You know you’re entrepreneurs when you come up with a creative business idea on your wedding night. In 2018, as Shea Phinney and Jeff Cohen were opening their wedding cards and gifts, the couple developed the concept for an online platform for life event celebrations they decided to call E-Bration.
Since then, they’ve connected with local resources to refine their business model. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price recently spoke with the couple to learn more about their startup.
NAN PRICE: Have either of you always had entrepreneurial ambitions?
JEFF COHEN: I started a business many years ago, so I had that entrepreneurial spirit, but I never envisioned another idea coming to me on our wedding night of all nights!
SHEA PHINNEY: I studied sociology in college and worked in client services. I’ve always been a people person, but this is my first business ownership experience. I’m enjoying it because I like talking to people.
NAN: How did you develop the business concept?
JEFF: On our wedding night, as we were opening our cards and reading all the messages from our guests, we were thinking to ourselves it would be cool to have one place to see them all digitally, especially in the digital world we’re in now.
We thought of an idea to have cards collected through a website instead of being brought to an event or sent through the mail. Instead of the cards being emailed, they get automatically saved in an account for you, so you can look at them whenever you want. You can even upload personalized cards to digitize the entire process.
NAN: Family businesses or those formed by life partners or close friends can be challenging. How do you set boundaries to ensure you’re working well together?
SHEA: We had our second baby a few months ago, so that’s definitely added to the challenge! Still, we make time to have morning meetings to get organized and discuss our goals for the business each day.
Jeff works full-time and I’ve become a “mompreneur.” I left my full-time job after the baby was born to work on this business and take care of the kids. Juggling all that has been a challenge, but it’s also very exciting, which motivates us along the way.
In terms of our roles, I’m more connected with the customer side of things, finding communities to tap into—whether it’s people who tend to bring cash and a card to an event or those who are more eco-friendly and don’t want to leave a paper trail. I’m also working on getting people to use the site. Jeff is move involved with the business development side, finding the connections to help with the go to market strategy. So, we stay in our lanes.
NAN: Tell us about some of the other challenges to starting out or some things you’ve learned along the way.
JEFF: Like any business, we’ve been learning where we need to go to get everything set up. Figuring out the right ways to go to market has also been a challenge. From a personal standpoint, time management has certainly been something that’s been a challenge for us.
NAN: E-Bration has participated in XcellR8, which is part of the Connecticut Growth Network. How did you become involved and what have you gained from the experience?
JEFF: When we lived in Stamford, we were involved with several different entrepreneurial networking groups. One of them introduced us to CTNext, which is associated with XcellR8. That’s how we connected with Nerac President Kevin Bouley, who developed the XcellR8 program. And that’s how we connected with Innovation Destination Hartford.
From a business model perspective, XcellR8 has helped us with our pitch decks and helped us determine what to present to potential investors and customers. It’s also been a great resource for making connections. For example, the designer who has designed all our cards and invitations was a referral from somebody we met at XcellR8 and some of the marketing materials we put together have been through referrals too. Connecting with the right people has helped guide us toward getting everything we need to be ready to launch our website.
NAN: Let’s delve into marketing a little more. Who’s your clientele and how are you getting the word out?
SHEA: For the beta period, it’s been a combination of family and friends and referrals from our business contacts. We have a network of wedding planners and wedding vendors that has provided introductions to clients they’re working with and encouraged them to use E-Bration. We’ve also gotten connections from people who want to advertise E-Bration to their clients.
JEFF: Our visibility has been limited because the beta period has been very under the radar. But now that we’re publicly launching, we have a marketer that’s going to help us with our social media and we’re connecting with more people in the industry for additional referrals.
NAN: Any advice you’d offer to others who are thinking about launching a business or stepping into the world of entrepreneurship?
JEFF: If you have an idea you feel passionate about it, just go for it. We were debating whether it was the right time to pursue this business idea after our wedding, because Shea was pregnant at the time. Here we are two years later with two kids and a house. It would have been even crazier to start a business now. The lesson learned is that life’s only going to get crazier and busier. There’s no right time. So, when you have an idea, just jump in.