Today we’d like to introduce you to Whitney Wing Drake.
Whitney, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My parents had already owned art galleries for about 10 years before I was even born and my grandparents were entrepreneurs before my parents. So I suppose entrepreneurialism was in my DNA. I remember as a child sitting on the floor, sifting through my mom’s oldies CDs, trying to find songs that would fit within the theme of their next gallery party. For example, when they were celebrating their 16th year in business and throwing an anniversary party to celebrate, my mom and I collected every song about “Sweet 16” we could find. They regularly hosted children’s programs, artist signings, and fundraisers for local wildlife charities. So I pretty much spent every weekend of my childhood planning or attending some type of event.
My first was for a local movie theatre, where I scooped popcorn, cleaned theaters, and collected minimum wage paychecks. It was far from thrilling and I never intended on it being my future. But over time I learned of the various opportunities the theatre had to organize events. Along with a coworker I’d befriended, we asked if we could spearhead a few of them. We began with The Variety Hearts Club Charity drive, where employees sold gold heart pins at the box office and the proceeds went to an international children’s fund. We ended up being the top selling theatre three years in a row. We next hosted a special family day, sponsored by Paramount Pictures, to promote the animated movie “Rugrats in Paris.” We ended up winning a national award for that event and we were invited to lunch with the VP of Marketing at Paramount Pictures. We had an incredible lunch on the Paramount lot (I’ll never forget the crab cakes) and I was given so much valuable advice on how to coordinate events within the film industry. I was only 18 at this time so this really was a game-changer for me, in terms of next steps for the rest of my life.
I ended up being asked to join the management team at Arclight Cinemas’ flagship location at Hollywood and Vine. There I got to be part of some very large-scale, high-budget events, such as the premieres for Austin Powers, Shrek, Minority Report, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and The Crocodile Hunter Movie. I definitely became enamored by the glamour of red carpets and Hollywood lights, and thoroughly enjoyed my next couple years there. Ultimately I decided I needed to focus on completing my degree and working all night long wasn’t conducive to being in class the following morning at 8:00 am.
So I wrapped up my degree in Philosophy at UCLA and then decided to reevaluate what I wanted to do next. I made the decision that my heart undoubtedly lied in event coordination but that I would find the most personal gratification in planning weddings. I loved the idea of being a part of such an important moment in a couple’s lives (I kind of compared it to being a doctor in the hospital room the moment a baby is born). I planned my own July 2007 wedding and I was hooked! So I decided to go at it on my own and launched Wish Wonder Dream that September 2007. I didn’t have two pennies to rub together so I learned how to design my own website, create and print my own collateral, and my trusty husband, Daniel became my one and only assistant. I got my first job because a high school friend of mine had become a wedding DJ and referred me to his clients.
Fortunately for me, that first job was a fantastic estate in Beverly Hills and the photos were stunning. I was able to use them to build my online portfolio and then a few other clients saw the photos and thought I’d be a good fit for their vision. I charged almost nothing and probably spent my own money when all was said and done. But it allowed me to build a portfolio which is really what it’s all about. Every year I raised my prices between 10-20% and I was able to afford online advertising in 2010. After each wedding I coordinated, I asked the couple to post a review of us, and business really picked up when I won my first Best of The Knot award in 2011. I realized more and more that professionalism and business ethics were the fundamental keys to success, so when vendors offered “kickbacks” for client referrals I always declined. I saw how that could easily lead to biases and it was crucially important to me that the referrals I sent clients were driven solely by my belief that they’d be the right vendor for them. I hired my first assistant in 2011 and instilled the same principles in her – work hard, be honest, care deeply about the clients, and always remember what an honor and an obligation it is to be chosen by a couple on such an important day in their lives.
I opened a Studio in 2011 and then took over the offices next door in 2014. We’re in an adorable British-themed building in the very picturesque Shopper’s Lane District of Pasadena. There, we’re able to meet clients for planning meetings as well as style sessions. We can also invite their vendors to come in for previews of floral centerpieces, stationery samples, etc. It’s a fun, creative space, constantly abuzz with new concepts and ideas for bringing clients’ weddings to life. I love being there because my teams’ passion and enthusiasm literally gives me a high. My mood lifts from 0 to 10 as I head up the stairs to the Studio. Today, our team includes 3 Principal Coordinators, 10 Assistant Coordinators, and 6 Interns. We’re expecting our first international intern to come stay with us later this year and we’re also in talks to run our own wedding venue later this year.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I can’t complain too much because I believe everything that happens is designed to teach me something. I try to be very Tao about it and let the lessons come. The struggles I’ve faced have been much more effective at making me a better, stronger wedding planner than any of the successes I’ve experienced. So I guess as long as I can learn from a mistake, and not make it twice, then I am ok with mistakes. And I say the same thing to my team.
