Rhiannon Downie-Hurst is the founder of the top wedding information online resource in the UAE, Bride Club ME. She began her journey in the media and publishing industry and finally ventured off to become an entrepreneur. Currently she is the Editor in Chief of her own website and founder of The Engage Academy, a workshop and community for wedding professionals, among other events and projects. Rhiannon is a hard-worker, the ultimate boss lady and a great friend. I got to sit with her and learn about the ups and downs of entrepreneurship and the key to running a successful business.
Bride Club ME is the go-to source for all things wedding in the UAE; tell us a little about how it began.
My background is in media and publishing, managing the sales and marketing for various consumer, business and trade publications, in addition to launching websites and events alongside those publications.
When I first came up with the concept for www.brideclubme.com in 2012, I was managing the UAEs leading environmental magazine ‘BGreen’. I became engaged and after the initial elation and running around like a headless chicken, I sat down to start planning my wedding. I found very little online in terms of features, advice and local supplier directories in the UAE, so I casually started blogging about my wedding planning journey over at expatbride.com, which I really enjoyed.
After doing lots of research and getting great feedback from other brides about my blog posts, I decided to take a risk, created a business plan, gave up my stable income and job, and launched Bride Club ME, a professional online platform where brides can find quality wedding suppliers, read lots of real wedding inspiration, seek planning advice and so on. Initially, I launched it with publishing house CPI and then in the second year, I set up my own digital media company ‘Club Media FZE’ and went full steam ahead alone. The rest is history.. 🙂
In July 2014 you launched ‘The Engage Academy’, a workshop & community for wedding entrepreneurs, how often do these workshops take place and what topics are addressed?
Following on from Bride Club ME, I noticed that many new wedding entrepreneurs were approaching me for advice. I felt there was a lack of specialist events for the wedding industry community and wanted to do something about it. I launched ‘The Engage Academy’ a community and series of events for wedding specialists in 2014 with a business partner, who has since left to focus on being a mummy, so I am on my own for now.
We have hosted four events so far, two networking events, one workshop covering all aspects of running a small business from social media management, blogging and PR to accounting and conversing with real Dubai brides on an honest and open level and finally, we hosted one of my favorite events to date. A product styling workshop for wedding creatives, with award winning UK blogger and product stylist Louise Buekes.
I am currently working on developing the Engage Academy website and for now, our events are adhoc, as and when I can feasibly manage to organise them. Moving forward, I hope to host regular events whereby tickets can be purchased via a dedicated website and vendors can also read business tips and advice via our dedicated blog.
What are the biggest challenges of running a multi-faceted business?
Human resources. Being a small, independent business with no financial backing, I have had to wear many hats and take on the responsibility of several people. It can be a challenge managing the work life/balance, but I am getting there. I refuse to take huge loans out or become business partners with any one I do not 100% trust, therefore, I am growing my business slowly and organically. It’s worked so farJ. I am pleased to say that we are now at a stage of seeking full time employees, which is a great feeling, if a little scary.
How has the wedding industry in the region changed since you began your business?
While I was planning my wedding and before I launched www.brideclubme.com, it was very difficult to find modern, innovative suppliers with ease in this region. I found the research process very daunting.
The industry has changed progressively since our launch, I feel a new wave of forward thinking, young and passionate wedding vendors have entered the market and they are prepared to challenge the way conventional/cookie cutter weddings are done and bring a new, fresh and modern outlook on weddings.
Websites like Bride Club ME, help bring inspiration and ideas not only to brides, but to the industry also. I believe we have also had an impact on the number of couples choosing to wed in Dubai and the UAE too, since they now have access to more information, quickly and conveniently when planning their weddings.
Where do you go for inspiration on new topics and projects?
I always keep an eye on what is happening on an international level. The UAE is still a few steps behind the USA and UK for example when it comes to wedding trends/ideas and services. Pinterest and Instagram provide lots of visual inspiration too. When I write articles I always put my bride hat on, and take myself back to the time when I was planning my wedding in the UAE, I always ask myself “would I have found this useful as a bride”? I take inspiration from creative people and beautiful things too, weddings, interiors, fashion, travel, art…..it’s all interlinked.
What are some upcoming projects and events you are working on right now?
That’s top secret, Club Media FZE is growing, our flag ship website will always be Bride Club ME, but we have other websites on the horizon due to launch, an event and of course The Engage Academy keeps me nice and busy.
Do you have any advice for budding entrepreneurs?
Think long term and do your research, I have seen many websites launch and fail and many businesses close down, due to people only thinking about the short term. Have integrity, passion and be prepared to work hard! Too many people expect things to land on their lap without putting in the ground work. Have the givers gain mind set…I totally believe in karma, do right by others and you shall reap the rewards. Remain humble too and always remember those who are helping you get to where you want to go.
What is next for you and Bride Club ME ?
For me personally, I am focusing on my health. I’ve recently quit smoking after 23 years, started taking Vitimin supplements and now I want to shift this Dubai stone, he-he! Once you hit 33 (in my experience) you start noticing changes. I’d love to travel a little more too and maybe think about babies. As for Bride Club ME, we have lots in store, so watch this space!
Check out more photos of our High Tea at Fortnum & Mason Dubai below. A special thank you to Maria Sundin for the beautiful photography.