It started with a hike in the Alps. On their way up Mont Dolent, near the borders of Italy, Switzerland, and France, management consultants Guillermo Fernández and Javier Calleja spent much of their time talking about the trouble Fernández had planning his wedding. The Spaniard’s wife is from France, and the couple had to set up multiple wedding registries to accommodate the guests and sort through cards and gifts sent in several languages and currencies. Calleja could sympathize: He was soon to marry a woman from Canada. There were plenty of websites available to help, but their translations were typically bad, if they offered them at all. “We spotted a niche,” says Fernández.
A few months later, in February 2008, the two men scrounged together €200,000 ($274,000) from savings, family, and friends and created the website Zankyou. It’s available in 10 languages, and spouses-to-be can plan their wedding and create a central registry Web page where guests can buy gifts or send money in the couple’s preferred currency. More than 250,000 couples have used Madrid-based Zankyou to organize their weddings in 19 countries, according to the company.
“Globalization, immigration, work mobility, and social media are redefining relationships all over the world,” says Javier Escrivá, a professor at the University of Navarra in Spain who runs a master’s program in marriage and family. “International marriages are still a small minority of people but one that’s certainly growing.”
Zankyou, which has 45 employees, makes money from fees on gifts and cash given through the site. It charges couples for optional services such as a personalized Web page URL or the ability to track visitors to their page or block it from appearing in Google (GOOG) searches. (Such services cost $9 to $35 apiece, or $99 for all 20 or so.) The site also runs ads for florists and other companies that cater to brides and grooms. Zankyou broke even on sales of €1.5 million in 2013, Fernández says. He estimates revenue will reach €2.5 million this year, enough to make the registry site profitable.
The company’s founders say their biggest challenge has been drawing business from established wedding sites, such as MyRegistry.com or WeddingWire in the U.S., 1001 Listes in France, and iCasei in Brazil. “Our strategy is to be very competitive in pricing in each market and compensate for that through higher volume,” says Fernández. They’ve also recruited graphic designers to create better-looking templates for customers’ Web pages.
Tontxu Campos, director of the Entrepreneurship Center at Deusto Business School in the northern Spanish city of Bilbao, says Zankyou appears distinct enough to expand into more countries. “However, this idea is easy to imitate,” he says. “They need to offer an excellent service, pay attention to local customs, build a loyal network of partners, innovate, and exceed customers’ expectations.”
In the near term, Zankyou says it will make its five interns full-time employees and hire as many as 10 Web developers and writers. Fernández and Calleja went without salaries until last May, relying on their spouses—one in corporate development for Spanish discounter Dia (DIA:SM), the other a marketer for Procter & Gamble (PG)—to cover household expenses for more than five years. “Our wives have been crucial to make this project work,” Fernández says. They’ve provided encouragement, advice on the site’s design, and the occasional dinner out. “When we get to the dessert, I’m used to standing up and leaving” instead of paying the check, says Fernández. “That needs to change.”