When you’re working with brides and grooms on a day when the stakes are at an all-time high, there are bound to be struggles. Sometimes they come in the form of difficult family dynamics, strained relationships with a parent or sibling, or even two families who don’t get along and are unwilling to be supportive of the marriage. These are such sad stories and I wish I could say they are rare, but they’re not. These are struggles we deal with regularly. Sometimes we have to put on our ‘therapist hat’ and mediate a family issue right there in our Studio. It’s not ideal and we’re not formally trained in these matters, but frequently an argument breaks out between a bride and a groom, or a bride and her mother, and all we can do is our best to help smooth things over.
Another struggle we face are the unexpected surprises that pop up on a wedding day – such as rain, a no-show vendor, centerpieces that don’t look at all like what the bride ordered, disgruntled guests, scheduling delays, a difficult venue, bad hair, a stain on the wedding dress, an intoxicated bride/groom/bride & groom, an uninvited guest, etc. I could go on and on with this list. All I can say is that there is a reason I only hire level-headed, fast-footed, well-trained, and highly experienced staff. We work through all types of hypothetical situations at our staff meetings and I speak with each Principal Coordinator after every wedding to talk through what went well/didn’t go well. As long as we show up at every wedding prepared for the unexpected and with a deep recognition of what the day is all about, we’re able to work our magic – and sometimes even miracles.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Wish Wonder Dream – what should we know?
We are a wedding coordination and styling company based in sunny Southern California. We’re celebrating our 10th year in business this year which we are incredibly proud of. We specialize in mid-range wedding budgets, although we certainly have experience in lower budgets as well as very high budgets (including several celebrity weddings). We’ve been featured on a top rated show on the E! network and our weddings can be seen in every major wedding blog/publication in the industry. We have a large team of coordinators and stylists who are extremely passionate and experienced. They go above and beyond for their clients, in every sense. Our studio and offices are located in Pasadena and we coordinate weddings in Los Angeles, Orange County, Temecula, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez, and sometimes in Carmel Valley and Napa/Sonoma.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
First and foremost I have to give credit to Dr. Janice Daurio, a professor in college who made a VERY large impact. She took me out for coffee after class to ‘talk philosophy’ and she literally opened my mind to a world I didn’t know existed. I declared Philosophy as my major as a result of her influence, and while it doesn’t immediately seem like Philosophy would have much to do with wedding coordination, it really does. I learned to think, to express myself, to write, and to see so many different perspectives. I feel it makes me a better business owner, for my clients and for my team. And the years I spent studying ethics has definitely shaped the approach I take to business ownership and to being an upstanding member of the wedding industry, as a whole.
I have to thank my husband, who worked tirelessly for the both of us so I could spend years growing my company. He believed in me, he supported me emotionally and financially, and he even served as my assistant at weddings during the company’s formative years.
I owe quite a bit to Mark Mulcahy, the VP of In-Theatre Marketing at Paramount Pictures. He inspired my desire to coordinate events in Hollywood, which was a valuable part of my growth and development in the planning industry. And he saw the potential in a teenage girl with big dreams.
And finally, I have to thank my team. I am blown away regularly by the lengths they go to serve their clients. These are not tasks I ask of them, they do them on their own. They show their genuine love for their jobs every day, by bringing their A game and it just makes me feel good to see them flourish. If I had a small part in building a company that has helped them fulfill their dreams then I’ve fulfilled mine.
- Wedding Coordination packages start at $1875
- Address: 380 S. Lake Ave suite 201
Pasadena, CA 91101
- Website: http://wishwonderdream.com
- Phone: (626) 689-4004
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: @wishlovesthis
- Facebook: wishwonderdream
Sylvie Gill, Daniel Drake, Hugh Forte, Brian Leahy, Gina and Ryan, Brett Hickman, Braedon Flynn