June 19, 2024

Thrive Insider

Exclusive stories of successful entrepreneurs

Ayla Toyokawa Wedding planner and Founder of WedSites

Who are you and what business did you start?

I’m the lead wedding planner and Founder of WedSites. We’re a tech startup that has created the world’s first all-in-one project management platform designed to help newly engaged couples streamline the wedding planning process.

What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I came up with the idea back in 2015 when my best friend asked me to be her Maid of Honor and help plan her destination wedding in Hawaii. At the time, she was in Japan, her fiance was in the US, and I was in Australia, so we were across 3 countries and timezones trying to plan their big day.

In an attempt to get organised, the bride hacked together a bunch of spreadsheets and signed up to different online planning tools trying to organize all sorts of things from bridesmaid jewelry, to venues, which ended up becoming one overwhelming mess. I secretly thought to myself, “there has got to be a better way to plan a wedding.”

I was determined to find a better solution for her, and that was my lightbulb moment. I felt inspired to create an all-in-one digital wedding planner with all the tools you’d need to streamline the wedding planning process, including a wedding website, online stationery, and a collaborative space to keep track of all your wedding related to-do’s and expenses.

Describe the process of launching the business.

I couldn’t launch the product in time for my best friend’s wedding but, shortly after my partner and I got engaged, together we built our first MVP. In 2018, we had 100 other couples signup for our beta and plan their weddings alongside us. We got a lot of great feedback over those 12 months and officially launched WedSites in late 2019, just before the pandemic. We have grown leaps and bounds this year, and it’s been so rewarding being able to help couples all around the world!

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Even though we’re an online platform, we want our couples to feel supported throughout the process so we make sure they know they’re talking to real people; just like they would when booking one of their wedding vendors. Word of mouth referrals is so important. There’s been countless times couples come to us saying they heard great things about us and were referred from a previous couple or someone in the industry!

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

We’ve grown our revenue by a thousand percent this year, and we’re just getting started. I’m very excited about the future! WedSites has also just launched a B2B side to the platform to help wedding planners and coordinators, who manage multiple weddings, the ability to streamline communication and give their clients an extraordinary professional experience when working with them.

Since becoming a profitable bootstrapped business, we have made a commitment to plant a tree for every couple who plans their wedding on WedSites as a symbol of their love and positive impact on the environment 🌳

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Entrepreneurship is an endless journey of self-development and overcoming challenges. Prioritising your personal development is an essential part of growth because the success of a business is often, if not always, tied to the founders. Surrounding yourself with likeminded people, stretching beyond your comfort zone to build confidence, and learning how to ask for help and support have been key to helping me grow as a founder.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We use a bunch of different tools! We use Tailwind and Buffer for scheduling social media posts. Asana for task and workflow management. Slack for in-house communication with our team, and Intercom for support and live chat with our users.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

The two books that helped me build my business are “Inspired” by Marty Cagan and “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek. For founder development, I recommend “Dare to Lead” by Brene Brown, “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert, and “Atomic Habits” by James Clear!

I also recommend downloading Headspace or listening to guided meditations by Dr. Joe Dispenza on Spotify to create some space; especially on those days when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Entrepreneurship is a lifelong journey so remember to be patient, things always take longer than you think, and enjoy the ride! Take action, try new things, make lots of mistakes and grow from it. It’s the only way to succeed in business.

Where can we go to learn more?