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PODCAST: Our chat with Ayla Toyokawa, founder of Wedsites

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We had such a great chat with Ayla Toyokawa, founder of Wedsites, a wedding tech startup based in Melbourne. Wedsites is a very exciting project management platform, wedding website builder for couples, and vendor guide.

Transcript:

Anthony So Ayla, I’ve been looking forward to chatting to you. I’ve had a look at your website and I think you’re doing really great things.

Ayla  Thank you so much

Anthony Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, we’re always as videographers, we’re kind of, you know, generally the first few suppliers that couples secure and tick off their list. And because of that, we see how many couples are at their early stages of their planning and they’re always struggling a little bit. They’ve got to organize this massive event and not quite sure how to go about it. It’s always their first time, of course, for the most part, anyway. So, you know, I’m all about really trying to help our couples manage how they plan their wedding and offer suggestions in terms of supplies and approach that they might take. And hence why I’m excited to talk to you because you’ve got some really good tools, some digital tools that I’d love to learn more about. So tell me, how did it all start? Tell me a little bit about Wedsites and and how that how that can help couples with their planning.

Ayla  Sure. So I’ll tell you a little bit about me and how I got started with a Wedsites. So first, I guess my background is in tech start-ups, so in software, a web design and digital marketing. But ever since I was a little girl, I always had this love and appreciation for weddings, not necessarily to be the bride, but I just loved all the planning that went behind the scenes to bring together a really cool event. And if you’ve ever seen that episode of Friends where Monica pulls out that wedding planning binder, that was who I totally aspired to be. Growing up my friends always told me I’d be an excellent wedding planner, but my life kind of should be in different directions, mostly in the web and text base. And it wasn’t until my friend got engaged in 2015 when she asked me to be her maid of honor, that I discovered the world of weddings and witnessed firsthand how stressful the planning experience can be for couples. So at the time, she was planning a destination wedding in Hawaii from Japan. Her fiancee was living in Washington, D.C., and I was here in Melbourne. So we’re in three different time zones trying to plan her big day. She had all these different spreadsheets, email threads and online tools to organise the wedding and given my background working in the startup space and running my own business. I just found this to be really inefficient and I wondered why there wasn’t a more streamlined way of doing this. And I just couldn’t understand why she was using all these different tools. So I search the web. I was maid of honor. I wore that title like it was a badge of honor. And I wanted to find a better solution for her. But I couldn’t find anything that ticked all the boxes. So that’s really when I got the first inspiration for Wedsites and I started creating wireframe concepts for the platform. And then I got engaged back in 2016. And that’s when my now husband and I went into full design and development mode. And we launched a beta program with our first 200 couples who are also planning their 2019 wedding. And then during that period, we got a lot of great feedback and had a chance to have a lot of conversations to figure out what couples were really struggling with. And then earlier this year, back when we officially launched the program and have since welcomed over 2000 couples onto the platform to get them organized, set up a wedding website and streamlined the planning process.

Anthony Excellent. Excellent. So it’s only fairly recently that you have that you’ve launched?

Ayla Yes, it’s officially launched and it’s only been the beginning of this year, pretty much. So it hasn’t even been a year yet. We just had a long beta period to have as many conversations as we could with couples.

Anthony Yeah. Great. I mean, visiting your website, you would never really know how recent it’s been because it’s it’s so jam packed with content. Really useful tools. So it’s really impressive that you’ve gotten it this far.

Ayla  Oh, thank you so much.

Anthony So tell me a little bit about, you know, how it can help couples to have all the planning tools all in one place? And what I really like about your site is that a couple can go there and not actually be bombarded with ads for products and services. I mean, there’s suppliers that they can reach out to. But, you know, the actual interface is really nice and clean. Tell me a little bit about all the tools that they can get access to.

