India is one country where weddings are an extremely extravagant affair and with that comes the pressure of handling it all well. There is no end to the number of things that require to be taken care of. From venue to shopping, from food to photography everything is expected to be perfect. Thankfully, someone has come up with a solution to make things easier. 7Vachan was founded by Minnat Lalpuria in 2012. With an experience and knowledge of domains like IT, digital agencies and business, she has created a perfect solution for every family planning a wedding. In this interview she shares in detail about her journey with 7Vachan, the services they are offering and their future plans.
1) Tell us about your educational and work background. How did the idea of 7vachan come to you and when did you start working on it? Did your educational and work background help you with the same?
I have pursued engineering and after completing my undergraduate degree, I joined TCS where I worked for a short while. As I was always fascinated by the world of digital marketing, I wanted to explore the field a bit. So, I started working with Quasar, a Mumbai-based company where I had the opportunity to work with some of their biggest clients including Kotak, Tata, and Skoda. Then I moved on to The Upper Storey, a Singapore-based digital agency and handled the India operations for them. While working here, I got a good international exposure as I got to interact with clients across India, Dubai, Australia and South East Asia. As I had plans to pursue my higher studies after gaining some corporate experience, I quit my job and I joined the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, after five years of work experience, for a post graduate MBA program. Post ISB, I was also bitten by the entrepreneurial bug – so I decided to take the plunge and started 7Vachan in 2012.
I don’t remember exactly when the idea of 7Vachan came to me! It wasn’t like I was struck by lightning on a rainy night, got up in the morning and started my company! Love lives, marriages, and family get-togethers have always been very close to my heart. Like any Indian girl, I grew up attending various events and was fascinated by the fanfare. But beyond the grandeur of these occasions and events, something else interested me most popping one question in my mind: I observed that there are 10+ million weddings happening in India every year yet a wedding planner does do not more than 20 weddings a year! So, where do people like you and me go? How do people who don’t hire a wedding planner plan the wedding? And when I thought of venturing out on my own, that was what I was reflecting upon! Almost all these million families go through the same gruelling process to make the D-day the most memorable event of their life. I wanted to create a difference in these million lives, and help them make their wedding a memorable yet hassle-free affair. That’s how 7Vachan was born – to simplify weddings!
I’d say that my educational background and previous work experience helped me tremendously along the way. My technical background helps me have intelligent conversations with my development team; my digital marketing experience is invaluable in running 7Vachan; and, obviously, the ISB experience is a great value-addition. Apart from the skills that I have honed, I learned to truly value the people I have met, and friends I have made.
2) How large is the wedding management and consultancy market in India? How do you plan to expand your reach to it?
Here’s what will give you some background, a clear picture, and an insight into the work that we do: the Indian wedding industry is over Rs 100,000 crore and it is growing at 25% to 30% annually. The estimated cost of a wedding with no expenses spared could range anywhere from Rs. 5 lakh to Rs. 5 crore. Now that’s a huge market segment and there is tremendous growth potential!
However, 7Vachan prefers not to be categorized as “Wedding Planners.” We are more like wedding consultants who help couples find what they need, at a lesser cost, and in lesser time. At this point in time, there is really nobody else in the market who is offering a similar service as ours.
Currently, we are about 250 weddings old and we intend to grow to a 1000 weddings in the coming year. We love to see dreams getting fulfilled! At the moment, most of our associations are premium; so our next expansion plan includes catering to the middle-class segment as well. That would mean we are looking at a market of more than 1 lakh of the total 10 million couples getting married every year.
3) What are some common problems that people face while planning their wedding that 7Vachan is capable of solving?
When we conducted a market study of engaged and married couples, we got to know some of the difficulties they face. It showed us that the perfect wedding venue is the most challenging part for almost all couples. The couples and their families end up spending a huge amount of time finding the right venue on the right date. More often than not, wedding dates are finalized keeping the venue availability in mind! People go through a lot of trouble and even use all sorts of personal obligations to get the best deals for the wedding. Leave alone negotiating, just going to every hotel to find out about the availability is itself a 6-7 weeks’ process.
