Home Behind the brand Behind the Brand with Rhiannon Downie – Founder of Bride Club ME

Behind the Brand with Rhiannon Downie – Founder of Bride Club ME

by Out and About STYLE Mag
Tell us about yourself and your background.

My name is Rhiannon, aka Rio. I'm the daughter of a single mother from Sri Lanka and an English father who didn't have much involvement in my life. I am now a mother to a gorgeous 2-year old son, wife to the sweetest, kindest man … and I'm an entrepreneur with a few businesses under my belt, hustling daily. 

It's hard to describe myself, as with everyone, there are many layers to my life and facets to my personality. 

Growing up, I was always drawn to the theatrics, singing, creativity and acting. I was certain I wanted a career in the arts and studied media and the performing arts. Instead of going to university, I decided to jump headfirst into the industry. I spent some time pursuing my music career in New York and then experienced the life of a struggling artist, dining on baked beans, while living in my tiny studio flat in North London, often moving in with my grandma to save money. I had some fantastic experiences during that time, such as singing backing vocals for Westlife, performing during the Worthington cup final, jamming in the studio with artists like Nas and Talvin Singh. 

But I hated the instability and the often cruel world that the entertainment industry could be. I'm a sensitive soul and soon realised that if I pursued a career in this area to the fullest degree, I wouldn't be able to cope.

To make ends meet as an artist, I found myself selling… selling double glazing, selling classified ads, selling mobile app innovations and realised that I was actually very good at 'selling'. One thing led to another and I gradually worked my way up the ladder in the publishing industry — from an advertising sales exec, to the Business Development Director for various print and digital media brands, where I was looking after everything from launching and managing social media channels, to conceptualising new ways to bring in revenue, sales and marketing, to organising events around the magazines I managed. My career then naturally evolved into launching my own business. And I haven't looked back ever since!

How did Bride Club ME come about?

I was with a well-known publishing house at the time of launch. I was an employee, working as the Business Development Director for a sustainability-focused magazine. The CEO was always encouraging me to go into partnership with him to launch a new magazine, and I was toying with the idea of launching an online platform for the entertainment industry in the UAE. I was very much a champion of digital at the time and insisted that if I were to partner with him, we should focus on digital.

After drafting up the business plan and researching the market, I was ready to go full-steam ahead. And then, my boyfriend proposed… After the initial glow of the engagement honeymoon period, the daunting aspect of having to plan my own wedding on a tight budget started to dawn.

The entertainment platform concept was quickly replaced with an idea for an online platform for weddings. I founded www.brideclubme.com after noticing a distinct gap in the market. I could find nothing online to guide me through the process locally — no curated vendor list or online place where I could swoon over other Dubai weddings. I had 15 years of experience in media and publishing, some savings and the backing of a large publishing house and a new-found passion. And so I took the plunge and launched the website. While the site was in progress, I started blogging about my wedding planning for a while and used that platform to also gain a buzz around the upcoming launch of Bride Club ME.

A year after launching Brideclubme.com, I left the publishing house on good terms and went ahead alone, launching Club Media FZE, the brand under which Brideclubme.com comes.

I feel I have achieved my original goal, which was for Bride Club ME to become a friendly online platform that brides could use for their wedding planning process and a community where vendors could showcase their talents, not only to brides but to each other as well. Our website has played an integral part in promoting Dubai as a destination wedding location for overseas brides. Since its launch, Dubai has seen a 30% increase in weddings overall. I feel we have played a small part in helping achieve this.

I hope to launch my next website soon, focused on home life in the UAE. It's been in the making for 4 years, and I've been sitting on it for ages for various reasons. But the time is edging closer for it to become a reality.

What services do you offer at Bride Club ME?

Bride Club ME is primarily an online information and inspiration resource for brides planning weddings in the UAE. We feature real weddings, expert tips and advice, reviews and industry trends. We produce and organise our own gorgeous in-house editorial shoots and feature a vetted list of vendors and venues in the UAE. 

More recently, we have launched two new services — Destination Vendor Club and Bride Club ME Concierge. The destination vendor club is a carefully curated little black book of vendors and venues across key countries where brides in the UAE often hold destination weddings — places like Cyprus, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Italy and more. The Bride Club ME concierge is a vendor and venue matchmaking service, where our team of experts, help brides and grooms of all budget types and nationalities plan weddings in the UAE by finding their dream wedding venue and vendors. We can also assist with hen parties, proposals, honeymoons and more.

I also run Bride Club ME Business, which is the first wedding industry-focused business and marketing consultancy of its kind in the UAE. Here, I provide one-to-one and group consultancy sessions and coaching programmes for entrepreneurs, small businesses, hotel event and sales team and more. We organise regular wedding industry networking events and offer additional services such as corporate wedding video production, content writing and more — basically, your one-stop-shop solution for wedding industry marketing.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to turn their blog into a business?

