Globalization is changing everything from manufacturing to free trade. Add one more to the list: marriage.
In Europe, more people are looking outside their home countries for love and companionship. As a result, weddings are becoming global affairs, where various languages can be heard over the clinking of champagne glasses.
"Globalization, immigration, work mobility and social media are redefining relationships all over the world,” says Javier Escriva, a professor at University of Navarra in Spain, and director of a master's degree in marriage and family. "International marriages are still a small minority of people but one that's certainly growing.”
Guillermo Fernandez is part of this group. The 39-year-old Spaniard is married to a Frenchwoman. He says planning the ceremony was a pain — but don’t tell his wife that.
Fernandez griped about the experience to his friend Javier Calleja on a hike up Mont Dolent in the Alps. Calleja, who’s also from Spain, could sympathize. His wife is Canadian. They both recalled how difficult it was to set up wedding registries for planning the event and cataloging guests’ presents in multiple languages, and to manage cash gifts coming in various currencies.
"More and more couples tend to prepare everything online,” Calleja says. Adds Fernandez: "We spotted a niche.”
The two consultants came up with the idea for an Internet business venture. They would create a multilingual website where users could plan weddings, create registries, and receive money or gifts from friends paid for using their preferred currencies. Within a few months after the hike, Fernandez and Calleja scrounged together 200,000 euros ($274,000) from family, friends and their savings accounts, and started work on their website Zankyou in 2008.
"Our wives have been crucial to make this project work," Fernandez says. "We've had no salary until May this year. So they had to foot the bill all the time.”
Getting attention has been tough when many countries already have their preferred wedding registries. Just to cite a few: The Portuguese-language site iCasei is popular in Brazil; MyRegistry and WeddingWire are big in the U.S.; and in France, there’s 1001 Listes. These sites are mostly limited to one supported language or offer seemingly computer-generated translations. On the English version of 1001 Listes a section called “Advices, news, deals” has this description: “To miss nothing about the gift, events and shops news."
Zankyou aims to capitalize on the globalization of marriage. The site supports 10 languages, and also has magazine-style content and a directory of services. More than 250,000 couples have used Zankyou to organize their weddings in 19 countries, from Europe to the U.S. and Latin America.
About 19 percent of Zankyou’s users are in mixed-nationality relationships, according to a company survey of 12,000 couples. As extended travel abroad becomes commonplace in Europe, that number is expected to increase, the company’s founders say. More than 230,000 students study abroad each year as part of a European Commission program called Erasmus, which provides small scholarships for students to spend a semester in a foreign university.
With 45 employees, Madrid-based Zankyou is now break-even on sales of 1.5 million euros this year, Fernandez says. He forecasts 2.5 million euros next year. Most of Zankyou’s sales come from fees on gifts made through the site and premium features, Fernandez says. The site also runs advertisements for wedding-services providers.
Now, they better keep the paychecks coming, or else the entrepreneurs may find themselves searching the world for love again.