Has saying 'I do' in KSA just become a whole lot easier?

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Image via Selsal, a wedding planning platform in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

No one said getting married was easy and by that we mean the act of planning your wedding day. From wedding venues, to flowers, music, food, clothes and cars - the list goes on. You also have to scout service providers, find the best prices, chase booking availabilities, and manage your budget while making sure everything is just perfect.       

In the Arab world, many startups are taking notes and building one-stop shops for brides and grooms. Arabia Weddings, which launched in Jordan back in 2011, offers planning tools that include a wedding checklist, honeymoon booking, gift registry, wedding music playlist, venue, and many others. Yebab in the UAE began as a wedding planning platform but pivoted into a photo directory of bridal accessories and dresses in 2008, as they told Wamda few months ago. Lace Events in Saudi Arabia launched in 2013 to organize events and weddings, including catering, cake decoration and designs, and has gained thousands of followers on Instagram. Other services include Zafaf (which means wedding), 7fla (which means party), Cerimonia Events - and these are just a few.

After speaking to Samar Shawareb, the cofounder of Arabia Weddings, Abdulellah Albukhari, the founder of Selsal, a wedding planning services in Jeddah, and Abdelnour Alhourani, the regional expansion manager at Zafaf, Wamda realized there’s a big need for such planning services in the Arab region, but this need is much higher in Saudi Arabia.

“You rely on word of mouth to know where to go to [in Jeddah],” said Albukhari of Selsal, which recently graduated from accelerator Flat6Labs Jeddah. In a city that’s as big as 1,686 km2 in urban space and that has more than 100 wedding venues, wedding services are scattered and hard to find.

Photo via Selsal's Facebook page

The fact that genders don’t usually mix at weddings in the Kingdom means more planning and money are needed. “It requires two separate wedding venues. First one is for the bride and her guests, while the second one is the dining hall,” said Alhourani from Zafaf. This would lead to a cost that could reach SAR 1.5 million (around $400,000), according to him, if the wedding was luxurious.

“They tend to start very late at night and could easily run until 5 am. They are (the) larger weddings, particularly in Riyadh; and are quite lavish among the affluent Saudi families,” said Shawareb from Arabian Weddings.

That said, Albukhari thinks there is still a lack of creativity in weddings as “everyone goes to the same service provider”. He said he didn’t realize how much effort, time and money it took to plan a wedding, until he found himself having to deal with the pains of planning the perfect wedding: choosing the venue, flowers, catering, clothes and logistics, while staying within budget.

One-stop-shop for the bride and the groom 

After Albukhari (pictured on right) was accepted into Flat6Labs Jeddah, he participated in the accelerator’s one-week bootcamp, followed by a 90-day entrepreneurship program for startups. And at the recent Demo Day, his startup Selsal graduated along with nine other Saudi startups which included iRehab, TeamReem, Maharah, Estickery, Polisher, Sandooq, OFFWAYS, Vanoman and Allemni.

Albukhari received $25,000 from the accelerator to spend on marketing, salaries and the website, which is set to launch in about a month.

The website will allow Selsal customers to book a venue online for a deposit of SAR 30,000 to 40,000 and coordinate flowers, cake and food, dress, honeymoon locations and other services. Selsal will take a 10 percent commission on each service requested online. Service providers will pay $10 per month to get featured. The website allows customers to set their budget and get results accordingly. He has 50 service providers so far.

While at Flat6Labs Jeddah, Albukhari learned how to make a business and a market plan, figured out his revenue stream, worked on the website and began looking for hires. He faced two issues while  developing his concept:

- Paying salaries. Since Albukhari wants to use the money he received from Flat6Labs on marketing and product development, he decided to look for interns and college students, who would work for free in exchange for experience. “We trained them but told them once we’ll start operating, we’ll start paying you.”

- Collecting data. He spoke about the lack of centralized data unit in Saudi Arabia and the region. “This is one of the big obstacles for entrepreneurship.” Albukhari collected data by polling people at hospitals, colleges and other areas.

Despite difficulties in launching a startup in Saudi Arabia, Flat6Lab’s CEO Ramez Mohamed believes things are looking up. “I think the ecosystem in Saudi is developing rapidly,” he said. We are now seeing more angels and VCs investing in the Saudi market. Almost more than 50 percent of our startups in the first two cycles of the accelerator have received follow-on funding after their graduation and I think that is a solid testament of that,” he added.

“However, I wish that the fundraising procedures and the due diligence process in general took less time to make it easier for the startups to get access to cash they need to scale.” He also called for more open policies that make it easier for foreign technical talent to join local startups as cofounders. “Scarcity of technical talent is hindering the growth of innovation in the market.”

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