In 2018, Raj Kamaria met his now fiancée, Manali Shah, on the dating app Coffee Meets Bagel. They agreed to meet at a restaurant in Chicago; two years later, they got engaged.
Kamaria, currently a Class of 2022 MBA student at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and Shah, a Class of 2020 MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, quickly realized how labor-intensive it was to plan a South Asian wedding.
“Typically three to five days in length, most cultural weddings are big affairs,” Kamaria says. “The average South Asian wedding costs $285,000. It’s a big industry, and it’s completely unorganized. There’s a lot of pieces of the pie; hotel venue, priest, henna artist, DJs and bands, food caterers, and more.”
Overwhelmed at the extensive planning process, Kamaria and Shah realized the potential in making wedding organization easier.
“Many of the vendors are first-generation immigrants who’ve opened up a restaurant or do henna on the side,” Kamaria says. “It’s not a formalized process like you would expect, and it’s difficult to find many of these vendors because most of them don’t have proper websites or marketing — it’s all word of mouth.”
Laughing as he reflected on the process, Kamaria recounts calling extended relatives who knew friends of friends that offered the services they needed. “It was a very inefficient process.”
Inspired to help South Asian couples plan their weddings more easily, Kamaria and Shah started Pyaari Weddings, an online wedding directory specializing in providing Indian, Pakistani, Nepalese, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, and Afghan couples with vendors and resources for an efficient and fun wedding planning process.
ON THE ENTREPRENEURIAL PATH
While earning his undergraduate business degree at the University of Illinois’s Gies College of Business at Urbana-Champaign, Kamaria started a T-shirt company with his roommates. What began as a fun way to make extra money quickly turned into a full-fledged passion for innovation and entrepreneurship.
“I always knew that I got my energy from being an entrepreneur,” he tells Poets&Quants. “The effort you bring forth as an entrepreneur comes from a place of passion and interest rather than duty and obligation.”
Seeking more experience, after graduation Kamaria worked as a consultant at Ernst & Young for five years.
“I learned conceptual ways to grow a business, but never got to actually see the results or effects of the strategies on the ground,” he says. “To get that experience, I left to continue down the entrepreneurial path.”
Kamaria’s parents owned a small real estate investment business and were looking to retire. Given his experience, he decided to join the family business and help expand it. Within just a few years, he was able to exponentially grow the business.
Confident that he’ll be an entrepreneur for years to come, Kamaria says that working for himself feels more like a hobby than work.
“In a corporate role,” he says, “I felt like I was working all the time. In start-ups, I never think about how much I’ve worked; my work feels like play.”
By gaining confidence after the success of his family’s business, Kamaria moved onto further pursuits: First, he opened a commercial construction business, then he got into tech and investing, and now he and his fiancée have entered the wedding industry.
STARTUP COMPETITION WINNER
After winning The Every Girl’s startup competition out of 523 startups nationwide, the couple received funding to help them get their business started.
“We called vendors all over the country, including those in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago,” Kamaria says. “Then we worked with them to standardize prices. We basically broke down the entire process, built out packages after collecting the data, and hired a development team in India to input the data in the backend of our site.”
Their goal is to have the wedding planning process take less than five minutes and mimic an online shopping experience.
“First, you type in your city and a number of different vendor categories show up,” Kamaria says. “You can filter them based on cost reviews, distance number reviews, and even find a priest for your religion. Then, you can add each vendor to your cart and it auto-calculates your entire wedding cost, delivering you a wedding planner budget within just a few minutes.”
As a B2B model, Kamaria and Shah represent the vendors of Pyaari Weddings and keep the service free for consumers.
“Based on our own wedding planning experience, it’s a nightmare to plan everything,” Kamaria says. “We want brides and grooms to enjoy their wedding, including the planning process, which is why we wanted to make it barrier-free.”
Kamaria, responsible for finances and partnerships, and Shah, responsible for content creation, branding, design, and the internal strategy, are figuring out what it takes to work as a partnership. “We have very specific goals in mind, so often our Type-A personality comes out and we clash on certain ideas. It’s almost like you just put your business head on and you kind of forget that you’re partners.”
With eight cities across the US and three across Canada, Kamaria anticipates that they’ll have a more robust product in the next year once refining the service and determining how much they’ll make from vendor fees, affiliate sales, and marketing.
Because of Kamaria’s experience working in both the corporate and start-up worlds, he knew exactly what he was looking for in an MBA education.
“I wanted to attend a school with a strong startup and innovation ecosystem, which Kellogg clearly had,” he says.
Considering his wide range of experiences, Kamaria wanted to get his MBA to understand how to integrate his experiences in consulting, real estate, construction, tech, and investing.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the entrepreneurial classes and network at Kellogg,” he says. “Plus, there are incubator programs and startup competition grants. I’ve almost been overwhelmed with how many different things I can participate in.”
ADVICE TO BUDDING ENTREPRENEURS
Describing the difference between working in the corporate world compared to start-ups, Kamaria explains that it can be difficult to learn how to manage and prioritize your workload.
“It’s important to learn how to let some things go, because there’s always going to be things going on in the background and you can’t control everything.”
And what advice would Kamaria give business students who want to try entrepreneurship?
“Try to first find something you’re interested in on the side and spend your weekends and evenings on it. It’s hard to just quit your job and figure it out because you need income. Start something and slowly build it to that inflection point where you have some traction. With that mindset, you can then focus on what’s important, enjoy your successes, learn from your failures, and have a more holistic perspective.”