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Dearly Beloved, Please Send Cash

A Palo Alto company found a new way to raise venture capital: Get married.

Venture capitalists are playing Scrooge. Banks have locked their vaults. Even successful business owners are scrambling for cash.

A startup today needs a new strategy when it comes to raising cash. And Drue Kataoka and Svetlozar Kazanjiev have come up with one: Matrimony.

When the Palo Alto, Calif., couple got engaged last year, they came up with the brilliantly cheeky idea of tapping their wedding guests as funding sources. They dubbed the project "The World's First Startup Registry" and researched exactly what it would take to get their tech company, Aboomba, off the ground.

Take a VC to lunch? $291. A week's worth of health insurance? $134. Garage rental for a month? $250.

The Startup Registry

Kazanjiev and Kataoka got everything on their list. The most popular item? The Ikea shopping spree. The least? Hiring an outsourced engineer. It is the Valley, after all.

Feed an engineer for a day $273.97
Feed an outsourced engineer for a day0 $150
Buy a VC lunch $291
An hour with a lawyer $385
Peet's caffe lattes for a week $129.50
Domino's pizza for a week $62.93
A week of health insurance $134
Engineer desk upgrade $49.99
Ikea shopping spree $200
Windows XP SP2 Home Edition OEM $95.64
MS Office Professional Edition 2007 $205.17
Windows XP SP2 Home Edition OEM $95.64
Fry's shopping spree $300
Amazon EC2 Cloud web hosting for a week $134.40
Rent a friend's garage for a month $250
Utility bills for a month $53
"We wanted to make sure our guests were part of both important ventures that we are embarking on," Kazanjiev says. "And we leveraged the wedding and brought a lot of people in the [Silicon] Valley to create buzz and excitement around Aboomba."

Indeed, Kazanjiev and Kataoka, two Stanford grads with deep connections in the tech world, engineered their nuptials as if it were a serious business plan.

On the guest list: Venture capitalist Tim Draper, Bill Fenwick, co-founder of Fenwick & West LLP, one of the area's leading law firms, plus a coterie of the Valley's engineering and academic elite.

On the wedding website: A video of Kataoka, 31, an artist and blogger at ValleyZen, and Kazanjiev, 32, a tech entrepreneur. "Our registry is simple," he says, "and powered by PayPal."

The wedding announcement? Forget the society page. Kataoka hit the press circuit, landing coverage on local television and newspapers, and scads of blog entries on sites such as Gawker and NYTimes.com.

Soon, the list went viral, and people who weren't invited were inspired to give. Amazon Web Services offered a week of cloud hosting, a VC asked them to lunch and an entrepreneurship group, TiE Silicon Valley, threw them a fancy reception.

Kataoka and Kazanjiev tied the knot in Stanford in August, and they report it was in all ways a success: They got every item on their registry at least three times over--particularly impressive considering they've said almost nothing about what Aboomba will actually do once it launches next year.

"It's a platform that will empower entrepreneurship," Kazanjiev says. "We don't want the idea to leak out."

Draper, who gave a toast at the event (and bought the viral warfare item), didn't mind being tapped for cash. "I would rather people raise money for a startup than to end up with toasters and demitasse cups they don't need."

As for the honeymoon? There wasn't one, of course. The newlyweds have a business to launch.

Jennifer Wang is a staff writer at Entrepreneur magazine in Southern California.

Like this article? Get this issue right now on iPad, Nook or Kindle Fire.

This article was originally published in the December 2009 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Dearly Beloved, Please Send Cash.

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