Entrepreneurship is not for the Faint Hearted: Madhulika Mathur, Founder WeddingSutra
From no internet freedom to a fully-fledged digital business – how Madhulika Mathur kick-started WeddingSutra — India’s leading wedding media company — is fun to know.
In the midst of internet war in 2000, Madhulika indulged herself into a life-event that is a burning business all the time in our country. WeddingSutra offers wedding plans advice online – it illustrates gorgeous fashion, trendy lifestyle features to appeal to a range of budgets and styles. Users can even share their wedding tales too.WeddingSutra caught quick positive feedback soon after it started and became the leading bridal brand reaching millions of to-be-weds in India and outside.
SheThePeople.TV met her to know more about her venture:
Madhulika, what inspired you to become an Entrepreneur?
WeddingSutra was founded in March 2000 – with two of my B-school classmates. Think about where the internet was then. The consumers had just started buying PCs for home, the internet still came from dial-up modems, there were no smartphones, instead, there was ICQ and chatrooms and a single photo took five minutes to load. It was also the year the dot-com bubble, which had been building up for the better part of three years, slowly began to pop. Valuations plummeted. Stocks went south. Companies folded. Fortunes were lost and investors ran from digital businesses.
Entrepreneurship is not for the faint hearted, it’s not a 9-5 job. The women who are chasing their dreams, pursuing their passion relentlessly, taking risks, working hard, fighting social norms and generating employment — this whole new generation of girls turning leaders makes me so proud.
In the middle of this nuclear winter for Internet companies, we founded WeddingSutra on the strength of the idea and the conviction that what we are creating is a quality business that for consumers who are information starved in a market that is almost recession proof. We made it our mission to create a fun, hip, user-generated resource for couples planning their weddings. The wedding world was in dire need for a new voice, and the web was the perfect place to break ground.
Few industries boast a more captive, ready-to-spend audience. Presumed to be a once-in-a-lifetime occasion, a wedding is a major milestone therefore, consumers tend to allocate significant budgets to the wedding and related purchases. Vendors and advertisers value to-be-weds as a very important consumer group. With a brand new consumer group each year wielding substantial budgets and facing a firm deadline, engaged couples are ideal recipients of advertisers’ messages and vendors’ products and services. Expensive clothes, shoes and jewellery are only some of the things which the bride is buying. She is also coordinating with her groom on purchasing honeymoon travel options, setting up a new home, looking at furniture, home accessories and the works.
In a country with a dismal sex ratio, where educated women with great work experience drop off the corporate scene to start families, it’s an incredible feeling to seem women setting up businesses – big and small.
For nearly 16 years we’ve helped millions of couples plan amazing, memorable weddings and we are currently the most popular and trusted resource and the most trafficked website on Indian Weddings.
What new trends are you introducing with ‘WeddingSutra’? What future plans do you have to take it to the next level?
A few things have happened in the last decade. One – Couples are getting hitched later in life which means they have been working for a while before their wedding, have savings and disposable income, and may be contributing to wedding expenses or in some rare cases, completely paying for the wedding.
Second – traditionally wedding decisions were usually taken by parents and elders in the family. But with changing family systems, the advent of nuclear families, multicultural weddings and families spread throughout the country, couples are increasingly getting more involved in the decision-making process.
Also read: How e-commerce is changing our lives
And it is how it should be. WeddingSutra is marching forward to allow more power to the to-be-weds. Whether it’s a big wedding or a small, intimate one; no matter what your budget is; WeddingSutra wants couples to find their own style to honour the day they tie the knot and our entire business model is designed to allow couples to personalise their wedding planning experience.
How can we distinguish WeddingSutra from other competition?
Internet space has no substantial barriers to entry so every year we see bridal blogs and vendor listing websites crop up, fight for attention and disappear because although it’s a very attractive market but it’s not easy to monetize. Your users stay for the duration of their wedding planning phase that typically lasts 6-12 months and then they are gone and you have to access the market for a new user base constantly.
So what has helped us keep our Number 1 spot in the market? It’s our fun, fresh voice that is hard to find in the noise of old school publishing; stylish editorial content; modern advice; our community of brides who having planned their own WeddingSutra come back to share their experiences with future brides-to-be; and our ability to create engaging marketing programs for our advertisers.
How did you manage the funding for the base operations initially?
When we launched, the venture capital funding had all but dried up because of the dot-com bust. We did manage to get Series-A funding, but we knew that for a very long time we would not be able to raise any money. So we focused on the revenue from day 1. We bootstrapped, we grew organically and that is probably a big reason we survived the nuclear winter that killed a lot of businesses. We had our fair share of near death experiences, but through persistence, we were able to overcome the challenge successfully.
Also Read: The Grand Indian Patriarchal Wedding
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced as an entrepreneur?
When you spend sixteen years in an industry that’s probably as old, there is no dearth of excitement, tensions and challenges. The biggest challenge for me as an entrepreneur has been finding the right talent to grow the business. You can’t do everything by yourself. So finding the right team who will build the business for you is always challenging in a country where people’s appetite for risk is low and startups traditionally were not seen as attractive places to work. Things have changed now with more people looking to work for small hip companies, but it wasn’t the case always.
Three core skills that help you become a successful entrepreneur:
- Curiosity – are you constantly asking questions? Are you looking for new ways to do things? Are you inquisitive and have an eager drive to understand what you don’t?
- Ability to juggle – Can you multi-task like a boss?
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement so far?
The best part of being an entrepreneur is not just the idea of creating something out of nothing, it’s the journey we have been on for last 16 years. Learning from our failures, pushing through the bad ideas to arrive at great ideas, and never letting the fear of failure stop us from pursuing what we believe in.
We are also incredibly proud to have created an organisation with a very friendly and supportive work culture where women find a great work life balance.
How digitisation helped your venture to grow?
It doesn’t matter if your business is brick-and-mortar or on the internet, you cannot ignore the fact that your consumers are spending more and more time on the internet today. Connect and join in the conversation with your audience. It allows you to iterate more quickly and test things and segment. It allows you to get inside the minds of your target audience, have more one-on-one conversations and get real-time feedback that is very valuable as a business owner.
I hate to stereotype gender-based strengths, but the ability to set goals and multitask, laser-sharp focus, empathy and being thick-skinned goes a long way in helping you succeed.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
- Enjoy what you are doing
- Follow your heart
- Building the Market:
- Pick your Business Partner well
Also Read: Challenges Women Entrepreneurs Face
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