INTERVIEW | AMY & MEL OF WEDSHED
Name: Amy Parfett and Mel McBride
Current Title / Company: Co-founders of WedShed
What was your first job out of university and how did you land that position?
Amy: My first job out of uni was as a writer for an Australian travel magazine. The mag was independently published by a boutique design agency so I ended up also landing a semi-permanent gig as a copywriter for some big Australian brands.
Somehow, I managed to convince the publishing editor of the mag to meet for a coffee and spent half an hour nervous-gushing about how much I wanted to write about all the amazing places in the world. He took pity on me and let into their office.
Sounds like a pretty solid first step into the media industry right? This is probably the time I should mention that I did all of this for close-to-free for more than six months just to get my foot in the door. Yes there were some ridiculously amazing perks like international travel and seeing my words published, but the reality was I was juggling my time writing with part-time work at a pub and a horse-riding centre while living at home and still saving zero dollars.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. I learned a lot about the media industry and agency life, which is where I spent the next seven years. I’m a believer that you get what you work for and it was probably this period that solidified that.
Mel: I started uni in my mid-twenties so my first job out of high school was working for an event management agency in the corporate industry. Think 400 delegates, big hotels and around 20 sponsors (shitty booths and all).
A friend of mine had been doing some administrative work for the business and mentioned they were after a full timer. I called them straight away, interviewed the next day and got the job. I think they gave me the job firstly because of friend referral (always good to keep networking) and secondly because they could see how eager I was to get involved. They recognised I was willing to do just about anything. Including earning a ridiculously low (definitely illegal) wage. The low wage was well worth it though, as I went from being too scared to answer the phone to managing entire events and I learnt some incredibly valuable lessons in client liaison, customer management and budgets.
What inspired you to create your business?
Amy: Mel and I were living in London a few years ago and an engaged girlfriend back home asked for help finding a unique wedding venue, as she was struggling. So we jumped online (naively thinking this can’t be too hard) - and were quickly stumped. Unless you stumbled upon a very lucky search term, the same (often boring) traditional venues kept cropping up.
We knew there had to be more amazing spaces out there, and that there must be plenty of venue owners who wanted an easier way to connect with couples. At the time, Airbnb had finally hit the mainstream and the concept of renting out privately owned spaces for holidays was no longer foreign. Yet, there was no Australian platform offering a similar service for events, particularly weddings.
It was very much a lightbulb moment - we realised after about an hour of searching for venues for our friend that there was a serious gap that needed to be filled and that we could be the people to bridge it.
Take us through a day in the life of your business?
Amy: Gosh, every day turns out to be different but mine usually includes a mix of all things marketing, branding, content, value creation for our stakeholders (venues, vendors and couples), social media andPR.
Mel: My priority is finding WedShed’s amazing venues and our fave vendors. I hate calling it sales, but it’s part of the process and the first step is to tell them about WedShed and how it works. If they’re keen to get involved I work with them to share their amazing space or service. If I have time, I try and get through some invoicing and reconciling our account with pesky receipts. I’ll also have a bit of customer service when we get enquiries or questions direct from couples.
Together we work on future developments and anything we struggle with day to day, even if it’s as small as an email. We also schedule in at least ten minutes of cute animal videos EVERY day.
Has anything surprised you about the journey to creating your business?
Amy: We started up WedShed having never worked in the wedding industry. We’ve been surprised (and so, so grateful) to be welcomed with open arms. I never imagined it to be such a supportive and collaborative industry and it’s made the sometimes hard and financially stressful slog of starting a new business that much easier.
Mel: I agree with Amy, it’s been so incredible to have other industry folk reaching out to us and giving us a big thumbs up for WedShed, in addition to how much support we’ve had from friends, family, friends of friends, randoms, old work colleagues. It’s awesome.
Obviously, your business has grown! So, let's talk money. Tell us about the intimidating process of finding funding for your business. Any advice for women who need to find funding for their own startups?
Mel: Amy and I came up with the idea of WedShed around two years prior to launching. It was that one idea (of many) we just couldn’t stop thinking about. So eventually we had the moment of ‘okay let’s do it’!
