- Meet Wedding Academy Graduate and Wedding Coordinator Ayla Toyokawa. She also happens to be the Founder of top-rated wedding website builder and planning platform WedSites.
We recently caught up with Ayla for a chat to find out what she’s been up to since graduating.
Your business WedSites offers engaged couples a great wedding website platform, guest management AND wedding planning tools. Can you tell us a bit more about the key features and benefits of WedSites and why couples are raving about it?
Absolutely! WedSites is a wedding website builder and planning platform designed to be your one-stop-shop for everything you need to stay organised with your wedding. There are two major sides to our platform, the wedding website and our suite of planning tools. Both sides of our platform work together seamlessly to keep the couple on track and guide them through the planning process from start to finish.
Our wedding website builder is unique in that our templates are entirely customizable. Most wedding website builders have templates that you can choose from, but there is very little that you can actually customize. Couples who are looking to create a truly one-of-a-kind wedding website love our builder for this reason. We even have graphic designers and wedding stationers who are using WedSites to create a wedding website to match their physical invitation suites.
Once guests have RSVP’d through the website, this is where the fun begins! All of the guests’ responses are stored inside of the guest list manager for future reference. You can even send a gentle email reminder to any last-minute stragglers who haven’t RSVP’d.
The other side to our platform is our suite of planning tools which include a customisable wedding planning checklist, budget calculator and tracking, vendor contacts, and payment reminders, drag-and-drop seating chart tool, and a timeline builder.
When you first sign up to WedSites, we’ll ask you for your wedding date so the platform can create a custom checklist with due dates based on how much time you have to plan the event. The same goes for our budgeting tool, we ask our couples for their budget figure and the platform will give them a breakdown of how much they could realistically expect to spend for each category of their wedding to give them a starting point to work with.
The platform is designed to be collaborative, so the user can invite their partner, best friend, wedding coordinator, or anyone else who may be helping them plan into the platform to keep everyone on the same page and have all of this information in one easily accessible place.
As the wedding day approaches, couples can print off reports to hand over to their vendors as well. This will include everything from the seating chart and guest list with everyone’s dietary requirements, a vendor team contact sheet with everyone’s phone numbers, and the day-of timeline run sheet so everyone knows how the day will flow.
We’ve put a lot of thought into how to guide couples through the process to give them a digital helping hand. There’s a lot more packed inside of WedSites, so if anyone is interested in learning more check out wedsites.com!
How did you come up with the idea for WedSites? Tell us about your business journey and what inspired you.
My lightbulb moment for WedSites was when my BFF asked me to be her MOH. She was living in Japan at the time, I was in Australia, and her fiance was in Washington DC so we were in 3 different countries trying to plan a destination wedding in Hawaii. I’ve always had a love for wedding planning and when she asked me to be her MOH I wore it like a badge of honor, I was so excited and wanted to be the best MOH ever!
As we started planning her wedding, I noticed she had signed up for all these different tools, website builders, and created spreadsheets to keep track of her budget and guests. With everything scattered about, I secretly thought to myself, there has to be a more efficient way to plan this thing…
I scoured the internet in hopes of finding a great solution for her, but unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything that ticked all the boxes. All of the platforms I came across were mostly filled with ads and their tools weren’t as intuitive as I would have liked them to be. So that’s when I started wireframing an all-in-one platform that would have everything you need to plan a wedding.
Last year you released a series of virtual wedding features to help couples getting married during the pandemic. It sounds great! Can you tell us how this works?
When couples were forced to cancel or postpone their weddings overnight, we quickly realised that we needed to make it easy for our users to communicate these changes to their guests. Wedding websites are a great way to share and update a lot of information without much hesitation or additional costs, but the rules and restrictions that would be announced almost on a daily basis meant couples needed to get in touch with guests much faster.
We introduced a series of virtual wedding features including the sending of change-the-date ecards and email updates to help couples get in touch with their guests immediately.
The pandemic has also made it extremely difficult for overseas guests to attend the weddings of their loved ones, and as a result, we’ve seen the rise in virtual weddings. Couples are live-streaming their ceremonies to include their family and friends who would otherwise completely miss out on their big day.
Hosting a virtual wedding comes with its own unique set of logistical and technical challenges. Guests might not know where to go to see the live stream, or get confused by the lengthy zoom invitation URLs and not know what the password to get in is.
To help with this, we introduced integrations with popular video platforms like Zoom, Facebook Live, YouTube, and Vimeo so guests can go straight to your wedding website to view the virtual ceremony without any fuss. We’ve also introduced a virtual wedding guest book as a fun way for guests to leave their well wishes and upload selfies to share with the happy couple!
What a wonderful tool for couples! In a challenging year, how has this pivot to virtual services helped to grow your business?
We’ve seen a lot of growth over the 12 months because, now more than ever before, couples need an easy way to communicate with their guests. Sending long email threads, text messages, and calling each guest to keep them updated just isn’t practical. Couples are busy trying to juggle everything on top of planning a wedding, and they’re realising how easy it is to use a tool like WedSites to streamline communication and keep track of all the different things they need to remember to do.
WedSites was recently featured as the #1 wedding website builder amongst a list of big venture-backed names like The Knot, Zola, and Squarespace. What an incredible achievement! What has been integral to your growth and success?
Thank you! We’re a small startup based in Melbourne, Australia so it was quite exciting to be ranked the best wedding website builder amongst these big names. We designed and developed the product when we were getting married ourselves, so it really is a platform that has been designed for couples by couples! My experience planning my own wedding, working as a wedding coordinator, and studying at the Wedding Academy has also really contributed to the way we’ve designed the product.
Listening to our users, being able to iterate fast and giving our couples a great user experience has been integral to our growth. Word of mouth is powerful. Our couples are our biggest champions and we’ve also received a lot of support from our industry peers who believe in our mission to make the planning process easier for couples.