Staying close to the customers and understanding their needs is how Easy Weddings CEO Matt Butterworth keeps himself abreast of the trends and the demands of the market. While he makes wedding planning a breeze for couples, his journey to building his business was not without challenges and obstacles.
When the internet gained popularity among the public, Matt became so interested in it that he bought a book called “Learn HTML in 24 Hours” to see if he could build a website. He started playing around the HTML codes and eventually cracked it after three weeks. “But the book was lying to me. It wasn’t 24 hours,” Matt jokingly said as he narrated the early beginnings of his business. Serious on his pursuit of learning to build a website, Matt went back to university to study computer programming.
One of the things Matt wanted to do was to build a website but he needed a topic to base it on. Matt and his then-fiancée, now wife, Katrina were also looking for resources online that would make planning their wedding easy but found none. That inspired him to build a cool website that people would love to use to plan their wedding. Similarly, it was a familiar area for Matt because of the family business. “Since I already know a little bit about weddings, doing a lot of marquee weddings in the past, I based my site on it. We went from there. I built the website over the next few months and thought of making it into a business,” explains Matt.
Growing up in family businesses all his life, Matt was exposed to this kind of work early on. From the age of 4 to 14 years old, they ran a paddle boat business on the holidays. Afterwards, they went into the catering and party hire venture, which started with only his father, a chef, and his mother and him in the business before they grew it to 60 staff members. That time until he was 22 years old, he was so involved in the family business, doing party hire and marquees during the week and then functions and catering during the weekend.
Those experiences laid the foundation for his own enterprise when he eventually went on his own. Despite his exposure to entrepreneurship, Matt found that there were still challenges he had to surpass when he became a business owner. Doing it all on his own entailed more effort and sacrifices, especially that his business concept was not yet mainstream at that time.
When he put up his website, people were still used to the traditional way of advertising their businesses. “Back in 2000 to 2005, people wouldn’t want to advertise online. They’ll just advertise in the yellow pages.” In fact, businesses during those days didn’t even have an email address or a website, yet. Matt had to convince them to advertise with them by offering to build their website and set up their email addresses. It took a bit of education for these companies to catch on with what Matt was offering, while it also presented a huge opportunity to tap since the terrain was still uncharted. Unfazed, Matt kept pushing on and went about showing the value of their business to wedding suppliers. He and his team kept in constant contact with wedding suppliers as they travelled around the country doing education nights and similar activities, which they still do until this day.
Their persistence paid off. “It was just one client after another. It was more of moving them away from the yellow pages onto Easy Weddings. Before we knew it, we had about 1,200 suppliers advertising with us around the country. We ended up to be the number one wedding site in the country in about 2008.” And as Easy Weddings progressed, they had also deepened their relationship with their suppliers by not just providing them with advertising opportunities but by also supporting them in growing their businesses.
However, Easy Weddings was not the first when it comes to offering online advertisement spots. Based on Matt’s account, “There were a lot of other players in the market. We just managed to scale up our business quicker than the others. The market in Australia wasn't really big enough to sustain many big players. For us, our main challenge was battling Instagram, Google, Pinterest and other billion-dollar companies. To compete for the user's time online, we needed to create a good product, one that was sticky and can justify them leaving Facebook and Pinterest and so on.”
The way Matt’s business operates, brides or couples use the site for the 18 months that takes to plan a wedding in Australia. After that, the customers move on to their next life stage. That is why they had to continually engage with their customers to find new ones and get referrals. “We participate a lot and sponsor the main wedding expos around the country. Our team goes to those expos a few times a year. So, they are meeting the end user quite a lot. We talk to those girls and guys during the expo. We're also surveying those brides constantly and finding out what they like, what they don't like, and what we can improve,” Matt shared.
For Matt, he regards staying close to customers as the most important ingredient to his business success. It’s customer first, then his team second. Having the right people on his team made it easy for him to stir his business in the right direction.
He admits that when it comes to the second factor, there were hits and misses along the way. One of those was getting the wrong people to be part of his team. “As we employed more and more people, I think one of the biggest heartbreaks was just going through a phase with the team when we were hiring more on skills rather than on culture. So, we learned the hard way that it's not the best way to go about hiring people.”
