They say everything's bigger in Texas, and when it comes to weddings, that’s usually true. As a rising star on the Dallas wedding scene, though, Meggie Francisco didn’t feel that bigger was always better, and she followed a hunch that told her other people would agree. In this episode, Jessica talks with Meggie about where that hunch led her, and what it’s like to settle into a new city as a self-made small business owner.
Cofounder of Kiva.org, the world’s first crowdfunded microlending website and the author of Clay Water Brick: Finding Inspiration From Entrepreneurs Who Do the Most With the Least.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Welcome to Points of Courage, where talk to entrepreneurs who have put a lot of sweat, some tears, and who knows how many hours into starting their own businesses. I'm your host, Jessica Jackley.
I took my own business risks about a decade when I started Kiva, a peer to peer microlending website that funds entrepreneurs around the world. Today, I teach and speak widely on entrepreneurship, and I also get to talk to incredible thinkers and innovators here, on Points of Courage.
I love having real conversations with entrepreneurs who have built their companies from the ground up, with nothing but their own drive, passion, and courage. And I'm constantly learning new things as I hear each one's unique journey. You should get ready to learn a lot too.
This podcast is brought to you by Hiscox Insurance, America's Number 1, online, small-business insurer. You can learn more about Hiscox at Hiscox.com, that's Hiscox.com. Hiscox, encourage, courage.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Today I'm here in the studio with a Texan, who, no rodeo pun intended, doesn't shy away from bucking the trend. Meggie Francisco left a corporate career to start a wedding planning business. Something that would terrify most people. Since then, she's made a habit of going against the grain. And she's here with me now, to talk about where that's landed her.
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: Hi! Thanks for having me.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Thank you for coming! So let's dive right in. When did you decide that you wanted to turn the hobby of helping friends plan their weddings into a full time job?
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: I had left a job where I had lot of creative control. I was doing marketing and new restaurant openings and photo shoots and all this really cool stuff for a restaurant brand in Texas. I took a chance to work for a tech firm for a year, which was really intellectually fulfilling, but it wasn't super creatively fulfilling. So on the side I had started to plan weddings for my friends. And that was such a creatively fulfilling thing to do as a hobby. And I just really enjoyed it. I had fun doing it. And in a lot of ways it didn't feel like work, but once people start calling you, that you actually don't even know, you're like "I don't think I can do this for free anymore. I think I need to probably start charging."
JESSICA JACKLEY: So out of curiosity, are you the person who, when the friend of a friend, or when somebody who you actually don't know,calls and says, "hey, I'm getting married, help me!" Are you somebody who felt like ... you had to say yes?
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: Initially the answer is yes. Absolutely. But as my involvement in these weddings grew more complex and I was expected to take more of a leadership role, and just naturally felt like, okay, it's time for me, to realize and admit to myself that I'm providing a whole lot of value here.
JESSICA JACKLEY: yes.
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: So to really answer your question, of course my first answer was, "yeah, sure!" I mean, I think you have to ...
JESSICA JACKLEY: Because you loved it! You enjoyed it.
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: You have to say yes to opportunities in your life. But you also need to find a point where you stand up for yourself and I think that cycle happens continuously when you're entrepreneur.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Yes. Gosh, we're like going right to the wisdom here. I agree, amen, I think what you're saying is really powerful and true an important for people to hear.
Did you feel stressed out at all thinking about that turning into an official business, or was it event by event, and slowly you realized, I got name this thing, I gotta get up and running and be more official?
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: I was hanging on pretty tightly to my corporate job. There was a lot of security in that. we had no concerns about finances or bills or student loan payments. I mean everything was fine, because I had this—
JESSICA JACKLEY: You had the plan?
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: Yeah! Everything was going great. One of the big things that held me back for awhile was ... the idea of the reality TV show wedding planner that you see all the time. That is not me!I do not walk into a room and say, "Oh my gosh! We need to ... drape that wall and there needs to be flowers growing all over the place on this side and we need crab cakes, because we do!" And you know, this over-the-top, larger than life personality that you see on all of these wedding shows, and I just felt like, if that's what it takes, to be a wedding planner, if that's what that's all about, that's not me?
JESSICA JACKLEY: Mhmm. Mhmmm.