Besides the venue, candid photography and the right make-up artist are huge challenges too. Finding the right person is like looking for a needle through a haystack.
4) What are the services that 7Vachan offers and how have they been priced?
Considering that couples found venue finalization to be the most crucial and challenging aspect of a wedding, we decided to tackle it in the most logical way. We created a platform that helped couples finalize their venue within a matter of days. All the 250 clients we helped so far were able to sign contracts with the venue partner in a week.
We have now gone a step ahead, and we’re making venue selection a 30-minute process. The intention is to make it as easy as booking a flight ticket. All that the customers have to do is simply share their requirements with us via a simple user interface (UI), and within minutes they will have a shortlist of their destination or hotel venues. They can then interact with our team and close this process within 3 days. It’s a win-win for both parties since hotels are getting the right customers, and families are getting the perfect venues. The coolest feature about this is that we are able to get venues for families that they thought were unaffordable, thanks to our tie-ups with five-star properties. Even if we put it at a very minimum, 7Vachan guarantees 10-50% savings on wedding venues. As for destination weddings, the savings could be as high as 35%.
7Vachan essentially helps you with all aspects of a wedding – from venue selection to shopping services, from selection of experts like photographer and make-up artist to deciding the menu. Currently, we offer 2 main packages depending on the service(s) the customer wants. And what we charge in return is just a minimal fee and I’d say it’s a minor expense in comparison to the savings the customer can make on the whole. For a minimal fee of Rs. 5,100, a customer can book a direct venue without any accommodation facilities and for a registration fee of Rs. 11,000, he can get a customized destination wedding package – we will conduct a research based on the customer’s requirements and get back to him a package suitable for him/her. Our packages come with huge benefits like research on photographer, make-up options, and even a cash-back offer on shopping services.
5) Weddings are an expensive affair. How is one able to reduce the costs involved by arranging wedding through 7Vachan?
Arranging a wedding through 7Vachan is certainly beneficial to our customers. Due to our long-standing associations with wedding professionals and brands, we have access to better deals which we then pass on to our customers. Thus we ensure that our customers get the best ‘value-for-money’ offer. From wedding venues to delicious menus, we can help them with any wedding-related need.
The clients can leave their headache to us, and just focus on themselves instead of running around. We show our customers how we are able to significantly save time and costs. Our average savings for a wedding venue alone are upwards of 20%, and this has helped many a customer to get ‘value for money’. In a few cases, customers have even managed to upgrade to a 5-star venue because of the deals we cracked.
6) As a growing business what are some of the main problems that you have faced and how have you tackled?
There have been many! The biggest challenge has been to distinguish ourselves from the “Wedding Planners”. Like I mentioned earlier, it was difficult to explain to the customers that we are not wedding planners, but are we are more like wedding consultants who help couples find what they need, at a lesser cost, and in lesser time.
In addition, like every start-up venture, it is difficult to find people who share our vision and can help us make 7vachan the brand we want it to become. There are many talented people out there, but to find one that can understand your dream and help you fulfill it is easier said than done. Having said that, I must say we have managed quite well so far and the 7vachan dream is growing! Now we have people coming on board leaving their high-paying corporate jobs to join us because they strongly believe in our concept. And that gives us some hope and boosts our morale.
Weddings in India are a major family event where the elders in the family play an important role in the decision-making process, and they are not very comfortable with the “online” part. They prefer a face-to-face meeting. But thanks to our result-oriented approach, we have managed to overcome such obstacles as well. I am still at the beginning of my journey, and I am sure I have many more lessons to learn as I grow.
7) How many weddings has 7vachan successfully organized and how has the feedback been?
