I should have just, I definitely had fun, but maybe shouldn’t have taken everything so seriously. I also think having the confidence to know that you are good enough and what you have in your imagination or what you have as dreams for yourself can actually be, it sounds a little cheesy, but you can actually do them. I don’t think I ever would have believed that I could have run a company then or had the confidence to.

Kara Goldin: You are falling right into my book on there because this is exactly what I talk about, which is super awesome. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Nicole Staple: That’s a great one. I sometimes tell this story because I never even thought that I, as I mentioned, could be an entrepreneur. And when I was in college, I ended up on a plane from Boston to New York for an investment banking interview. And I sat next to Jeff Pulver [crosstalk] who was essentially, yeah. So I didn’t know who he was. And he asked me and a friend who was also going for these interviews, if you could do anything with your life, what would you do? And no one is used to being asked that. And he said, if money were no consequence, no one’s used to be asked that at that age, particularly from a stranger. And both of us said we had wanted to start our own companies one day, but we didn’t know what it would take.

And he planted the seed early on that in sort of believing in yourself. And so I think I don’t, I can’t remember an exact quote at the time, but I think the advice that he gave was build your dreams as if money were no consequence. And that had a really big impact on me. And then in terms of business, early on, we got advice from, I think it was Josh [inaudible] first round capital that said, and he said strip out everything from your business that money can buy. And if you believe that you still have something valuable, go do it.

Kara Goldin: That’s a great piece of advice.

Nicole Staple: And that has been a guiding force for us, right? We never have blamed money for not having enough money to do X, Y, Z for not succeeding. We’ve always said, no, there’s always a way and find what the consumer loves, find something that doesn’t cost money and that’s really why you became a service business. We realized it wasn’t about the number of dresses we had on the site or how good our technology was. It was me and Sonali on the phone calling brides, providing great service. And that’s sort of what we built the business around.

Kara Goldin: Interesting. That’s super, super interesting. Wow. That gives me a lot to think about on that. So I always ask this one final question. What makes you unstoppable?

Nicole Staple: Oh man, I, well, one, I’m extremely competitive. It’s just part of my personality type. I can’t help it. And I have this fight, it’s I can’t help it, but I want to win and have a fight in me. And I think now that we are responsible to an industry that has built us up and all of the women we work with and all of our employees and the responsibility I feel to my investors and co-founders, I think that I feel an incredible motivation from that to keep going and particularly in a tough time, like COVID. I also think that at the end of the day, I think a lot about just why we’re even here as people. And we always say this isn’t life or death, we’re selling bridesmaid dresses.

And I think there is trying to bring a playfulness into I’m doing this, makes it sustainable, remembering that it’s not life or death. And that at the end of the day, I have to be enjoying myself and my life for it to be worth it has been a huge lesson I’ve learned over the past few years, and that provides a lot of endurance for me.

Kara Goldin: I love it. What sports did you play?

Nicole Staple: Lacrosse.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. Very, very cool. I see that thread amongst entrepreneurs. I love it. I love it. I love it. Where’s the best, where’s your social channel that you really, really are on?

Nicole Staple: Yeah. I mean, Instagram’s a great one. So Nicole.L.Staple or @Brideside, and then, like you mentioned before, our Brideside’s site is

Kara Goldin: I love it. I love it. Thank you so much. And everybody, please, if you loved this interview, please go in and give it a great rating and subscribe so we can continue building up the platform and getting people to know about it. And we’re doing our podcast twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays. And we’re really, really excited, not only about Nicole’s interview, but also many, many more coming up. So everybody have a great week. Thanks so much. Bye-bye.

Nicole Staple: Thanks everyone. Bye.