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: So I really, I started learning more, because I just wanted to do a good job for these people that I was helping out. And I just asked a lot of questions and I talked to a lot of vendors who I perceived to be really good at their jobs, people like DJs, florists, officiants, and ... the ... overwhelming feedback I got during these conversations was, "You know what, there are some wedding planners who adopt that kind of an approach, and overall they have a hard time having success because nobody really wants to work with them!" That's not an overall team player kind of way to act,a when you come on in and it's all about you. It should never be about you, in any business you're doing, it should be about your clients.
So by really listening to the people that are successful in the field, I felt like that was the number one source of confidence that there is a need for what I can provide differently from my set of experiences and my career to benefit the vendor experience. And therefore benefit the clients.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Right, right, well and you strike me as incredibly thoughtful and collaborative in that approach. I mean, that sounds, it sounds like a pleasure, it would be a pleasure to work with you!
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: Thanks! I hope people feel that way. (laughs)
JESSICA JACKLEY: Unfortunately I already have gotten married. I can't, maybe we do like a renewal vow someday, and we'll be calling you. I have to make sure this gets said out loud, one of your former clients has written on your website, and this is a quote, "Besides choosing to marry each other, selecting Meggie to plan our wedding has proven to be the best decision we've made to date." I mean, is there a better possible review?
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: Uh, I think a big part of it is giving permission to people to value the things they value and to not do things because tradition, or the media dictate that you are supposed. When I talk with my couples, and when I'm talking with them about their budgets, always in the back of my mind is, "help them remember that this is this one day." And it's still a real live day, there's no such thing as a perfect day. Even your wedding day will never be perfect. There's just too many variables that are out of your control. You can't control the way people are going to...
JESSICA JACKLEY: I'm sure you have some stories. (laughs)
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: I've got a lot of stories. (laughs) Um, and there can still be business profit in that. I mean, I'm not running a charity. Neither are the vendors that I'm working with, but there are ways of doing it with a different approach that still creates really beautiful celebrations where vendors can be treated well and be paid appropriately, and everybody can come out of it, you know, doing really well.
JESSICA JACKLEY: I just keep thinking about how you've integrated so much. You've had these insights, and I wonder, as you've made this recent transition to ohio, what did you prioritize and how did you use that principle in rebuilding and growing a new base of clients in this new environment?
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: So I got the news my husband was going to move. A lot of people, when they found out, my vendor friends or my wedding planner friends, were like "Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry." That was the first thing they said. Like, as though something really tragic ha just happened. I felt, "This is my chance to hit the reset button and start over and start fresh with what I've learned about the industry, because those skills and that knowledge,,that's going to translate, that's going to transfer. I can't guarantee that I'm going to be successful in Ohio! It's a very different market. I don't know. But what I do know is that the biggest priority that I've had to have is honoring ... what I really believe in. Focusing on what I think is right instead of looking to the market to tell me what to do next."
JESSICA JACKLEY: I would say that is a huge sign of courage! And of strength that you have. To not just say, "Maybe I can do it." But to say, "I have an opportunity to reinvent and even leapfrog where I would've gone if I just continued to grow in my old environment."
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: You know maybe I could've worked my way up the ladder to try to score million dollar weddings down the road. If that's chump change to you, spend it, have a great time, that's fine, but that's not—return on investment is not limited to financial returns.
JESSICA JACKLEY: You value the process, you value the thing itself, and it's true, it's not just a means to an end, it's an end in and of itself, and I love that.
So I understand you have a minimalist philosophy, and again, this seems like quite the contrast to the dramatic, over the top, crazy superstar wedding planners that we've seen in movies and on TV. Tell me where that came from, and why it works.
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: One of the most important things I had to when starting my business was to provide really awesome consultations. I had to be able to sit down ttih these couple sand often with their parents or financial decision makers, and present .. myself in a very calm, cool, collected way, so that they could understand that I was going to come in and make zen of this wedding planning process.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Right, you could be this rock for them.
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: Right. And so I started to realize things like, you know there's a reason steve jobs always wore a black turtleneck. Because that's one less decision you have to make. Everyday is full of so many decisions, it's extremely stressful. And I felt like I really needed to streamline the number of decisions I was making on a daily basis. You know my wardrobe needs to be pared down.
