Episode 9: Finding a niche in the weddings and events industry

Effie wanted a traditional African wedding. She has a hard time finding vendors from the African diaspora that could cater her wedding, and that’s when the idea hit her. She wanted to make it easy for people to find the right vendors for weddings and events, without having to comb hundreds or even thousands of profiles in platforms like Yelp or TheKnot. We talk about how she came up with the idea and the challenges of starting a side hustle.


Yinka Johnson: Like I said before, a lot of it was trying to, is trying to make the road easier for someone else who's coming behind me, right? So that they don't have to spend hours and hours, you know, on Instagram, you know, going through their algorithms, trying to DM people who might not respond.

Jesus Vargas: Hello, everyone. Welcome again, to another episode of the LowCode Podcast. Today we have Jinka Johnson, today with us. She's the founder of AfricaEverAfter which is a pretty cool directory app for African theme weddings. Um, we built an app for her a few months ago and she has been growing her like the database of vendors that are the app and getting users.

So the goal of today's podcast is that she can explain or tell us how she has been getting users and growing this business of hers. Um, Jinka welcome to the app, how are you today? 

Yinka Johnson: Fine, how are you? 

Jesus Vargas: Great. So why don't you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and then how you came up with this idea of the app. 

Yinka Johnson: Um, whenever I talk about AfricaEverAfter, I always start with, I have very little experience, official experience in the wedding industry.

Um, I, um, grew up in the US um, in a very vibrant, uh, community, uh, Sierra Leoneans, um, and i'm west african. So, um, a lot of my early exposure to weddings was, you know, through our culture, weddings in the community, which I always loved. Um, and I love participating in, and I love the attending and everything, all of the cultural aspects about weddings.

So, um... 

Jesus Vargas: What is unique about west African weddings compared to let's say traditional American weddings? 

Yinka Johnson: Well, they are multiple days. Sometimes they can go on for longer than that. Um, they, and there are a lot of pieces I mean, there are so much fun, they're colorful and you know, is the cultural traditions that you might not see day to day, especially if you don't live in the country, you see them on full display there.

So, I mean, it's, it's wonderful. It's like, you know, weddings are an opportunity to immerse yourself in your own culture, which is, you know, a great value to someone who didn't grow up there. Um, so yeah, I, it was it's, it's, it's amazing. Um, so I was always drawn to it and, um, this lasted all the way through my adulthood, honestly, till now.

Um, so the way, the reason why I came up with this idea was, I think a few years ago in 2017 or so I just, you know, I had the idea, I just finished helping to plan, uh, my cousin's wedding, and, um, you know, my brother at the time was engaged to my sister-in-law, my current sister-in-law and, um, we were working with a vendor who's tremendous, she's Nigerian.

Um, but I just remember kind of the complications there were to find um, certain vendors who could do certain things know, and from a cultural aspect, um, that was successful and in a large part because of the wedding vendor that we had, who had that cultural expertise. Um, and soon after I got engaged and, you know, we started doing it all over again, and those challenges still existed, right? 

Um, so, you know, looking for someone, we got married in Nashville, so it's, it's obviously, uh, there is a west African community there, but it might not be as large as it somewhere like Dallas or Houston or Atlanta. So to find someone who, you know, has the expertise to do the head ties, right? That we, we do for our weddings and to, um, sew clothes, for instance, or to, um, cater for instance, all of those things that kind of make an African wedding successful.

We were looking for people to do that. And obviously we had luck because we, I had the same wedding planner that my brother did, and she was tremendous, but, you know, I also had other, the other needs that, you know, we were looking for someone who, people who could fulfill those. So I guess the idea for AfricaEverAfter was always there, but, um, eventually, I decided to execute on it and kind of make that, um, process, the wedding and just general event planning, process easier for those who, um, would plan events like that in the future. 

Jesus Vargas: So how, how did these vendors, so at the end you ended up finding the vendors that could provide the services that you were looking for.

Um, How do they advertise? Like, are they, do you find them on the yellow pages or how are they, what marketing do they do, or they don't do any at all?, 

Yinka Johnson: You know, it's funny a lot of times it's word of mouth. And that was really like the older way of doing things. I mean, going to events in the 90s and early 2000s, it's like, you know, who do you know who cooks this?

Who do you know? Who does that? And oftentimes just someone in the community. Um, now it's not, it, it does, it is word of mouth as well, but it's also social media, right? And not even all vendors have social media, but I would say that during, for my brother's wedding and for my wedding, I became a professional Instagram snuck.

I mean, I knew exactly, you know, how to find someone who did a particular thing, I would use hashtags and see if I could find someone and then I make a call. Do you know someone who does this in Nashville? Do you know someone who does this here? Do you know someone who does this there? So it's definitely easier now, but there's still like, you know, yellow pages is not it, like Instagram in a lot of ways is the yellow pages of today, you just have to know, you know, what you're looking for.