In the last year-and-a-half, we have helped over 250 couples find the right people to partner with for their wedding requirements. From wedding venues to designer wear for the bride and the groom to the right candid photographer to capture all those special moments – whatever their needs might have been, we have provided the best options to them to choose from. Besides helping them strike good deals, we helped them save time, effort and money! The feedback we have been receiving has been both exhilarating and humbling.
Once a customer called Mr. Prathap Muniraju approached us to finalize his fiancée’s engagement ring. He was quite particular about it and wanted it to be perfect. Later, the happy customer shared his feedback with us – “The team was prompt in sending me ring designs via email and was constantly in touch sharing their industry expertise. Once I finalized the design, 7Vachan came back with quotes and proposals from trusted vendors which were out right attractive compared to market rates. The best thing about working with 7Vachan was that, I got all this done with few emails and phone calls. It was truly virtual. 7Vachan was a trusted partner who provided customized service at competitive rates. I was amazed at their dedication and already in talks to rope them in for my wedding preparations. In one sentence 7Vachan is your “Siri” for all your wedding needs.”
8) What is the revenue model of 7vachan? Is it looking for investors for expansion?
Initially we did things for free – just to see if people really find value in what we do. Later we sought their opinion on how much did they think we are worth! Initially when we were doing weddings manually, we knew it was a phase and that we were testing the waters. So we were not even thinking about money at that point in time. We knew we will make money somehow!
The real challenge for us was to ideate a platform that will serve multiple customers with different needs, create it, and then actually make it work! The new 7Vachan platform is now a month old and we’re serving multiple happy customers a day! We are neither charging the hotels to list with us nor are we charging a service percentage. However, we do take an initial registration fee so that we know it’s a serious customer. In return, we guarantee at least 20% savings on the venue booking. Obviously, once we reach a certain revenue threshold, we will take a percentage cut from the hotels – but that is still far away.
The most interesting part, however, is the Investment. You believe in an idea – great! Someone else believes in the same idea, it gives you a different high! We got a lot of recognition in the market quite early – maybe because we really were helping solve a problem. We had VCs, Angels & MNCs approaching us to know us better. However, I was not keen on raising a big amount. We were bootstrapped and then angel funded. However, we will start to look for funds actively in the coming quarter.
9) Who are the prominent competitors in this domain? How does 7vachan stand out from them?
Like I mentioned earlier, we don’t really have any competitors in the market right now because nobody else is offering a service similar to ours. That’s because we strive to make the lives of our clients easy by giving them exactly what they want, minus the hassles.
I’d say Personalization & Customisation are our greatest USPs. We understand the customer’s requirements and offer only relevant options for their perusal. We don’t believe in one size fits all! We are very thorough with our homework and we ensure that the customer gets only options that are a direct fit. Our team ensures a pleasant experience which makes wedding preparations a breeze.
10) As a woman entrepreneur, what advice do you want to give to those who are willing to set out in the entrepreneurial domain?
Women entrepreneurs are not a new phenomenon in India. But so far they were far and few in between. Also, the sectors and domains that women entrepreneurs explored were few. Needless to say, that trend is also undergoing a sea-change, with many women venturing out to head businesses and becoming successful at that. An analysis of ‘Countries where women are rising the fastest’ puts India as ‘South Asia’s Bright Spot for Female Entrepreneurs’. A study on successful women entrepreneurs across the world also states ‘Indian Women Leaders are the most powerful’. These are very encouraging statistics for a young budding woman entrepreneur like me.
The two golden rules that have helped me in my journey so far are…
Believe in yourself & your idea: It’s not so easy to walk a rosy path always. You will hit many roadblocks along the way. But believe in yourself and your idea – it is only your belief in your idea that will keep you going.
Listen actively: My greatest business mantra is: Keep your ears, and mind, open! Listen to everyone around you. Good ideas keep pouring in if you listen actively, and consciously. And every good idea can be bettered. Also, you will soon find that good advice will come to you from the unlikeliest of people and places. Of course, you will be the best person to know which ones to take seriously and which to discard. But keep an open mind & listen!