Folders, physical folders full of all the papers for my clients' stuff, that needed to stop. You know, really cool stuff that just simplifies your life and makes it more about experiences and relationships. And yet, I'm working with clients who are so stressed out, and I felt like, "my gosh, we're planning these weddings, they're supposed to be a celebration of one of the most meaningful commitments you can make in your life. And here we are focused on all of this inessential stuff that has nothing to do with ... the union that you are committing to." And I started to feel this dichotomy between what I was doing for work everyday, and what I personally believed in. And that's not, a good place to be, honestly! So—
JESSICA JACKLEY: Good for you for noticing that and honoring that and kind of following that through to figure out how to integrate that difference that you saw.
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: I remember a specific instance where I really ... began to understand ... that I really did believe in this, but it really was not going to be an easy road. So I'm part of a lot of different industry groups, and I noticed a post someone made one day that said, "I just received an online invitation to a wedding. Is this a new trend with millennial or something, or what is this?" And I started to read the responses and comments and these are all from industry vendors. The one response that really got me was, someone who said "If I received an online invitation, I would RSVP that I couldn't come." And my response to that, which I did post, was, "Man, if that were me, as a client, inviting people to my wedding, I would say, that's a really good way to cut down on my guest list and not pay for open bar for somebody who doesn't really give a darn about me anyway!"
JESSICA JACKLEY: Right.
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: And the sheer volume of comments on it supporting, you know, oh well traditional etiquette and Emily Post say that you're supposed to have paper invitations and they're supposed to be calligraphy on the outer envelope—
JESSICA JACKLEY: Please. Right.
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: And there's supposed to be an inner envelope! Like, are you kidding me? An inner envelope? The reason for an inner envelope was that mail used to be delivered by horseback, so when you received a fancy invitation the outside envelope would be rashed with dirt and all kinds of other stuff because it was being delivered by a guy who had a satchel on his side—
JESSICA JACKLEY: I love that you know the history of this.This is great.
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: It's important to know (laughing)!
JESSICA JACKLEY: The mysteries revealed here, the answer's revealed.
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: YOu gotta know! You gotta know the rules to break them.
JESSICA JACKLEY: But I am just so impressed with your thoroughness, and it sounds like to me, and I hope I'm not cutting your story off, as I listen to you describe these kind of emotional spikes that come up and that are, I think so important, particularly for entrepreneurs to listen to, I think it takes courage to follow through on those moments, and it sounds like this was a moment for you, and you did exactly that.
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: And I won't say that ... you know, I had that experience, and I woke up the next day and rebranded my entire website, and, and you know, that just didn't happen, but I had to slowly and surely start having courage in my everyday conversations with my clients and with my vendor partners to start expressing that I don't necessarily believe in everything that we're promoting.
So the strategy that I took was, "I'm going to honor people, whether it's a vendor or a client, but I am going to challenge the processes." So for example. When you go into get a quote from the wedding florist, the florist is going to have a wedding checklist, it's going to have a list of all of the things that people will traditionally order. And it'll start off with your person flowers, your bouquet, your boutonnieres, your corsages for mom and grandma, all that stuff. So because this is the process, and because this is the way that it's been done, these couples sit down, and they think, well, um, I did three consultations with florists, and they all asked me how many boutonnieres I wanted, so I guess I'm supposed to be ordering boutonnieres.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Right. None of them said, "There's also an option to not choose these thing!
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: What I would start to do in those meetings was challenge it.
JESSICA JACKLEY: For aspiring entrepreneurs that might be listening, what is one thing you wish you'd know before you launched your company.
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: There are so many things (laughing) I wish I had known before I started my company. The biggest thing I wish I had been more aware of if is that setting boundaries properly is going to have a lot to do with what you're able to accomplish.
That can mean setting boundaries as far as what style of work you do. The hours that you're going to work. Setting expectations with the vendors or clients that you're going to work with for how you do things, or how you're going to serve people. I feel like in my business, I said, we talked about this is a little bit earlier, you know, I said yes all the time, and—
JESSICA JACKLEY: And there are seasons for that, right? There are seasons and particular sort of segments of your work, where saying yes a lot is great and finds you opportunities. However—
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: Yes, absolutely. However, it's okay to say no.
I wish I had recognized that not every opportunity had came my way was supposed to be part of my story, and it's okay to let those things go. It's okay to say no. You don't always have to be overachieving every minute of the day. Set some boundaries. If you have too many priorities, you don't have any priorities. So you gotta set boundaries with what you're trying to do.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Such good advice. Given how much you have invested in your business, how do you think about risk?
