Justin Miller never planned to be in the wedding business.
The photo-sharing app his Raleigh startup, Deja Mi Inc., created was supposed to be an alternative to the disposable cameras that were once ubiquitous at live music events. Though it never struck a chord with concert-goers, Miller, a 2003 graduate in graphic design, was confident it would catch on if only he and his team could find the right market.
WedPics, the product they launched three years ago this month, is the world’s largest and fastest-growing wedding photo-sharing app, and Miller is poised to launch a spinoff app in September.
“It’s an amazing testament to the team and the product,” he says. “When the odds were really stacked against us, we just spent every single day listening to our audience, testing, testing, testing, and shifting this idea that we had until we could catch fire. Now we are starting to reap the reward.”
WedPics has a presence in 185 countries and has been featured on CNN, BBC and Israeli television. It hosts more than 10,000 weddings every weekend and gets 1 million photo uploads every week.
“It’s a way to document the whole wedding experience and keep it private,” Miller says. “That way it is a very intimate place to share this very intimate experience.” Unlike social media sites, WedPics’ photo galleries are only for invited guests.
Here’s how it all works: Couples create a wedding on WedPics and are assigned a unique ID to share. They and invited guests can upload an unlimited number of photos and videos to their page. Couples can also post information for guests about places to stay, maps and links to bridal registries at major stores.
The app is free. Deja Mi makes its money filling orders for customized invitation cards and high-resolution photo prints.
Come September, Deja Mi plans to introduce a spinoff app called “Photo” — photoapp.com — for such events as births, family reunions, graduations and memorials. Miller expects many WedPics’ newlyweds will gravitate to the new app to document important events throughout their lives together.
Miller’s own life has taken a dizzying series of twists and turns since WedPics’ 2012 launch.
The product’s first meaningful press coverage — a feature story in The (Raleigh) News & Observer — brought a city official to his door with an order to move the company out of his home within 30 days or risk $500-a-day fines. With little cash and no place to go, Miller took his predicament to social media. Soon, he had close to 100 offers of help.
Deja Mi is now the largest tenant at HQ Raleigh, a coworking space for startups in downtown Raleigh. And important people are taking notice of the company.
Already, Miller has entertained — and rebuffed — an acquisition offer from the XO Group, owner of the all-everything wedding site, The Knot.
“It was amazing fuel for the fire for us and validation to say we’re onto something,” he says.
Miller has even become an unofficial city ambassador. Last year, he accompanied Mayor Nancy McFarlane to South by Southwest, the massive film, interactive and music festival in Austin, Texas, to promote Raleigh as a great place for e-businesses.
— Carole Tanzer Miller