In our Q&A series, The Lightbulb, we ask innovators and entrepreneurs to tell us about how they turned their ideas into reality. This week we talk to The Curator’s Marica Frost who went from dealing with refugee law to building a free virtual wedding planner from scratch.
First of all, give us your elevator pitch for The Curator.
The Curator is a wedding planning web application that basically includes a directory of all the best wedding vendors in New Zealand. It also includes a budget tracker, an RSVP manager, and a customisable to-do list with pre-populated information that’s intended to guide couples through the wedding planning process.
For a lot of people it’s their first time planning one of these things and they often have no idea where to start or they forget things, so there are all these tools built into the application. Each couple creates an individual account that allows them to manage all their planning and organisation from one online platform.
We wanted to make sure the platform was really modern and relatable. We recognised it’s not just brides planning weddings these days and we really wanted the branding and tone of the product to reflect that.
What were you doing prior to this?
Prior and still currently, I work for Immigration New Zealand doing refugee determination. My background’s in international law and refugee law, so obviously this is very different. But I’ve recently resigned from refugee work to focus on this full time.
So what was it that sparked the idea for The Curator? What was your lightbulb moment?
I was reading through a wedding magazine last year and at the back, they had a bit for classified ads. I wondered why that wasn’t online, and when I looked online I found that it was in various forms. A lot of them weren’t very comprehensive: there were all these amazing vendors that weren’t on there. You could tell users would have to keep Googling to find that perfect vendor that they were looking for.
Then I started looking overseas and found a product in the US that had a directory and additional planning tools that’s been hugely successful. There was nothing like that in New Zealand so we kind of used that as a base to build our product, but for a New Zealand market and with a different tone and branding.
Did you have any interest in weddings at all? Did you have any experience planning a wedding yourself?
I recently got engaged about two months ago so I’m in the process of planning a wedding right now. But prior to that, I’d never planned a wedding. It’s a question I always got asked when I first started talking to vendors, asking if this was in response to my own stressful wedding project. But no, I’d had no wedding planning experience.
I’d always enjoyed event planning but hadn’t really thought about pursuing it as a career. I was just always organising dinners and extravagant birthdays for my family and friends. I also just love project management: finding a task, breaking it down, and figuring out the best way to approach it. I think those things combined was what led to the creation of this product, but it definitely wasn’t a conscious decision to head in that direction.
Will you be using the site to plan your wedding as well?
Yes, I’ve already been doing that which has been really helpful because I can experience it as an actual user would and find issues with the website and find out what can be made better. So it’s been really helpful from that perspective.
How did you go about making your idea into a reality?
I was chatting to a colleague of my partner and he was doing some business strategy consulting at the time. He really encouraged me to flesh out what the product might actually look like, so we worked together to figure out how it would work, who our audience would be etc. After that, I engaged web developers and from then on, it just kept rolling.
I started working on this probably just over a year ago, doing all the groundwork before building the actual website in August last year. That took way longer than expected, but we finally managed to launch in May.
At the moment, I’m the only employee but I’ve definitely had a lot of people help with various different things.
How do you go about selecting vendors to highlight? Is it based on personal preference, or just whoever gets it touch with you and says they want to be featured?
It’s a bit of both. When we first started, I got in touch with a bunch of vendors who I knew and loved. I then became aware of other businesses from the depths of Instagram, so the deeper I went the more I found.
There are no specific requirements [to be listed as a vendor]. It’s more about providing a platform for some of the best businesses in New Zealand, whether they’re big names like the Hunting Lodge or lesser known ones like the stay-at-home mum who makes cakes four times a year.
We really wanted to make sure the application was going to work for every couple which is why we have price points so users can get instant visibility of what sort of price they might be dealing with. We’re also looking to expand it to include different cultural elements. New Zealand is such a multicultural country and we want to acknowledge that within the platform and provide them as options. We’re really keen to develop that more over the next few months and just make it a super-inclusive platform that anyone feels like they can use.
What sources of income will The Curator have in order to be financially sustainable?
At the moment we’ve got about 350 vendors on the web app and the plan is to charge them an annual listing fee towards the end of this year. Right now, they’ve got six months free as we establish a bit of a base, gain some brand awareness, and try out the platform to see how it works while we build an audience. So that’ll be the main way of generating income, but there’ll be a lot of additional features as well.
We never wanted to charge the user – they’ve got enough to plan for when it comes to a wedding anyway – and we really wanted to make it accessible to everyone. And at the end of the day, having all these people coming through the website is what’s going to attract vendors who want to be there at the same time. It’ll always be free for users.
What’s been your biggest challenge so far?
I think working with a tech product but not having any tech experience has been pretty hard. The web app was built from scratch so I kind of had to understand what was going on and keep up with everything that was being built. So I had to teach myself quite a bit about web development and different online systems, SEO, and even just business in general. My background’s in refugee law, not business, so I had to read a lot of books on business and marketing. The costs associated with a tech product have been pretty challenging as well.
Having just recently launched in May, what’s been the response so far?
It’s been pretty amazing. We’ve had close to a thousand users sign up so far and it’s been growing every day. We’ve also had something like 80 different vendors come to us asking to be listed on the website. So it’s been pretty amazing considering we haven’t really done any marketing other than social media really.