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: Being able to manage risk in a healthy way, means getting as much information as you can to try to make smart decisions, but also know you're never gonna have all the info you want, and you have to have the belief that you're gonna be okay, and you're gonna deal with it, if it goes wrong. I think you, when you decide to believe something about yourself, then it comes true. An I think if entrepreneurs are out there telling themselves, even if this decision is not successful, it's the best decision I can make at the time, and if it doesn't go right, then I'm gonna figure it out.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Right. Right.
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: Then I think, you, you will be successful.
JESSICA JACKLEY: I always find it interesting to hear who out there in the world who is doing great work in this independent way, as a small business owner, uses the word entrepreneur. And nobody's out there, dubbing you poof! Now you are officially an entrepreneur today. That you have really thought through what that means, and what things you've needed to establish to be official, to be legit.
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: I think a lot of that came from my corporate experience, was understanding processes and how to run a business successfully. But I knew the second I started my business, I had the chops to do it, and to do it well. But the first thing I started off with was getting my business house in order. And that really made me more competitive off the bat. Even things as simple as getting my business insurance right away, a lot of wedding industry vendors are not insured, and that is a big thing you need to ask about when you're planning your wedding, ask your vendors, "Do you carry business insurance?"
JESSICA JACKLEY: Right.
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: Really defining what my processes were going to be like. And what my documentation was going to look like. And how was I going to get my clients from A to Z and make sure we got every little thing done. There was a lot of little things that could be missed. So by taking my prior business experience from ...from working from other people, and saying, "What would I do a little differently? What did they do well that I need to carry into my business so that I'm successful?" I did a lot of that, and that, I feel, was really important in getting established right from the beginning.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Right. You have to, you have to structure and codify and formalize and have everything in order. But then you can be freed to really do the good work, do the exciting, creative work that's gonna have people just singing your praises, as they are.
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: The fun stuff! Right. The fun stuff.
JESSICA JACKLEY: So have you received a piece of advice over the last few years that had just become a kind of mantra?
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: I think it's important to, to realize that you're not gonna live with everybody, you're not gonna be everybody's best friend. You have to align yourself with people who share your values. Actively surround yourself with that. because if you're just trying to become the most popular wedding planner in the world or whatever, your message will get diluted, and you'll never be happy, no matter what you accomplish. And of course you want to surround yourself with people who disagree with you, too, to keep you honest.
But I think it's important to realize that.
JESSICA JACKLEY: I love the idea of surrounding yourself, maybe the tightest inner circle you have, you can surround yourself with the contrarians as well.
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: Yeah!
JESSICA JACKLEY: But the people that you go to regularly shouldn't be people that have to feel like you're putting on your armor, or you have to fight for your voice, your position.
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: Exactly.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Wonderful. Well, is there anything that I haven't asked that's in your mind, on your hear, that you'd like to share, again, with many aspiring entrepreneurs listening to this.
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: I think the biggest learning lesson that I have experienced that I would hope to pass on is that if you feel like there's a disconnect between what you're doing in your business, and what you would believe in personally in your day-to-day life, you've gotta address that. And it's really scary to do it, and in certain industries you'll be challenging the status quo and you may not make some friends from what you're doing. But ... if you stay true to what you want to do, you will find that people will jump on board with that. You have to be okay with challenging the status quo.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Well it is clear that you have mastered that, and I admire how you are doing what you are doing in the world. And will be cheering you on. So thank you again for spending the time with me today.
MEGGIE FRANCISCO: Thank you for having me. It's been a great time with you.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Meggie is somebody who saw the beauty of simplicity in wedding planning, and that's an area where, simplicity is the last word that comes to mind, I think, for that industry and for what I've always imagined a big successful wedding looks like. But she really honored here feeling, her perspective, her insight that maybe less is more.
People listening to this who have a different perspective, I think they can be incredibly encouraged and inspired by Meggie to honor those insights, and to in fact recognise that they can be what will add the most value, and what will set them apart from everybody else trying to do the same thing, the same old way.
Points of Courage is produced by Panoply Custom Studios and is brought to you by Hiscox Insurance, America's Number 1, online small business insurer. A big thanks for Meggie Francisco for coming by and sharing her story with us. To hear more inspirational stories of entrepreneurs taking a leap to start a business, subscribe to Points of Courage, wherever you get your podcasts.
I am Jessica Jackley, thank you for listening.
Want to learn more about Meggie and her wedding business? Go to Slate.com/pointsofcourage to read the article and check out more about her work.