So that was how I found vendors. Um, yeah. 

Jesus Vargas: So you, okay, so you have this I don't want to say problem, but this issue with your wedding and your brothers, um, the light bulb turn on, and you were like, okay, this is something like, this is a business idea. Like I can convert this need that I have into a product. 

Yinka Johnson: At what point?

Jesus Vargas: Yeah. When did that happen? 

Yinka Johnson: Oh man. Well, I would say my husband has, uh, even before he became my husband, he was always like, you need to do something with this. So I got a lot of encouragement from him. He's a lot more businessman than me, I would say. Um, but he encouraged me, and so, um, I would say that in terms of Execution, like I'm actually going to sit down and write out a business plan and, you know, put money towards this and find people to help me execute on it.

It was in 2020 during the pandemic. Um, I would say in the summer, um, at the time I was on parental leave, um, and I just remember thinking to myself, you know, If I don't do it now than what, you know, I wasn't really, you know, no one was really going anywhere, I know it was, you know, yeah, I did have a brand new baby, but you know, I had help as well.

But, um, I said, if, something just told me, if not now, then I don't know if I'll actually do this. So I made a commitment to myself to move ahead, full throttle, um, for a year and see how I felt in a year, um, and see if it's something that I still wanted to do, and that's exactly what I did, and I just got a year about a month ago and it's still going, so, yeah, yeah. 

Jesus Vargas: Why did you decide to build an app, and I don't know, why didn't you become a, uh, wedding planner? 

Yinka Johnson: I admire wedding planners, I don't think I can do it. It's a lot of work! It's a lot of work. Um, you know, I, I didn't want to become a wedding planner because I just, I don't know if I have the focus to do that. Shout out to all the wedding planners.

Um, you know, I admire you, but I don't think that's for me, as much as I love it, there's so many moving parts and, you know, I don't, that's just, one has to be realistic about their own limitations and their own skills. And I was as much as I love weddings, I'll help, but I can't, I'm not going to be a wedding planner full-time. 

But I think that, um, for me, um, doing this, like I said before, a lot of it was trying to, is trying to make the road easier for someone else who's coming behind me, right? So that they don't have to spend hours and hours, you know, on Instagram, you know, going through their algorithms, trying to DM people who might not respond.

Wasting time, right? And also, so they don't necessarily have to rely on word of mouth. Obviously that'll always be a critical part of any type of a setup like this. Um, for me, it was just a matter of making the road easier for someone else. And I felt like this was the best way to do it. I felt like for planning my wedding, my brother's wedding, and other of my relatives and friends, weddings, those are challenging parts of it.

So I said, I think this is a way that I can kind of help, um, that would also be like a great business. 

Jesus Vargas: Cool. And then, okay, so you came up with the idea and you decided to build an, a product, an app, um, and if I remember correctly, you start talking with developers, right? And they quoted like crazy amount of money.

Yinka Johnson: Yeah. Yeah. I guess initially I was thinking something I, like I said, I have no background in this business. I just know the big players that I was using during my wedding, which was WeddingWire and The Knot, and so initially when I decided to build this, I said, you know, I, I found someone local who has their own web app building agency.

And I went to them and I said, look, this is something that I want to do, a directory kind of thing, and he told me that it was a great idea, but what I was looking at was, you know, it could be even up to six figures with what I was, you know, my vision. And I didn't want, obviously I didn't have the money to do it, to put towards that.

Um, and you know, I thought about for a second, maybe crowdfunding, but I said, you know, I think it's a bit too early for that, I don't want to do that just yet. So he directed me to no-code or, or like low-code apps, and that's what, um, directed me to Glide apps. And when I went to the Glide apps app, and there's a section there that has, um, I guess affiliates like, uh, official affiliates, of glide apps. Exactly experts, exactly. And that's how I found LowCode.

Jesus Vargas: Right. What do you think were the trade-offs of building an app with no code compared to whatever solution they were proposing with code for 6 figures?

Yinka Johnson: Honestly, I haven't seen one yet. This has worked perfectly for me and what I want it. It's not to say, I mean, maybe if I get to the point where I do have, you know, 500,000 vendors, maybe that'll be the point where I'm like, okay, this trade off is evident, but based on what I wanted the app to be, wanted the site to be, um, LowCode has built exactly what I need it to be. 

It has the functionalities that I need, um, a person can sign up as a vendor or a client and basically create a profile of their business and, and, or search through other businesses. Pictures, contact information, location, map, they can contact them directly, um, through the app, they can chat with them. They can favorite vendors. And I mean, it's, it has exactly what I need. So as far as the trade off, I think I'm pretty good now. 

Jesus Vargas: That's good to hear. Yeah. So how are you in a, in an app like yours that it's like a marketplace you'd need two types of users, right? Like end users, brides, uh, or people getting married.

