The joy of tying the knot can often be overshadowed by the stress of planning a wedding. And although we’ve stepped into the digital age, Australian couples still rely on glossy wedding magazines and word-of-mouth recommendations to find suppliers. Brisbane-based entrepreneur, Kristy Ouwerkerk, felt it was time the wedding industry experienced the full benefits of technology.
She discovered ways to overlay contemporary components onto this traditional industry and create what is now Veilability. Veilability’s mission is not only to connect engaged couples with venues, but also to make the entire process of planning a wedding simple, convenient and personalised.
Approximately 120,000 couples get married in Australia every year, spending an average of $47,000 per wedding. What we can’t measure is the anxiety that brides and grooms feel in the months leading up to their wedding day – making sure all the individual elements, from the flowers to the wedding cake, come together perfectly.
And Mrs Ouwerkerk knows the feeling all too well.
“Nothing has changed since I got married over a decade ago. Planning a wedding has always been a frustrating process, and I think the industry needs to leverage technology to keep up with the [modern lifestyle],” says Mrs Ouwerkerk.
While there are countless wedding blogs providing tips on how to make a wedding day ‘one to remember’, and online directories listing venues, Veilability aims to take it further. The team behind the startup is working aggressively towards making Veilability a one-stop-shop for venue owners and suppliers – such as photographers, florists, wedding cake makers, musicians, and more – to list their price, location, and availability.
At the moment, however, it’s in beta mode, and only offers venues in Brisbane. But unlike online directories, users can refine their search based on venue type, price range, amenities, reception room features, and more.
“There are a lot of personalisation options at the front end of the site. With other websites, finding a venue is a very time-consuming, manual process. Brides usually visit multiple directories, do Google searches, chat to her friends, and make a lot of phone calls to check availability,” says Mrs Ouwerkerk.
“Whereas on Veilability, all information is available at the user’s fingertips – cutting down the time it requires to find a venue from weeks or even months to just a few clicks.”
Mrs Ouwerkerk says it was important for them to deliver a ‘win-win’ solution where venue owners also benefit from listing their venues on the site.
“Traditionally, venues are incentivised to pay upfront so they’re listed on wedding directories. But there’s no guarantee on what they will get in return, so we spent a lot of time designing a revenue model that works well for venue owners. With Veilability, they can monitor their return on investment” she says.
“We implemented a combination of a premium and pay-per-performance business model. So it’s free to list your venue on Veilability, and only when a user books your venue through the site do you have to pay a percentage of that fee.”
In July 2012, Veilability was accepted into the iLab Technology accelerator program in Brisbane. Aside from the $20,000 stipend they received from the program, the business has been self-funded.
“It was important to spend time validating the idea first locally, in Brisbane, before considering raising capital,” says Mrs Ouwerkerk.
“I also think bootstrapping forces you to get creative with how you structure your income model, and it helps you keep a keen eye on how you’re spending.”
As one way of market-testing their product, the Veilability team went to a bridal expo and spoke to 1,200 brides, asking them to provide feedback on the site.
“We’ve had amazing responses from brides and professionals in the wedding industry. They agree Veilability is more than just an idea. And as much as I hate the term, I think Veilability is going to be a real game-changer; it’s going change the way couples plan their weddings,” says Mrs Ouwekerk.
The team spent considerable time watching users navigate the site, and realised they need to add new functionality as brides were using it differently to what was expected.
“Every step of the way, with every feature we wanted to add, we had to consider: Will this improve user experience? Will this improve operation efficiency? Will it generate more revenue? And if it didn’t, it was placed on the wish list,” says Mrs Ouwerkerk.
Now that they have market validation and a vivid idea of what the final product should look like, they’re considering investment.
“Investment will give us a big momentum push. We’ve started initial conversations with a few investors, and there seems to be quite a lot of interest in what we’re doing,” says Mrs Ouwerkerk.
Mrs Ouwerkerk says they’ll be staying “a bit under the radar” until they’re able to deliver a high fidelity version of the site.
“We’ll be doing a big PR push on Valentine’s Day, when most people propose,” she adds.
They will also be adding social media sharing features so the site inherently markets itself.
“Our target market, which is typically 25 to 35-year-old females, are very engaged with social media. We noticed that brides love sharing their wedding plans with family, friends and other brides on social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. We’ll be leveraging that because a high the degree of viral sharing means low customer acquisition cost,” says Mrs Ouwerkerk.
The biggest challenge throughout this ambitious project, Mrs Ouwerkerk says, has been conveying that there are no hidden catches.
“It’s a very traditional industry. Couples have been planning their weddings the same way for a very long time. Venue owners and service providers have been marketing themselves in the same way for just as long. For us to show up and say, ‘hey, we have an brand new business model, and it doesn’t cost you anything to list yourself on the site,” it’s going to invite some scepticism,” she says.
“We’ll be focusing on educating our target market and building credibility around what we do in the upcoming months.”
Veilability was recently a finalist in the Lord Mayor’s Business Awards on the High Growth Startup category.
“Being a finalist was a great honour; and there are some incredible startups coming out of Brisbane so to be selected as one was really special,” says Mrs Ouwerkerk.
Within 6 to 12 months of launching Veilability in Brisbane, Mrs Ouwekerk plans on expanding the product into other states and territories in Australia, integrating other wedding-related products and services on the site, and entering into international markets.