Sara Margulis shark tank

Today we have the huge privilege of having Sara Margulis, Founder and CEO of Honeyfund.com and Plumfund.com, to share her successful company story of Honeyfund with us. If you found her familiar, that’s because she has appeared on Shark’s Tank before!

This is an IKIGUIDE exclusive on how entrepreneurs can use compelling storytelling to put a face to their company brands. Enjoy! –Team IKI


They say necessity is the mother of invention.

For us it certainly was. The idea for Honeyfund started when my fiancé, Josh, and I started making plans for our honeymoon. Our wedding was approaching fast, and we were trying to find a balance between having the perfect wedding day and saving enough money to take the honeymoon we’d been dreaming about: an exotic two-week getaway to Fiji.

While our parents pitched in generously for our big day, we were carrying a heavy portion of the costs, and there wasn’t much leftover for an $8,000 honeymoon. Since we were getting married a bit older than most couples, we didn’t really need the kinds of gifts you’d find on a traditional store registry.

We’d heard of honeymoon registries, and found several websites offering just the kinds of services we wanted, but the websites weren’t the quality we were expecting, and they charged crazy fees! We would have had to forego an entire day and night in Fiji in order to afford their services.

That’s when we came up with the idea for Honeyfund.

Josh crafted a simple page on our own wedding website for our wedding guests, listing all the aspects of our trip like sailing, romantic meals, island hopper flights, and massages. And it worked! Our guests gave more than $5,000 for our honeymoon in Fiji, and they raved about it! We were so delighted with the results that we decided to donate 10% of our honeymoon funds to charity.

Thanks to our simple honeymoon registry page,we had an AMAZING honeymoon in Fiji.

And we got a lot of positive feedback from our wedding guests! People from every age group and demographic, and even an expert in marketing whom I worked with at the time, kept urging us to run with the idea.

That’s when we decided to create something like our little honeymoon registry and make available to everyone, for free.

Josh had a great career working for Adobe as a software developer at the time, and I was working in marketing, which made us the ideal match to start a website like Honeyfund.

But before we could jump in head first, we had to do our homework. We wrote a business plan, and I did a lot of market research for it, gathering all the info we needed to understand the customer need, the competition and the cost of customer acquisition. After considering all the factors, it simply made too much sense to pass up.

The first thing we did was register the domain.

Neither one of us can remember who came up with “honeyfund” but we must have spent weeks brainstorming different names until we found the perfect one that was available to register as a domain! While we were building the site, we bid on the keyword ‘honeymoon registry’ on Google Adwords and drove traffic to our placeholder page, a simple email signup for interested users to get a notification of site launch.

While Josh was busy building the site functionality, I dove head on into learning everything there was to know about Search Engine Optimization (SEO). I bought the “SEO BOOK” by Aaron Wall and used a keyword analysis tool to find out what keywords people were searching for.

For example, ‘wedding gift etiquette’ was frequently searched, but didn’t produce a lot of good results. So I wrote about etiquette myself and we posted the info on the site. Our etiquette articles still rank highly even though it’s been almost 10 years.

Because we were committed to offering the site 100% free of charge, we settled on an ad-driven business model.

Our idea was to sell ads to local vendors and serve them with geo-targeting based on users self-reported zip codes. We launched the site on March 22, 2005 and blasted out the notifications. 40 people signed up in the first week.

We quickly figured out that the local ad-driven model wouldn’t work any time soon with 40 users/week. But because Honeyfund was a side project (Josh still had his day job) we had some time to figure out the business model while offering the service for free.

Around our third year, we had about 400 users per week signing up, and we started compiling a lot of specific requests from users for extra features on their page. We packaged the most popular features into a premium version and charged a low one-time fee. We surveyed users to confirm we had the best combination of features and price.

Honeyfund Premium was the game changer.

We became a profitable business in March of 2009. Josh quit his day job in October of 2010, four and a half years after we launched.

As incredible as it was to reach that milestone, and to see phenomenal organic growth, it also meant we couldn’t do it all ourselves. We hired our first employee in June 2012, to handle customer service.

As difficult as it was to get used to the idea of someone else taking care of our customers, it was a necessary step in transitioning from being workers in the business to being it’s executives (Josh is CTO, I’m CEO). It was necessary to finally turn our honeymoon registry idea into a real business.

Now our work is less answering email, developing features and buying keywords. And more finding the right people to join the Honeyfund team. Our philosophy is to hire only the smartest, most enjoyable people we can find. We want team members who are not only smarter than us, but also those we would want to have a beer with on a Friday after work.

Today we have 12 people on staff, five million unique visitors annually, an investment from Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary.

And a second crowdfunding site called Plumfund, which offers all occasion crowd gifting with the same free options as Honeyfund.

Do check out our websites at Honeyfund.com and Plumfund.com. We hoped you learned something from our journey that will help with your business idea!

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