The 2015 edition of the pan-European startup contest Idea Challenge sees an increase in variety and internationality. The series of events re…
Photo credit: brides2bride; http://on.fb.me/1B7rHWy
Nearly ten years ago, Nikola was inspired to get into the wedding planning business after watching the romantic comedy “The Wedding Planner” with his girlfriend. Wasting no time, he launched a web page enabling couples to find helpful resources for planning their big event. The website grew so popular that Nikola soon became the go-to person for bringing new technologies to the Serbian wedding industry. He gradually started a few other small businesses within the field and even though it sometimes seemed haphazard, all his small steps finally led up to the creation in 2013 of his current startup, Brides2Bride.
Nikola’s decade-long experience as a wedding entrepreneur has shown him a number of ways to compare commitment one has to make in order to build a successful business and to maintain a happy marriage.
Many ex-brides want to dig deeper into the business of wedding planning, and we want to provide them a chance to do it.
For Brides2Bride, he hopes to use interactive technology to revolutionise the traditional way in which married women share their knowledge and experience with brides-to-be, thereby connecting his previous clients with potential new ones. An ex-bride takes on the role of a “mentor” by personally recommending a brand, a venue, musicians or a gown designer to a bride-to-be, and she is rewarded if the latter becomes a client.
“Many ex-brides want to dig deeper into the business of wedding planning, and we want to provide them a chance to do it,” says Nikola. Married women in Serbia seem more than interested to get involved – only three days after opening a call for mentors, Nikola got more than 300 applications, 1% of their annual recruitment goal.
His vision is to scale the platform globally. Though Nikola believes that “the wedding industry is huge, probably bigger than the gaming industry,” he knows that there are challenges to expanding internationally. “We’ll have to learn about different regional wedding customs. All weddings are 75% the same - you need the wedding attire, music, venue, etc. The other 25% is the cultural differences.”
Nikola says he couldn’t do it without his team, who are as passionate about the idea as he is. A few troubled partnerships in his previous endeavours taught him how to spot the right people, and Brides2Bride captured public attention from the beginning: in 2013 the team was awarded a 90,000 euros grant by the Serbian Innovation Fund to help develop a platform which will make wedding planning a piece of cake.
Photo credit: Nikola Vucicevic
After giving up his initial web page business, Nikola partnered with an investor to turn an empty warehouse into a full-service wedding venue. Nikola always knew he was good at sales, and he certainly proved it in this case.
He would invite couples to take tours of what would become the venue. While walking through the still barren, unpainted space, Nikola would paint a mental picture about how it was going to look like when it was finished. “Future brides were fascinated by my vision,” he recalls, “while the sceptical grooms-to-be thought their fiancees were crazy to believe me.” However, in the first year (2008) the venue hosted 30 wedding parties in less than two months, far exceeding the team’s goal of five weddings all year.
The best move he and his partner made, he explains, was “deciding to pay top prices for the best caterers, and the demand for our services proved this. We even had waiting lists in the first year!”
[Just as] stock market indexes fluctuate over time, revealing all crises, financial as well as political. So do our lives.
Even though the business was profitable, Nikola soon realised that brides wanted more. “My majority investor wasn’t ready to move past the success point we had reached,” he recalls. “I wanted to introduce some novel features and services, while he wasn’t much of a visionary.” Nikola had learnt his first lesson about partnering with investors. “Startups can’t progress with investors who only want a quick return on investment, rather than sharing the team’s values and vision.”
Even though he can’t recall a time in his life when he wasn’t an entrepreneur, he still had to take salary jobs to make ends meet, however, he learned something new with each one. Working in stock exchange before the 2008 crisis hit, for example, he observed similarities between financial market cycles and the paths of our lives.
He thought that just as “stock market indexes fluctuate over time, revealing all crises, financial as well as political. So do our lives. You can look at each day, each month or a year as a trend line with high and low points, and at each one there is something meaningful going on.”
Nikola soon came up with an idea for a new venture. He developed a website that helps to track one’s high and low points over a period of time. He assembled a new team of partners after leaving the venue business. This time, however, partnership brought more lessons-learnt than actual success. He came to realise that “vanity is a dark side of every entrepreneur. If you want to be successful, you have to put it aside. My partner this time fed my vanity. Investors were trying to point us in the right direction, but we wouldn’t listen.”
When Facebook released its own concept of a timeline, Nikola put his idea aside for a while, but has now integrated it into the overall Brides2Bride concept.
Nikola and the magical beans; Photo credit: Nikola Vucicevic
“Never put all your eggs in one basket. If they all break, you’ll be left with a lot of mess and no cards up your sleeve,” preaches Nikola, but of course he doesn’t recommend anyone to follow this business advice when it comes to marriage. He runs several small startups parallel to his priority project, Brides2Bride. “Small startups can bring necessary cash flow while you attempt to build a self-sustainable business or raise investment funds,” he believes. “And sometimes those small businesses can lead to a bigger idea.”
In 2013 Nikola launched “The Magical Beans,” one of his side startups, with only 10 dollars of investment. The magic occurs when one plants the Chinese-produced kidney bean – when the plant grows, an engraved message appears on the leaf. In only one month after launching sales online, Nikola made 2000 euros, which is about three times the average Serbian’s monthly salary.
“Some people would say that I don’t have a focus, but I wouldn’t agree,” he says. “You need to stay focused if you’re starting five major businesses and you want to change the world! Brides2Bride is slowly splitting up into three smaller, well-connected startups. While I have great teams that support me, my work day is twenty hours long, but I want to live this way.”
Though he won’t settle for only one startup at a time, Nikola lets the overarching Brides2Bride vision guide all his other projects. Another side project, launched last June, is an automated photo booth rental service. “It became self-sustainable after only five months in,” he boasts.
A few years down the road, Nikola is planning to add another high-tech feature to his package of wedding services: “Virtual reality is going to be huge and in five years everyone will have their own Oculus Rift,” he predicts. “Until that time comes, we’re looking into ways to use these new technologies so that couples, while still in the planning stages, can virtually experience how their wedding might be.”
So what’s been keeping Nikola in the wedding business for so long? He says it’s the ability to make people happy that is a recurring theme in all his businesses. “First of all, every wedding is a new challenge. Second, and most important, I make people’s dreams come true. Nothing beats smiles on the couple’s faces and the bond we develop while preparing for their special day.”
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