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Gilt Groupe Founder Kevin Ryan Can’t Stop Talking About His Wedding Registry Startup, Zola

Zola, which lets couples "swipe right" to add items to their registries, expects gross sales of $40 million this year.

Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

When I ran into New York City tech kingpin Kevin Ryan last month, the serial entrepreneur had a new company on the tip of his tongue: Zola, a wedding registry startup.

It’s not that it’s rare for Ryan to be excited about a new company. After all, he founded Gilt Groupe, Business Insider, open source database firm MongoDB and, yes, Zola. His job is to talk up his companies.

But it was the most passion I’ve heard in Ryan’s voice in a long time. And, it seems, for good reason. Zola, which launched in late 2013, did $8 million in gross sales in 2014. This year, it is projecting that number to increase to $40 million based on the number of new registry signups it has seen over the last few months. And it is working toward being profitable by next quarter.

The company, which is run by former Gilt execs, aspires to build the wedding registry for the millennial generation — one that is nice to look at, maybe even fun to use and with a great app. Along the way, it has built a retail website and marketplace dedicated exclusively to wedding registries.

Couples who sign up for Zola can choose from about 8,000 different products to add to their registries. Zola sells wedding registry mainstays like KitchenAid mixers and Waterford wine glasses. But it also allows couples to add the kind of stuff you won’t find at Macy’s or Crate & Barrel or Target: Think subscriptions for trendy meal kits, delivered with a recipe and the exact measured-out ingredients to cook that meal, or bike tours in France’s wine country.

“We think of it as the place where you go to build a wedding registry that is essentially you,” CEO Shan-Lyn Ma said in an interview.

It can be fun. The Zola app lets couples add items with a swipe to the right and discard with a swipe to the left. Yes, just like the dating app Tinder.

It’s also flexible. Couples can use the Zola registry to request cash to be used toward a honeymoon, a fancy dinner or even a charity donation. They can turn on a group-buying feature that lets a group of guests chip in together to buy a single gift. They can also choose when gifts get shipped — a feature that seems straightforward but is not common with traditional registries.


Zola charges a 2.7 percent fee when a wedding guest gives cash. Couples can choose to pass on the fee to their guests or pay themselves. The company’s main revenue source is the cut it receives from the brands and companies whose products and activity packages it sells. Zola takes a fee of around 20 percent for activities and as much as 40 percent for product sales.

Ma says 55 percent of Zola couples do not sign up for any other registries. The remaining 45 percent often do so to provide an option for family members who would rather pick out a gift in a physical store.

Traditional registries from brick-and-mortar retailers pose a challenge, but you could imagine young couples who grew up attached to their smartphones thinking these registries feel completely outdated.

Amazon also offers a registry service, which gives couples a huge product catalogue to choose from. But Zola’s trifecta of product selection, activity packages and cash options has helped it carve out its own space in the category.

The company has raised a little more than $6 million from Thrive Capital and Ryan. Its last round — which closed in the fall — totaled $2.6 million, which was less than its previous round. That’s not common for a startup with traction, so I asked Ma for the backstory. She said the company was working toward profitability this year, and didn’t want to take on more cash than it needed.

“The beauty of our business is that it is not as capital-intensive as many others,” she said in a follow-up email. The vast majority — about 99 percent — of the items Zola sells are shipped to a couple from the manufacturer. As a result, Zola stores very little inventory.

“We believe we will be one of the fastest startups to reach profitability with significant revenue,” Ma continued. “That is one goal we think is worth striving for.”

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