How this Website Cofounder Conquered Fundraising
You will hear a lot of “no’s”, but it is persistence and drive that will allow those to power through.
Lizzy Ellingson is no stranger to startup life. In fact, her first job out of college landed her at an upcoming 5 person design firm in Seattle, which has since grown to a 70+ person team. But it wasn't until she found herself engaged and navigating her wedding registry that she realized the business she really wanted to create. After being frustrated with three different wedding registries, full of what felt like a random selection of items, Lizzy and her cofounder Nevin set out to create a shopping experience with visual blueprints as a way to search for the products you really needed.
When launching Blueprint Registry, Lizzy bootstrapped the company and worked out of her own home. These days, they're on pace to do 8 million in gross sales after officially launching their site in 2014. Today, Lizzy gives us an inside look to funding and evolving your company from the ground up, and just how many people you really have to talk to before even one will write your business a check.
Name: Lizzy Ellingson
Location: Seattle, WA
Current Title/Company: Co-Founder & Chief Creative Officer at Blueprint Registry
Education: BFA from University of Washington and MFA from the School of Visual Arts
What was your first job out of college, and how did you land that position?
My first job was as a design intern at an up and coming design firm in Seattle, called Tether Inc. This was my first taste of the startup life as they very much acted like a startup and had intentions to grow. When I started there were 5 people and now (almost 9 years later) the firm has over 70+ people. I landed the position with my portfolio and help from my design professors.
What prompted you to cofound Blueprint, and how did you find the right co-founder?
Actually, my co-founder came to me with the idea of shopping online through visual Blueprints as a way to search and discover new products. At the time, I was finishing graduate school in design and also engaged. I found the idea intriguing and relevant for the life event I was going through. For me, registering had been a huge pain point - we had 3 different registries, with a random selection of items and no real sense of what we needed. Blueprint Registry was everything I needed in a registry at the time. With a few weeks of assessing the competition and market value, Nevin, my cofounder and I decided to partner and start Blueprint Registry in April 2013.
What was your biggest financial obstacle you faced when launching Blueprint and how did you overcome it?
To be perfectly honest, fundraising has been one of our largest hurdles to date. Fundraising takes an incredible amount of time and in reality, you want to build relationships, not connections ,with potential investors. You need to always be meeting people, going to events, telling the story. The rule of thumb my co-founder lives by is, for every 100 people we meet, there may be 7 people interested in cutting us a check. You will hear a lot of “no’s”, but it is persistence and drive that will allow those to power through.
For every 100 people we meet, there may be 7 people interested in cutting us a check. You will hear a lot of “no’s”, but it is persistence and drive that will allow those to power through.
You're no stranger to the life of entrepreneurship. Prior to Blueprint you were the founder of your own branding/web design studio and In.Bound: a crowd-fundraising platform dedicated to alleviating the financial and social barriers of youth athletics. What lessons did you learn from these endeavors that you took with you when co-founding Blueprint?
The biggest lesson I learned was to listen to your users and make design and business decisions through data. Often times, design can be a personal reflection. With a product such as Blueprint Registry, it lives and breaths by our users needs and wants.
You cofounded Blueprint three years ago and it’s already wildly successful. What’s the next step for Blueprint and where do you see the company in five years?
The list of next steps is long, but most importantly we are opening up the platform to baby registry, dorm registry and general wish list at the end of summer 2017. We are excited about this, as many of our users are already using the platform for those life events. As for the next 5 years, Blueprint Registry will have evolved to all life-events and dive further into augmented reality and machine learning.
Your background is in design, and you won Print Magazine’s New Visuals Artists Award: Top 20 Designer Under 30 in 2014. How does design influence your business decisions?
I am always thinking of the end user and how a business or design decision will impact either their experience, or their connection to our brand. Each can have heavy consequences if not done properly, so the rule of thumb is to always test your theories.
Listen to your users and make design and business decisions through data. Often times, design can be a personal reflection.
What is your advice to someone who wants to pursue their own startup?
It is not about the idea, but rather the execution.
If you could start the process over again, would you do anything differently?
My cofounder and I are both non-technical, which has been a large hurdle to overcome when operating an online platform. If we could go back in time, we both agree we would have recruited a CTO or technical founder in the beginning.
Getting married is a very exciting and personal time in someone’s life. What feedback have you received from brides and grooms about using your service?
To make a registry that is truly personal and about the couple; not worrying about what others think you should include.
In creative industries, you have to sell and market yourself. What advice would you give to people trying to break into design?
Breaking into design and differentiating yourself can be hard, however I always encourage students and young designers to have at least one personal project they work on a month. This will not only widen their portfolio, but differentiate them from the masses. As an example, this month I am creating a 1 second a day video of my son for his first birthday - this has not only been extremely rewarding, but helped break me out of my normal design regiment.
I always encourage students and young designers to have at least one personal project they work on a month.
There are so many sources of inspiration these days. Where is your favorite place to seek it for your business?
I find inspiration in travel, everyday interactions and conversations with my team.
What three things have you found are essential for an entrepreneur to succeed?
Create a successful Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
Find a cofounder that you can work with during the good and bad times (similar to a marriage!)
Set weekly, monthly and yearly goals to measure success in all aspects of the business.
What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
Communication is the success to any good relationship.
Lizzy Ellingson is The Everygirl...
#1 vacation spot on your bucket list?
I played collegiate soccer for the University of Washington.
Favorite city and why?
New York City! I lived there for a few years and traveled back and forth for another two. The energy and vastness of the city is captivating.
Dream job when you were a kid?
I wanted to be an astronaut… when I realized you have to be a rocket scientist I moved on to the next best thing, design.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
My grandma Mary who passed when I was 23. She was an amazing woman and is big reason I am who I am today.