And then, how do you get those two different types of users? Because I assume, or I expect the strategies are different, getting vendors than getting end users. So what have you done? What has worked, what hasn't worked in terms of getting people using your app? 

Yinka Johnson: So I have, uh, I guess a theory I got from a movie from a while ago, which is if you build it, they will come. So my focus for now has been to get vendors and the more vendors that are on there, the more people will go in and say, oh, look at these vendors, a lot of whom are in my area. 

Let me, you know, tell my friend about this, let me tell my mom about this, let me tell my sister, let me tell my brother. So, um, my focus, I mean, I have people who are clients who are signed up for it, but, um, I have just as many, maybe even more vendors at the moment, and right now... 

Jesus Vargas: Did you started working with vendors in like local vendors or throughout the whole country? 

Yinka Johnson: Throughout the country, throughout the country, yeah. So, um, I look for certain qualities and vendors, I've got back to my Instagram slipping days cause that's the most effective, and that's also gives me an opportunity to see their work and how responsive they are, right? Um, so I reach out to vendors and I say, hey, I love your work, I have this project called AfricaEverAfter, um, and I, I ask them if I can call them, a lot of times I do end up speaking with them on the phone and telling them what we're all about. And, um, I don't, I mean the vast majority, I would say 99% are like, yeah, sign me up. And so that's how I've been able to build it, very organically, really through cold calling. So yeah. Yeah. 

Jesus Vargas: How many vendors do you have right now? 

Yinka Johnson: I think it's about 35 vendors all over the country. Um, and I believe, we have one in Nigeria and I really want to expand the vendor base, not just in the US and Canada and the diaspora, but also on the African continent as well. Um, so yeah, yeah. So it's, it's growing.

Jesus Vargas: Have you done, so you have been focusing on getting vendors? What do you think will be the strategy to get in users? Do you plan to run ads or word of mouth or... 

Yinka Johnson: Yes, both, I guess right now I've been relying on word of mouth, um, as far as, uh, clients are concerned, people who are looking for vendors, um, but eventually yes, once I hit a critical mass of vendors, then I'll start doing ads in, um, social media spaces like Instagram, Facebook, but also Google ads as well.

Um, so that's, that's the current strategy right now. 

Jesus Vargas: And what is the monetization strategy? How are you going to make money? Who's going to pay? Are the vendors going to pay to be in the app or the end user is going to pay to access the database? 

Yinka Johnson: Right now, right now it's it's free for, for clients and vendors. We haven't... it's not that I don't intend to make money from it, but I don't intend to make money as the strategy is right now from the vendors or the clients. So this might be at one point, maybe I'll have a, if, once I get enough eyeballs, maybe selling app space, um, which will be separate from, you know, the ability to, you know, sign in and create a profile.

Right. So this will be more like ad-driven, yeah, but to sign up for a client or a vendor is absolutely free. 

Jesus Vargas: How do you see the industry? Do you think that this, like, what would be your goal? Getting a hundred thousand users or selling the app to a larger entity? Like The Knot or, um, what do you see like this project in five years?

Yinka Johnson: Definitely, you know, I would, I would like to think of it like this, um, anyone who is an African wedding vendor or who has experience with African weddings because those people are not exclusively African, I would like them to say, you know, In order to reach this particular market, I want to, or I need to be a part of the AfricaEverAfter directory.

Um, that is my goal. Um, so in the same way that people think about The Knot and the WeddingWire for American, Canadian weddings, um, I want them to think about AfricaEverAfter, like they want their, they want to be listed, right? Um, as far as down the road, I mean, Anything is possible. Um, I, as of right now, I still think that this project is my baby.

So the idea is, I don't know, we'll see what makes sense in the future, but right now I'm just focused on having, um, creating a marketplace that will provide benefit and make planning these kinds of events much easier for, for, uh, for Africans and people planning the weddings. 

Jesus Vargas: Yeah. And do you think that eventually, because this app, I mean, imagine this app for Indian weddings or for, I don't know, Mexican weddings, right?

So do you like, obviously your app is for African weddings, but do you plan to whitelabel the app? Have you thought about that? Like whitelabeling the app and then using the same structure, the same logic, the same app, but for Indian, like a directory of Indian vendors or Mexican or something like that, or...

Yinka Johnson: Yeah, I, yeah, I think that that's a possibility. I think that once, um, I've spent some time building this out, then the road to building out something similar would be even more clear, you know, in the future. But that's definitely a possibility because these issues are not just exclusive to African weddings. right?

Um, there are a lot of places, venues, caterers, you know, who specialized, you know, from a cultural aspect in Indian weddings, Mexican weddings, Caribbean weddings, um, all kinds of weddings, right? So I do think that this could be a template for those in the future. So I definitely thought about that. Yeah. 