For us it was all about ‘when do we quit our career jobs’? We were lucky enough to able to drop down to part-time, but we still didn’t have the capital to invest in a website developer or designer. On our quest to find Australia’s coolest venues, we came across a gorgeous venue south of Sydney and the owner worked full-time in Sydney. We offered to manage the venue for them. This way we got the experience we needed in what it’s like to manage a venue and the finances to build WedShed.
My advice is to be completely transparent with your current employer about your business idea and try and give them a timeline. We both told our bosses about our WedShed plans nearly one year prior to quitting our jobs and they were very appreciative of this and it ended up giving us the flexibility to drop down to part-time work before fully committing to our business.
We knew how hard it was for couples to find a wedding venue but we had no idea what it was like for venues to market to these couples. So we learnt! My advice is to try and get experience in whatever field you’re planning to sell. If you want to own a cool cafe you should probably go and work in one first.
Another piece of advice is to take on all the advice you get - there will be a lot so grab a notebook and write it all down. Never rule anything out or be short sighted in what direction your business could go on the surface and underneath.
Your business has developed quite a following. Can you tell us a little bit about marketing your business? How did you spread the word?
Amy: It was really important to us to check that the industry saw a need for WedShed before we went ahead and built the platform. So in the development stage of the business, we reached out to a lot of different wedding vendors to introduce ourselves and get their feedback. I think this built up a level of advocacy, which helped spread the word once we launched. Relationships are everything to us.
I’m sure it’s no surprise that social media played (and continues to play) a massive role in building awareness of our brand. We also capitalised on the fact that there was no other website like WedShed out there when we launched and pitched ourselves as ‘the Airbnb for wedding venues’ to target media. The story was picked up by some really influential publishers which helped both raise awareness of WedShed and also create credibility at an early stage.
What do you think is the key to the success of your business?
Amy: I think it’s our authenticity. We both got engaged as we were building WedShed and so were literally living out the struggle that we’ve aimed to overcome, which is finding amazing wedding venues (and vendors) for weddings.
Having been in the shoes of our couples means we can cut the crap - we know that no one appreciates reading the same dated, regurgitated planning advice. We found ourselves eye-rolling at so many articles we read online when we were planning our weddings and vowed to always speak from the heart and share honest, no-BS advice we would give to any of our close friends.
Mel: What she said! And openly talking to our venues, vendors and couples - asking them what they want. Never assuming we know.
Best advice you ever received?
Amy: Do your best and be proud of that. Sorry it’s not something more exciting but it really applies across all fields in life.
Mel: So hard to choose one - but let’s go with never judge a book by it’s cover. Oldie but a goodie. We once met a very influential businessman in the early days of our business and he was wearing footy shorts and a T-shirt at an event we attended. We didn’t judge and ended up going for drinks after and getting some seriously awesome advice and contacts out if it.
I wish I knew how to …..
Amy: Use Photoshop. Do coding. Speak several languages. Practice self-discipline around chips, biscuits and anything containing sugar.
Mel: What she said and surf!
What is your coffee order?
Amy + Mel: Regular latte.
TV show do you wish was still on the air?
Amy: House of Cards…. OK it’s still available on Netflix but I’ve just recently finished the latest season and am still devastated that it’s going to be another year before I get my fill of filthy, corrupt American politics. Then again, I could just watch the upcoming election.
Mel: Melrose Place, Dawson’s Creek, Gossip Girl, The O.C… should I stop there?
Next travel destination?
Amy + Mel: Bali. We’ve got a dirty-thirty trip lined up next month with our best mates. Getting excited!
What advice would you give your 23 year old self?
Amy: You’re on the right path. You’re going to question what it is you want to do with your life time and time again but trust yourself and you’ll be fine. Also, you should try and floss every day because root canal therapy won’t tickle. Both times. Who am I kidding, you’re still not going to.
Mel: Don’t do anything differently except invest in the Sydney property market now or you might be living with your mum at 30.