Learning from that experience, Matt regards getting the best team early on as one of the first things he would do if he has to walk back on his journey and do it all over again. “I'll start with better people. I think there was a bit of a trap of just hiring what you can afford, like hiring people that are just of the same level as where you are in the business. But in a growing business, you need someone who is going to be suited to where it is going in two or three years’ time. I would probably spend more to get the best people earlier. I think that would be the number one thing I would change.”
So when he was able to gather the best people that fit his company’s culture, he was on his way towards growing his business and his team. Matt finds it rewarding to see his staff members evolve from how they were five years ago with the skills they came with and how much they have grown with the skills they have now.
Apart from his team, Matt is grateful to people who came along the way that contributed to his entrepreneurial journey. He has a lot to thank his father for in not only providing for their family but also in showing him what hard work is all about. When there’s an amount of work that stresses Matt out, he looks to his father, who is his main role model, to give him guidance and mentorship. But if there’s one businessman that he would consider as his role model, it would be Elon Musk because of what he has done with Tesla and SpaceX and with the way he gets his consumers and employees defined to his mission.
There were other people throughout his journey that Matt is thankful for because of the lessons they have given him. At one point early on in the business, Matt received the best advice he ever had from one of his coaches. “He told me that, ‘Matt, you only have a hundred units of energy. You need to make sure you know where you are spending all those hundred because once the hundred are gone, you cannot just pull energy from anywhere else.’ He was talking about sticking to your core business and knowing what your core business is since entrepreneurs often get distracted by bright, shiny diamonds constantly. It's just about staying true to your core, knowing what that core is and then spending all your energy just doing that rather than trying to branch out to all these other lucrative, interesting things.”
Matt sees his business to be fortunate that they have their niche and they are very specific with what they produce for that niche. They have successfully bridged the market that is planning their weddings and the suppliers that are constantly on the lookout for clients. Their uniqueness and their direction of sticking it to their core have become their competitive advantage.
He also regards organisations like EO Melbourne as a big help in his entrepreneurial journey. Although Matt only joined EO Melbourne in October 2016, he has already picked out a lot of learnings from the organisation that aid him in his continued path. Having a preset time every month in the Forum to take a step back and look at his business from a different perspective has contributed a lot to making improvements in the way he runs things. “In the Forum, that’s where we are looking at eight businesses and the challenges each one has and then coming up with solutions for those eight different businesses. There are a lot of similarities in the problems. So, we can apply the same learnings to each. It’s just good to get the perspectives of different people on things and the learnings about how people are going about solving their problems,” Matt reflected.
It was also a great help that Matt is managing the business alongside his wife. As CEO, Matt does all the jobs that no one else wants to do, apart from leading the pack to the direction where he wants to bring the business. He is more focused on innovating their products and services and in employing the right people in his business. His wife, Katrina, has the COO role. Her job is predominantly around the systems and processes to ensure that the business is running like a well-oiled machine. Being into the details, she makes sure that the team dots the i’s and crosses the t's, not leaving out anything that may affect the business adversely.
Having that personal relationship with a business partner can be a challenge to others. But Matt and Katrina have proven to be a formidable tandem. Matt points out clear and open communication as the key to their successful partnership. It also helps that they have a clear boundary on tasks, roles and responsibilities. “We work well together. We don't have any problems. I think we set down the rules very early on in our relationship. We agreed that I would be the boss at work, while she would be the boss at home. And that's worked out well,” he laughingly said.
The couple sees to it that they also spend a lot of time with their three children. Matt prefers to do things and go to places where there’s the least amount of technology possible. “I like to go fishing, four-wheel driving, camping, or anything that gets me away from the computer. But really, spending a lot of time with my three kids is the most fun at the moment. They're 8, 11 and 12. So, they're really at a fun impressionable age.”
Nevertheless, there are sacrifices in becoming a business owner. But there are rewards as well. “The best advantage of being an employer is turning up to work every day and seeing the people I chose to be on my team. That's important. I also get to travel quite a lot for work and join in things like EO. Just being able to do my own thing is very important to me. I think the sacrifice is that you can never give up and you can never take it easy. You're always thinking of work. No matter what you are doing, there's always a part of your brain thinking about work, how you can make things better, how you can grow faster and all other problems. But through the years, you just get used to that as you integrate that with your life. And for me, it's part of who I am,” declares Matt.
Truly, it’s not easy to be an entrepreneur, but it’s what Matt does to make it easy for their customers. And that’s at the core of their venture’s existence.