Jesus Vargas: And what do you think about, so right now, the vendors, the wedding vendors, you have been reaching out to them and calling them and seeing their Instagram. Do you think that they are ready for like a technological revolution that's happening right now? Are they, or are they stuck in the past? Because I mean, some, some of them have Instagram.

You mentioned earlier that some don't even an answer to DMs, and now either like in the states, you are in The Knot, you are in WeddingWire or you are in Instagram or people won't find you, right? How, how modernized you think they are as an industry? 

Yinka Johnson: You know, that's a really good question. And I think that it varies. Um, I, I found that you know, the younger the proprietor of the business is, the younger the vendor is, the higher the likelihood that they're using social media to their advantage, right? But the more established, I mean, you have some places who are like restaurants that cater for events that they have steady business, but you know, there's really no trace of them on social media.

The only place that you can really find them is through, if you Google, like, you know, African restaurant in X city, right? And then you call them and then you'll see. And then it takes a little bit more time to explain to them what you're trying to do and you know how this can be helpful to them, but they're not struggling for business in the least bit, right? 

So I think it really varies, it really varies. So I guess in one sense, yes, it's, it's, it's challenging, but in the other sense, it's not. So I think that no matter what, I feel like, if you prove yourself right, as a benefit to vendors or business, then they will catch up, if you will, in terms of the technological revolution.

 (overlapping voices) 

Yinka Johnson: Yeah, I just have to sign up and if they don't know how to do it, they can get someone who's in their staff who knows how to do it, right? Um, so yeah, I think that it, it is a challenge in some ways, because some people just don't understand the concept of the wedding vendor directory online, the app and all that.

Some people I explain it, they get it, they're like, yes sign me up. Like two second conversation, other than like, I don't know, like what does it entail? Does it this, does it that, and I get it, right? Sometimes these things are foreign when you have a successful business and you haven't needed other things, like why would, why, why rock the boat, right? With something that might not be fully clear to you. 

So as the owner of AfricaEverAfter, I have to make sure that whatever I'm saying to them, I'm conveying how it could be beneficial towards them. I can't just throw kind of like, you know, a whole bunch of technological jargon and expect it, you know, oh, they're going to go okay, yeah. No, like you have to be able to attune the message to your audience, which is something that I, yeah, I've been doing. 

Jesus Vargas: And do you think that these vendors, are they, do they have listings in a lot of directories like yours? I mean, not as specific as directories for African weddings, but other than the, not in the traditional ones? Do these vendors, like keep their profiles updated or that's not something that happens a lot in the industry?

Yinka Johnson: I would say that, you know, let me speak for the vendors that I do have listed. The vast majority are not in WeddingWire or The Knot, not the vast majority, but they have a, I don't, you know, I don't, I don't know, I don't know. Maybe it just doesn't make sense, given the cost of, you know, being a vendor in these, I mean, I'm not absolutely sure.

Um, the venues do tend to be because, um, you know, venues are kind of different in that, they're not... you should have experience in having African events, but, you know, venues, you're more likely to find venues, but like tailors and designers now they tend not to be, right. But a lot of times they have massive social media followings, like 30,000, 40,000, 50,000 Instagram followers.

Oh yeah. So, it goes to show that The Knot and WeddingWire from the perspective of these vendors is not the end and be all of, you know, the eyeballs so they can get on their business. 

Jesus Vargas: Wow. That's very impressive. Yeah. There's, there's richest aren't the niches, so that's always interesting. I always like very niche apps because they tend to do better than generic or general apps, it's something that, yours is very unique and I think that's where the value is at, because if you're looking for an African wedding, won't you rather look in your app that you have the list of vendors, rather than spending like you did hours on Instagram or The Knot trying to find the right vendor.

Yinka Johnson: Yeah, exactly, exactly, yeah. And I definitely, when I was planning my wedding, I was, I did signed up for The Knot and WeddingWire, and then when you try to find someone who has a cultural expertise, you might go from a hundred options to maybe two, maybe, depending on what you're looking for. And it's not that these businesses are not out there, they're just not listed in this particular space.

So I'm trying to solve that for other people, like where's the space that you can go to find the people who can provide the service for your event. 

Jesus Vargas: That is great. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Where can people find more about your app, your business? 

Yinka Johnson: Yeah, yeah, you can go to www.africaeverafter.com, um, and there are links to the directory there, but if you want to go straight to the directory is directory.africaeverafter.com and you know, you can sign in and you can see the vendors and the setup, and yeah, and you can reach out to us at any time, if you have any questions or comments, or even if you do know anyone who wants to be a part of it as a vendor, yet. 

Jesus Vargas: That is great. Thank you so much for joining us today. 

Yinka Johnson: Thanks Jesus, good talking to you. Bye .