Marissa Gibbons: Co-founder & CEO of Riley & Grey

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In her role, Marissa leads business development, marketing and creative strategy for the brand. Before launching Riley & Grey, Marissa received her MBA from Harvard Business School and served as a consultant for start-ups including Sonicbids, Fathom and GenArt. Riley & Grey is a luxury, fashion-forward wedding website company that Marissa founded with her husband after the frustrations they experienced while planning their own wedding years ago. They bring a fresh perspective to the wedding industry, offering luxury, limited edition wedding websites for the fashion-forward couple.

How did you get into the tech industry?

I got bitten by the startup bug while getting my MBA at Harvard and I’ve been in the space ever since. For me, the ability to quickly build and test things in tech makes it the most fun place to be entrepreneurial.

Tell us about Riley & Grey. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?

We started the company because we felt for such a big, fragmented industry, everything in the wedding space seemed to look the same. There was one pretty narrow aesthetic that seemed to permeate everything. When I planned my wedding in 2011 there just didn’t seem to be much out there for me or someone who might lean even a little on the edgier side of things. I usually describe it as a little less Martha, a little more Vogue. Not that Martha doesn’t do some very lovely things. It just wasn’t our aesthetic and we wanted our wedding to really reflect who we were in our every day lives. We didn’t want to adopt a whole new style just because that’s what the wedding industry offered. Two years later (2013), I looked around and nothing had changed! And it was especially painful/obvious when you looked at wedding websites. The same 3 templates were still getting used at every wedding I went to and the UX was very web 1.0. We knew we could make that experience so much more beautiful, useful, and enjoyable for couples and their guests. So we built Riley & Grey.

What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to Riley & Grey's success?

We love partnerships. For us it’s all about finding like-minded brands who are or want to be talking to design-minded couples too. Since we’re taking a bit of a unique perspective on weddings, there aren’t a ton of matches, so when we find a brand like The Black Tux, for example, we love to get as involved as possible and cross promote each other.

What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?

I think luckily for us, our whole brand perspective is a trend. Couples increasingly want a weddings that matches who they are separate from the fact that they happen to be engaged. Wedding dresses from non-bridal designers, for example, are definitely becoming more common.

Life Motto?

Make much of miracles. It’s from a Walt Whitman poem that we read at our wedding and to me, it’s about gratitude. Gratitude changes everything - it really is like this gift from the universe that always works.

Riley & Greys Motto?

Do you. Break the wedding rules or follow them - whatever feels authentic.

Your greatest success as founder/CEO of Riley & Grey? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?

I feel the greatest success when I get “where have you been all my life?!?” feedback from couples that have been searching high and low for a brand that “gets” them. With a design and customer focused product it can be really tempting to get bogged down in “pixel perfection” and want to make every little adjustment for every individual customer, but that’s just not realistic as the business grows - keeping processes scalable is a constant challenge.

Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?

Eliminate unnecessary stress. I think there’s this myth in the entrepreneurial community that you have to be willing to jump off the cliff from day one and “starve” for your idea. I think that’s ridiculous and just adds unnecessary stress to an already stressful process. People with ideas always think they have to quit their day job to make real progress. There’s a lot of “hurry up and wait” in the early days of building and testing an MVP - you have more time than you think, even with a full-time job. Worrying about paying your rent is just going to stifle creativity and in most cases is just not necessary in the very beginning.

How do you motivate your employees?

Setting really clear goals/hypotheses to test and then making sure everything we do is tied to those goals. I think when people know why they’re doing something and that their deliverables are not just subject to management’s every whim, it’s much easier to get them to participate in the vision and get excited. 

One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?

Haagan Dazs Chocolate Chocolate Chip ice cream and full, earthy red wine (like actual dirt in my glass earthy)

What literature is on your bed stand?

I have a newish baby so pleasure reading is kinda on pause right now :) but the last great book I read was Wild. Very worthy of the hype.

Role model - business and personal?

I don’t really have anyone specific but in general I’m just very attracted to authenticity. I like to surround myself with people that keep it real with others, but more importantly with themselves (which is often the harder of the two). And as Amy Poehler so brilliantly put it, “I want to be around people that do things. I don’t want to be around people anymore that judge or talk about what people do. I want to be around people that dream and support and do things.”

Current passion?

Everything about 7 month old daughter Grey. Cliche but true.

Favorite travel destination?

The Viceroy Anguilla. Salt water and sand are my lifeblood and that place just nails it on every front.

What's next for Riley & Grey?

More partnerships! Look out for some cool fashion collabs and paper complements for.