Ayla  Sure. So our platforms moduler so couples can actually choose which tools they want. So we’ve separated in into project management tools, the web site builder or they can get the whole suite of tools. Which also includes the ability to send out trackable digital stationery through the platform. But what I would say is probably the biggest sense that we offer couples is the ability to set up that wedding website so that they can easily capture online RSVP and manage their guest list. So you’ve probably seen that there’s different website builders out there. But what makes us different is that it’s specifically built for organizing a wedding and all our tools to work together seamlessly because we’re trying to reduce redundancies in their admin work and save time for them. And also guiding them along the way. Personally, I was very frustrated with the tools out there, so I wanted to build something for like minded couples who wanted something a bit more robust and catered specifically towards their needs rather than a cookie cutter solution or something that you have to hack together. So how it kind of works on Wedsites is the more you do on the platforms, Wedsites will take that information and help you move forward onto the next thing. So, for example, when you’re starting out with your guest list, the couple can restrict RSVP access to only those names on the guest list. So it kind of acts like your wedding concierge or like a bouncer of some sort. And then those guests start to RSVP on the website, their responses, dietary requirements, contact information and any other details of a couple at or on the RSVP form is going to be stored inside of a guest list database. And then from there, the couple can call reports to send off to the caterer or the venue coordinator. As we approach that wedding date.

Anthony  Fantastic.

Ayla Yeah that’s one part of it. And I know from interviewing couples and from my own experience, there’s always those last minute stragglers who miss that RSVP deadline and it can be quite frustrating to the couple. So we wanted to make this process really easy for them by using technology, so the tech can have that somewhat awkward conversation for them. The website will know which guests have missed that RSVP deadline and those you’re still waiting to hear back from. So what the couple can do is quickly follow up with the guests by sending them an RSVP reminder with a couple clicks rather than having to call or text each guest individually. And from what I’ve seen, once that reminder goes out, couples are usually able to get their RSVPs back within 24 to 48 hours.

Anthony Yeah, that’s fantastic. That’s really great. And then, you know, that’s only one one tool of a whole suite of tools that you have on there. The other is a tool for the floor plan for the night. Is that right?

Ayla  Yes, that’s right. So once you get your RSVPs back, the platform, will know exactly who is to be attending. So another great tool that we have is the drag and drop seating chart builder. So it gives a couple of the visual tools to work with. And we’ve got a lot of positive feedback on that because it’s something something couples struggle with.

Anthony Yeah. It is a very stressful thing, Ayla, to firstly put a guest list together and then deciding who’s going to sit with who. So any tool that will aid that process and that decision making is a good one, I reckon. So, look, it’s pretty obvious why you should use digital tools. It just makes things so much easier. Is there an app that accompanies the website or is that stage two of your development?

Ayla Oh, I’m sorry, an app?

Anthony  Is there an app? Yeah. Is there a mobile app?

Ayla Currently it’s a web app. And eventually we’re hoping to create a mobile app, but because of the way that the platform is designed, there’s quite a lot you can do. The best way to kind of get the most out of it, it would probably be on the web because you’re dealing with a lot of data. It’s a lot easier to see, but we will probably take bits of it and just make it easier to use from a mobile. So that might be the checklist bit and we’re still thinking about how to develop that app, but eventually, yes, we’d love to design a mobile app.

Anthony OK. Excellent. So why do you think couples should steer towards using more digital tools for their wedding planning process?

Ayla So I read in a recent survey that 80 percent of couples are going online to plan their wedding. So when you think about it, it really isn’t surprising, right? Couples are going online and look for inspiration. They’re searching for vendors and they’re using their phones and computers to plan. And while I totally romanticized the idea of how they make gigantic binder, it just wasn’t realistic for me to carry that around all the time. But on the flipside, when are we ever with out our phones. There’s a shift in media and I think it’s more practical for modern couples.

Anthony Yeah, for sure. Apart from tools, when you go to Wedsites, you know, what other content can couples find on the site?

Ayla So on Wedsites, we’ve got a blog which we have a lot of great free resources and advice for couples. And we’re also developing a vendor guide. So that’s going to be the next thing that we want. So we’re going to be developing our vendor feature out more robust so that couples can easily find some awesome vendors to work with.

