Getting married? Thinking of changing your name but not sure? Sure but overwhelmed by the name-change process? Unsure on how to get a marriage license? Wondering if your fiancé has ever been secretly married? Just kidding on the last one but online entrepreneur, Danielle Tate, has made almost anything possible with her trio of websites aiming to solve information and paperwork challenges facing soon-to-be newlyweds.
But Tate wasn’t always a wedding-red-tape buster. As a teenager in Bedford, Pennsylvania, she had planned to go into medicine after working summers at a local doctor’s office. She enrolled at McDaniel College in Maryland and studied biology and psychology. The decision to specialize in cardiology came her second year when she received a Howard Hughes grant to spend a summer working in Ohio State University Hospital’s cardiology department.
But a career in the medical field was not meant to be. She just missed the mark in the final interview round at Baylor College of Medical in Texas. “I was pretty disappointed but I refused to move back to small-town Pennsylvania so I took the first job opportunity that came my way, selling Canon copiers and fax machines,” Tate recalls. She did the job for about a year but applied in the meantime for more senior sales positions as well as a place at Johns Hopkins’ nursing program.
On the day she received her acceptance letter from Johns Hopkins, she also was offered a job as a sales executive with a medical sales company. “At that age, it felt like the job opportunity of a lifetime. They offered a great salary, it came with a car and was all expenses paid. It was a tremendous product that was revolutionizing technology in cancer diagnostics so I felt the company would do really well. And yeah, I was tired of eating ramen,” she laughs.
At 22 years, Tate was the youngest Account Executive and one of the first women. She stayed for a few years and was the #1 sales representative in the company. She was at the top of her game and loved her job but then came a management reshuffle. She knew it was time for a change when she came home one day and told her new husband, “This isn’t fun anymore. He (her new manager) clips his toenails in my car. He takes credit for my sales. He makes my job harder not easier.”
Lurking in the back of her head was a plan. A year earlier when she got married, Tate took a rare day off work to change her name. She was amazed at the number of problems she encountered. “I was so frustrated when I came home, I told my husband it was unbelievable there was no online service for this kind of thing. He’s a serial entrepreneur so naturally he said, ‘You should do that.’ I turned on that for a little bit, but at the time I loved my job so I moved on.”
Fast forward one year and several toenail clippings later, she started doing some research and the opportunity quickly became apparent. “I was amazed to learn there 2.3 million marriages per year in the US and 88.6% of those women change their name. It’s a life-changing event where you can find and market to these people easily. So I took the plunge.”
Although as a top-performing sales associate, Tate could easily have found another position, she explains she was ready to be in charge of her own fate. “All of these different power shifts and changes within the corporation were always affecting me but I had little control over them. I often had ideas to grow and make money for the business but most of my suggestions went into a vacuum at work. Taking the entrepreneur path seemed a good way to put my own ideas into fruition, to take back some control.”
She ramped up her research at night and on weekends while continuing to work, but quit after her boss botched a million dollar deal in her name, at which point she threw herself full-time into her new venture.
Over the next months, she lived pretty intelligently. She had not insignificant savings and a small condo she shared with her husband. It took eight months to gather the data, calling every state DMV (department of motor vehicles) and collecting and coding all the documents. In his free time, her business partner and Chief Technology Officer, Mike, designed the software system behind the service. “We split the tasks. I am more responsible for the touch, the feel, the actual product, and the PR and marketing but I also own HTML for Dummies and coded all of the forms for our initial launch.”
Those eight months of research and the drudgery coding of placing check boxes and making them correlate with the database was worth it, “Within a half an hour of turning on Google ads we got our first customer. That was incredibly validating!”
With Tate, her husband, Culin, and Mike, each chipping in $5000, the site successfully launched in 2007. MissNowMrs.com aims to simplify the name-change process for U.S. brides and newlyweds. Guiding users through a series of questions, the answers to which are used to auto-populate state and U.S. government name-change forms, as well as notification letters to creditors. The site also supplies detailed filing instructions for each form/letter. As a sign of its success, MissNowMrs.com gift cards are now sold alongside the wedding and greeting card section at Rite Aid stores across the US.
Recognizing a great opportunity when she saw one, Tate has launched two sister sites under the holding company BlueBird LLC (bluebird because it symbolizes happiness and new beginnings). MarriedNameGame.com is an online 10-question quiz that educates brides-to-be about their name change options using a patent-pending algorithm based on correlations between key life factors and questions relevant to the woman’s personal preferences and state of residence. MarriageLicenseNow.com offers succinct and up-to-date marriage license information organized by county and state and hosts a community board for brides to share their experiences and information as they file for their marriage license.
“We always have something happening. I am not content unless I am growing and reaching,” says Tate, who also part owns a Megaformer studio in Bethesda, Maryland, and has a five-year-old daughter.
With imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, it is unsurprising that a series of copycats have popped up over the years. All of these have been challenged in the courts and shut down for their abuse of BlueBird’s intellectual property.
So does Tate have any regrets about not going down the medical school path? “Every so often I suppose. For a long time, I couldn’t watch any of those medical shows like Grey’s Anatomy or Scrubs without a tinge of regret. But when I see the flexibility I have today in terms of a balance between work and family life, I think I chose wisely.”
With numerous employees and a rigorous customer support service, BlueBird LLC has come a long way since Tate’s days sitting alone in her condo, coding forms, writing press releases and managing customer relations. “I did it all. I answered the phone, responded to emails. I couldn’t afford an administrative assistant so I bought a hamster called Beep Beep to keep me company. Technically he was the company’s first non-partner employee. He worked for sunflower seeds.”
- Don’t immediately quit your day job. Research your ideas, make sure there’s a market and that you have a plan.
- Look for a partner who counterbalances your weaknesses, if you are highly technical but lack sales skills for example look for someone to complement that.
- Put an operating agreement in place if you are working with a partner.
- Never wish for it more than you work for it. It’s so easy to dream, wish and wonder and not get out there and try