How TheKnot.com Founders Built a $113 Million Business

Last Updated Sep 9, 2011 7:26 PM EDT

Relaxed. Approachable. Fun. These aren't terms one associates with heads of $100+ mm public companies. Yet, sitting across from David Liu and Carley Roney, co-founders of XO Group, Inc. (formerly TheKnot.com) on Thursday during the debut of BNET's new show, "Secrets of Successful Startups," those adjectives came to my mind.

You can easily imagine them in their humble startup days. Fifteen years ago, the duo (and two other co-founders, who have since left the company) stayed up all night working on a deck to show Ted Leonsis, then AOL's Vice Chairman, who termed it "the worst business plan I've ever seen." Leonsis still took a chance on the fledgling company, effectively launching TheKnot to an instant audience.

The co-founders seized upon their good fortune at AOL, started their own website, and turned that site into a sprawling business, with multiple revenue streams, from local advertising to invitation printing. XO Group now has $113 million in sales and employs 600 people in Silicon Alley, with major ambitions in China as well.

I've always thought that running a big public company would be such a bore and so impersonal. But, somehow Carley and David have maintained a sense of intimacy that is the marker of a smaller company. They describe their customers as their "community" with true fondness for them. For the couple, you can just tell that every day is still a startup day. Check out the full interview to see how they've kept their passion and excitement going, even after 15 years (Oh, and yes, they are married -- a fact they hid from their original VC investors -- but I wasn't referring to that!):


When it comes to secrets for success, I had to limit Carley and David to just four -- they had so many more. I'm not going to reveal them here. You'll have to watch the interview. But, one lesson that struck me as counterintuitive was their suggestion that PR can be better for brand awareness than advertising. Here's the clip for more on that lesson:


Tune in next Thursday (1:30 pm ET) for my Secrets of Successful Startups interview with Ben Kaufman, founder of Quirky.com!

Laurel Touby is the founder of mediabistro , the largest media community website in the US. Touby is an Internet pioneer, who started her company in 1996, took it to profitability, grew it to millions in sales, and sold it in 2007 for $23 million. She currently is an investor in and advisor to small Internet companies.

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    Laurel Touby is the founder of mediabistro, the largest media community website in the US. Touby is an Internet pioneer, who started her company in 1996, took it to profitability, grew it to millions in sales, and sold it in 2007 for $23 million. She currently is an investor in and advisor to small Internet companies.