Anthony Excellent. And of course, we’re on there too, aren’t we?

Ayla Yes, you guys, and we’re very thankful to have you guys on there.

Anthony  Excellent. So top five, what are your top five digital tools? You know, you’re a bit of an expert in this area now, aren’t you? And I know you’re going to say that all of your top five tools are probably sitting on Wedsites but are there any other tools that couples can use for either planning or for inspiration? What are your thoughts there?

Ayla Sure. What I’m seeing more and more, our grooms getting more involved in the weddings than the past, so having some sort of digital checklist or a project management tool where both couples or both people can take charge of certain aspects of the wedding to work together as a team to knock those things out. It’s really great to have. Whether you’re using a wedding specific tool like the one we have on Wedsites, or something more generic or a business tool like Asana or Base Camp. It’s just great to have this information on the cloud. So that’s my biggest thing. I think it’s really great to do your wedding planning or have your wedding planning information easily accessible from the cloud so that anyone can access that wherever they are.

Anthony Yeah, absolutely. Come on. Are couples able to send digital invitations from Wedsites?

Ayla Yes, yes, they are. So we have, as I mentioned, Wedsites is modular, so with the stationary plan, you get access to matching digital stationery to the website. So you can send out digital, save the dates or digital stationery or digital invitations. And again, when the guest clicks through from that stationery, they’ll be sent back to the website so that they can easily RSVP. So that’s kind of how it all ties together.

Anthony  Right. And can they embed video within that invitation?

Ayla  With the invitation, no they can’t embed video, but you can put a video onto the website.

Anthony You can put a video, okay. So, you know, we’ve often had requests for couples to do like, you know, an invitation video or an announcement of their own save the date type videos. So if that was produced, then they could stick it on their website page of Wedsites and then send the invitations off and put a link there for their guests to view. Is that right?

Ayla Yes they could. And actually, we could probably even put a video into the e-mail that goes out with the stationary. So there’s definitely a workaround here.

Anthony Yes. So this is something to put on your own to do list to get done potentially.

Ayla Yeah something to put on our road map!

Anthony  Absolutely. So lastly, a question about wedding planning. I know that, you’ve recently gone through the journey of organizing your very own wedding. What are some tips that you can offer all those amazing couples out there who are currently head down, planning, ticking things off? What are your five top tips for them on how to plan a great wedding?

Ayla  So I would say probably the biggest thing overall that I wish I could tell all couples is not getting caught up in perfection and just try your best to enjoy the process and really rock that fiancé title, because it’s such a short lived, special and exciting time in your lives. Because you’re gonna get so many different opinions thrown at you, but you just can’t please everyone. So you just need to own it and do what feels right and what really is authentic to you guys. Because that’s going to always be the right decision. And I did get married just last year. So in December of last year and I know I may have a biased opinion, but I really highly recommend couples to make a wedding website just because one, it’s a really great place to share information about your wedding. But more than that, it’s the perfect place to send guests to find answers to common questions. So things like how do I get to your venue or do you have a registry? What time does the reception start? Are kids allowed? And all those questions that you can answer on the website is going to save you time from having those conversations and answering them over and over again. Because if you think about it, the average Australian wedding has about 100 guests. And being able to send those people to your website to find out more information about your wedding is going to save you so much time. And I know that as a guest, I always appreciate it when couples have a wedding website because I know what to expect in the lead up to the wedding day. Things like if there’s parking, what’s the dress code, where to stay and if anything happens after the wedding, you know. So that that was a big thing for me and for us. We had about half of our guests coming from overseas. So we had a little travel guide section on our website to give guests our recommended cafes and restaurants in Melbourne, and how to get around on public transport and the sites to see. And I know that our guests really appreciated the travel guide, considering we were busy getting married and we couldn’t be there toward it. I really wanted to make sure that they had a great time. And everyone loved Melbourne.

Anthony  I’m sure they did. I’m sure they did. That’s fantastic. Ayla, thank you so much for your time.

Ayla Thanks Anthony, pleasure.

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