The blogging landscape has changed dramatically in the 8 years that I have been running my own business. My advice would be not to put all of your eggs in one basket. Not many people realise that those who seemingly make a living from blogging, work constantly. They also have various verticals running alongside their blogs — Some bloggers charge brands for content writing; some travel bloggers (as an example) work as sales agents; some niche bloggers also consult. Some bloggers sell products and run affiliate programs. I don't consider myself a 'blogger,' but I am well-versed in how professional bloggers monetise, as running an online media platform is really no different. And it's not easy. You must be ready to adapt to the ever-changing digital landscape and consistently innovate. Video content, for example, is something that all online media content creators should be looking into. Podcasts are also becoming increasingly popular.

What's your idea of success?

I feel people's perception of success is so subjective. It's like art… The dictionary definition is 'the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.' Honestly, I feel most successful when being balanced and happy, overrides the feeling of anxiety and being worried for the future. I also feel successful when I have worked towards and completed a goal, no matter how small or large… If I raise my son to be a well-balanced, kind and happy man, this to me is success defined.

What are you passionate about?

Many things — my family, my business, animal welfare, humanitarian issues, and more recently, mental health advocacy… Both my parents suffer from mental health issues, and this has greatly affected me. I tend to want to delve deep into things to truly understand them. Understanding why my parents suffer as they do, really intrigued me and helped me cope. 

There are so many things human beings neglect in themselves and taking care of our mental health, should be just as important as tending to our physical health. I've more recently spoken about mental health and self-awareness in the entrepreneurial landscape, as I feel this is so important. Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely place — full of pressure and expectations. There are many systems I put in place, in order to cope with the pressures that running a business can bring. And I like to share those with people in similar situations.

Where do you find inspiration?

Inspiration comes to me from all sorts of places and moments. People inspire me — people who have overcome adversity, tragedy and have rebuilt their lives. I often find myself drawn to people who have experienced darkness in their lives and found light, a new passion or a new path. I find beauty and inspiration around every corner, from the laughter of my child, the blue of the ocean, to the melody of a song… I know it sounds cliché, but I am very much a philocalist. I see beauty and inspiration everywhere.

Who and what motivates you?

My son, because I want him to have a stable, healthy and happy upbringing. Before I had a child, he motivated me. I knew before I even became a mother, that I was setting the foundations for my child's future… My husband motivates me. He is my no1 cheerleader – They say behind every successful man, there is a woman – The opposite applies to me, my husband has been my rock from the day I decided I wanted to turn my vision into a business. It's so important to surround yourself with people who encourage you, are there for you when you fall and build you up, rather than tear you down.

Creating motivates me, I love seeing things develop from an idea into reality.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to quit their 9-5 to work on their passion? 

Everyone wants to 'live the dream' and 'pursue their passion', and I honestly feel as though entrepreneurship is being sold to people who may not be built for that lifestyle. 

Pursuing your passion doesn't always mean becoming an entrepreneur… The working landscape has changed so much these days. Co-working spaces are becoming more and more popular. Part-time work is becoming more accessible. More companies are becoming incubators and are encouraging 'intrapreneurship' within their structure. In some industries, it is very much possible to pursue a passion or launch an initiative within the company you work. And by doing so, you also avoid much of the stress and anxiety that comes with doing it all alone.

I mean, if you truly know you want to run your own business or pursue your dream of becoming a professional singer (as an example), then go for it. But I'd suggest you have the following in place first:

  • Research your field and know what you are getting into. Seek mentors. Reach out to people in the industry.
  • Have some backup funds in place. You need a level of stability while you pursue your passion… There will be times where you are barely getting by financially. So ensure you have a little money cushion to see you through — for at least the first 6 months, while you build momentum.
  • Don't burn bridges. You never know who you will need in the future. And I am a big believer in Karma.
How have you grown as the business grew?

I have grown greyer… (laughs)! I've been doing this for 8 years now and am definitely not the same person I was when I first started. I feel running my own business has taught me more than any university degree could ever have. I have learnt resilience. I have learnt how to compromise and adapt, having survived 2 recessions. The key thing I have learnt, which is very similar to what I have learned since becoming a mother, is PATIENCE — although it's still not a virtue, I have been managing very well.

What do you know now that you wish you knew earlier?

As with running any business, there will always be highs and lows. I have had my fair share of lows, from our website being plagiarised to unsavoury behaviour from dodgy competition to trying to keep Bride Club ME ticking while dealing with some very serious personal issues. The past few years have been a massive challenge for me as I had a series of unfortunate events happen in my personal life, taking me away from my usual role at BCME for long periods of time. 

Thankfully, my wonderful team held the fort while I got back on track. And as I became a new mother, trying to navigate the interesting world of being an entrepreneur mum. I wish I knew how to have all my contracts in place. I wish I sought a mentor when I first went it alone with my business in hindsight… It's easy to say 'I wish I knew this and I wish I knew that.' But it's all been a valuable lesson… We can never grow and become resilient if we don't experience these challenges.

What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Don't sweat other people's perception of who you are… Follow your intuition and be patient. Don't rush to understand who you really are too soon. Explore, experiment and just 'be' for a while.

What are your major goals for the next 5 years?

I've learnt to not really publicise my goals and ambitions. But my main priority is just to continue to work towards stability and happiness.

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