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Ayla Toyokawa


Business: WEDSITES

What? A wedding website builder and project management platform to help couples plan their weddings.


How did the idea for your business first come about?

 The concept to create a project management platform for wedding planning came about when I was maid of honor for my childhood BFF who was planning a destination wedding in Hawaii. She was in Japan at the time, her fiancé was working in America, and I was living in Australia.

 As you can imagine, there’s a lot that goes into wedding planning. When my BFF was planning hers, I noticed she was using all these different online tools to keep track of her guest list, tasks, budget, contracts, build her wedding website, and the list goes on.

 I love automation and time-saving hacks, and I have been running my own software business for 7 years. So by nature, my brain works in a systems and processes kind of way.

So when I saw her jump between all these tools, I just thought, isn’t there a more efficient way to plan a wedding? Like an all-in-one platform? The geek in me scoured the web for a solution, but I couldn’t find one. And thus, WEDSITES was born!


When did you have a ‘f*ck-it moment’ and decide you were going to go all-in and start your business?

Before I started building the platform, I started talking to different people who recently got engaged, have been married for a while, and women who have been in a relationship for a while (and have their secret wedding Pinterest boards) to see what they thought of the concept.

The response was great! I got really great feedback and insights into how people were planning their weddings.

The day Takumi and I got engaged was the moment I was all-in. By that point I had fully mapped out what I wanted this platform to be, and I knew I wanted to use WEDSITES to plan my own wedding.


What were some major challenges you had when starting your business? And how did you overcome them?

 For years I had been working from home building my first software business. Over time I felt myself slowly burning out. Not just from working 14 hours a day, but I was starting to feel quite lonely.

It wasn’t until I started going to a co-working space called One Roof when I started to realise what I had been missing this entire time. Looking back, I underestimated the need for human connection. I was so focused on building my business that I didn’t even consider the other areas of my life.

 Entrepreneurship can be a lonely road at times and I’ve discovered the importance of finding a group of like-minded people who understand the journey.

I know there are many more challenges ahead, but I’m up for it.


What has been your biggest “pinch me” moment?

I think founders always remember their first sale.

 For months I had a waitlist up on our website for anyone who was interested to sign up.

 One day this woman emailed me saying she was super keen to get started and happy to pay for it. At the time, I hadn’t even set up our payment gateway so I was scrambling to figure out how to get her on the platform. I ended up sending her a PayPal invoice using my personal account assuming she’d probably lose trust in our brand, but she paid it immediately!

 It’s true when they say, “when you buy from a small business, an actual person does a little happy dance.” That person was me, and it’s not even about the money. It was the fact that someone believed in what we had to offer and was willing to pay for it.

 In that moment, we had validation and that meant the world to me.


Starting a business can be gruelling - what keeps you motivated, and keeps you going?

I feel very aligned with what I’m doing right now at WEDSITES. My friends in high school always told me that I should become a wedding planner, but my career led me to anything but that. I worked in a law firm for a while, until I realised it wasn't for me and dove head first into the digital space.

Life is mysterious in so many ways, and I feel like things have come full circle. Fast forward 12 years, and every morning I wake up excited to tackle the day to help couples all around the world plan one of the most exciting events of their lives!

How do you create a work-life balance?

When you’re starting out a business, I don’t think work-life balance exists. There’s work and then there’s life. There’s no balance because you’re busy hustling your buns off to get the business going.

Takumi and I have been running businesses together for years, and that can be tough. We’re both workaholics, but over the years we’ve learned how to set boundaries and make time for each other outside of work. And that’s important too.

 I have an office in the city and Takumi works from his home office. We have a rule that when I get home, the door to the office stays closed and it’s our time to enjoy the rest of the night as a couple.


Personal/Favourite Quote

 Start before you are ready.