How a discussion over chai and a credit card helped this man build a Rs 7.5Cr wedding planning business
After his father’s business faced huge losses, Jaipur-based Anant Khandelwal delivered newspapers and drove cars to make ends meet. The turning point in his life happened over a glass of tea, when a friend told him about the growing event management and weddings industry.
In 2011, Anant Khandelwal and his friends spent a lot of time at a local tea stall in Jaipur. The friends would discuss potential business prospects and bounce ideas off each other.
Anant’s friends knew his father had faced huge losses in running a masala business. His father had sold his car, house, and factory to pay off the debts.
Anant was doing meagre jobs, such as newspaper delivery and driving, just to make ends meet.
“At that time, the financial condition at home was not great, so I took up odd jobs to earn some money. I was undecided about a career,” he tells SMBStory.
But his driving job did not last long. Anant was 16 years old when he took up driving, and he had a fake driving licence since he wasn’t old enough to drive. His boss found out and fired him.
Anant continued distributing newspapers, but he wanted to do something bigger.
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The weddings industry
Everything changed for Anant during one of his conversations at a local tea stall. A friend told him about event management and wedding planning, and how it was a growing sector.
Anant’s friend was right - experts say the Indian wedding industry grew between 25 percent to 30 percent over the last few years and pegged it at a potential Rs 45,000 crore.
The possibility of earning good money in the weddings industry intrigued Anant, and as he was short of choices, he decided to give it a try.
“I definitely wasn’t an events guy, and I didn’t know anything about them. But I said, ‘why not?’ And I started volunteering at local weddings in five-star hotels,” he says.
Volunteering at weddings helped him see how they were organised, and he acquired some practical experience by helping out at a few local ones.
However, he felt he still needed some accreditation if he wanted to pursue this. He had no valid degree or certification in event management. Anant had previously dropped the idea of trying to get into an IIT and becoming an engineer because it didn’t excite him.
He learnt of a course in event management, but considering the financial situation at home, Anant couldn’t afford it. The first installment was Rs 5,000, and Anant didn’t know how to come up with the money.
Help came from an unlikely source - his grandmother.
“I borrowed Rs 5,000 from my grandmother and paid the first installment of the event management course. I was back in the wedding industry, and I started working as a trainee at several events,” he says.
Soon, it was time to pay the second installment of the course fee. Anant did not have the money, and this time, it seemed his luck had run out.
He couldn’t put together the money, and dropped the course.
“I had spent five or six months in the course, and I had learned a lot during this time. Even though I dropped out, I took up a job in the same industry,” he says.
But even the job couldn’t help Anant get out of the rough patch he was in. His employer defaulted on several salary payments and Anant did not get paid for six months.
“I didn’t get paid anything, but I got a lot of practical experience and I knew how to pitch to a client. So, I decided I wouldn’t take up a job. I wanted to set out on my own,” he says.
Early days of entrepreneurship
Anant was just 20 years old and had Rs 2,000 in his pocket when he started Indian Wedding Planners (IWP) in 2012. He applied for a credit card and used it to buy a laptop. He didn’t have an office, so he started working out of tea shops.
“I sat in tea shops and used the internet to source leads of potential clients who wanted someone to organise weddings. After a lot of searching, I found one client, cracked a deal, and did a wedding for him. I used all my past experience in the industry and organised everything for him, right from food and lights to generator sets,” Anant says.
The client paid him Rs 1 lakh, and after IWP’s expenses were deducted, Anant was left with Rs 15,000.
“It was not a bad start and I continued looking for clients and doing weddings. After two to three weddings, I met Kartika Sharma, who became a business partner in IWP,” he recalls.
Anant then decided to focus on high-end weddings. He organised weddings for ministers, members of parliament, and executives from corporations.
As things picked up and Anant got more weddings under his belt, he started building a team of 16 employees and added more services to IWP’s offerings.
Vendor management, event flow, decor planning, guest management, entertainment design and choreography, food and beverage management, logistics, etc were some of the many services IWP started providing for clients.
“When we started, there was nobody else doing what we did. There were businesses doing floral arrangements, or event management, or decor. We were the first to bring it all together and offer it as one package to clients. We handled the wedding on an end-to-end basis, and ensured clients had nothing to do with the weddings after they had hired us,” he says.
Challenges and learnings
Anant had started the business when he was 20, and this posed a unique challenge for him. He was definitely young, and he certainly looked the part.
Clients saw Anant and immediately felt he was too young to handle a wedding by himself. They were uncertain if the entrepreneur, who was in his mid-20s, could manage all the wedding services within the specified budget.
Anant had made a few mistakes so far, but he had learned from them. Talking to stakeholders in the wedding industry for a few years had taught him how to deal with clients.
“It was important for our clients to be understanding towards us. Even though I was young, I always owned up to my mistakes, and this made some clients more forgiving,” he says.
Further, he charged customers a flat planning fee, and expenses incurred by IWP were not included in this cost. Anant also didn’t take commissions from vendors, he claims.
“On the rare occasions we took a commission from a vendor, we passed it on to the client to reduce his/her expenses. Weddings are a reference-based business, and so it was critical for us to keep our clients happy,” he says.
Today, IWP has two offices - one each in Jaipur and Delhi. The wedding planning company targets customers who want destination weddings in India or in places like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Malaysia, and Thailand. Anant says IWP typically handles weddings of up to 700 people.
Last year, IWP clocked Rs 7.5 crore revenue from its destination weddings service, not including income from entertainment, décor, and other services.
Most of Anant’s leads come through the IWP website and Instagram, and in the near future, he wants to focus on building his reach through Instagram. He plans to set up bases in Mumbai and Dubai, and is also considering raising some funds to expand IWP.
“All these years, I have never been able to take weddings off my mind. I have been determined to keep moving forward despite my failures and doubts. With IWP, I still have a long way to go and many more milestones to achieve,” he says.
(Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)