Why I Wrote this
“Be the CEO of your wedding”.
Alternatively, “How to survive being the groom of a big, fat Indian wedding”.
Surviving a wedding was a very interesting period of my life. It was a time when I felt both in charge of everything and in charge of absolutely nothing. Now that I work at Skip Scooters and get extensive time talking to execs like Suhail (former CEO of Mixpanel), Sanjay (our CEO and former CEO of Boosted Boards), and our CTO Mike who’s founded many other companies, I realized that many of the tips they gave on how to be a good CEO / leader of a company also apply in planning and surviving weddings. And many of these tips were things I had started to incorporate without even realizing it.
So I decided to write this after looking back, hoping it will help someone else who’s soon to be married.
Learn to Take a Loss
Sometimes, life hands you a loss.
It’s a pretty common saying, and for the most part we all understand on a cognitive level. But it’s not until shit is hitting the fan that you realize - no really, sometimes life just hands you a big, fat “L” for no reason.
You didn’t do anything to earn it, it just happened.
My Mumbai wedding had a spectacular example of this. For whatever reason, this particular section of Mumbai had absolutely horrible reception. In most of Mumbai I actually had great roaming connection, even to have a voice or even video calls on occassion, but for whatever reason this one building in particular had absolutely no reception for anyone - locals included. (We later found out that due to a local storm, many of the cell towers in that part of Chembur had gone down, which is why nobody had reception.)
Not knowing any of this, I wake up on the morning of our wedding thinking it to be rather strange that nobody had contacted me. Every day leading up to the wedding I’d wake up to a slew of whats app messages and tasks I had to do, but today, the day of the wedding… Nothing.
I go to the front desk and decide I’ll just take a taxi over to my soon-to-be wife’s place; whatever I had to do, it would probably be near her, so the best thing to do right now is just to be by her side. Well the only two taxis were both taken, and an hour away. Can’t call an Uber because, well, no data. So, I did the only thing I could - ran. I ran four miles in slightly rainy Mumbai traffic to Ahana’s house.
When I get there, of course, there is no warm reception.
A slew of angry screams - “Where the hell were you”, “I’ve been calling you ten times”, “Pick up your damn phone” - and so on and so forth.
A great way to be greeted by your fiancee on the day of your wedding indeed!
Sometimes, life just hands you an L. You get struck by lightning, a drunk driver hits you, whatever it may be. You just have to shrug it off, and move on. Life hands you an L; pick up the pieces, and get going. You’re the CEO - you, more than anyone, are stuck. So get going buddy.
Over Communicate & Follow Up
Unlike in a business context like a startup, you don’t actually have many difficult decisions. What’s our go to market strategy? How much of our budget should we allocate to hiring versus user acquisition? Most of the tasks surrounding a wedding are actually more mundane and logistical in nature. Who will sit where? How many vans will we need? When is everyone arriving? Who’s planning the schedule?
The good thing about these tasks is that they’re doable by nearly every adult who has common sense (read delegatable), and they just need some follow-up. Like you, your close relatives will also have 1000 things on their plate, so periodic reminders are absolutely critical. I literally had google assitant ping me reminders very 20 minutes with things I had to follow up on, until they were completed or deemed unnecessary.
Keep in mind, most of the people coming to a wedding come from a whole array of different backgrounds. Things that I often took for granted associating with engineers were simply untrue for other people because they didn’t share the same business background or context. For example, some of my emails ended with “EOM” - at work, we use this for end of message - there’s nothing more to be said here.
One of my friends actually thought this meant to do something by the End of Monday, and so he actually ended up booking a hotel room for the wrong days!
Simple things like this we take for granted - so really, wherever possible, over communicate. Explain your intentions, so that even if the situation changes, people understand your larger north star goals and can advocate on your behalf. Otherwise, delegation becomes impossible and you really do have to be present in every room and every conversation, all the time.
When everything goes wrong, and things inevitably will, you above all others must keep your cool. Most of the things that go wrong are absolutely trivial - they may not be in the eyes of the bride or your parents or the priest - but they really, really are. Short of the bride or you walking out, nothing matters. A wedding is like applying for a government permit for your product. You’ve spent all this time investing and researching, you’ve picked the right product, and you think it’s a fit. Now comes time to actually do the business.
Short of the bride walking out on you (akin to the government saying no), literally nothing else matters.
Did the religious ceremony go awry? Who cares. If God really does exist, and he punishes you for something so trivial as a ceremony going bad on one day, when you’re going to devote the rest of your life to this woman, then fuck God anyway.
Did either side’s parents make a huge scene? It literally doesn’t matter. You’re not going to be the first person who had a scandalous wedding, and you certainly won’t be the last. Guess what? People will talk about it for a couple months becuase that’s what people love to do - gossip. Especially fickle people who don’t have anything better to do with their time or their lives. Move on.
For my wedding, we went to a particularly Indian stylist and he gave me what was probably the worst haircut I’ve ever gotten. But again, it doesn’t matter. The wedding is not for you! You’re trying to get a permit, and that’s it. Move on. Anytime anything went wrong, I had to repeat this to myself. Keep perspective - as long as she walks with you be it around the fire, down the isle, or anything else your particular tradition requires, the day is a huge success. So keep a smile on, be grateful, and just move on.
In five years time none of this will matter.
And when you think you’ve delegated all that you could possibly delegate, delegate some more.
This goes back to my previous point about over-communicating; you have to quickly and rapidly identify the people who can vouch for you and your perspective. For me, this became my parents and my brother for most ceremony related decisions. For other decisions like food, my uncles and my cousins. Each area has a person you can rely on and depend on who understands your needs. Use them! Use them as much as possible, and be as grateful as possible. These people are your life savers.
What about decisions that you don’t have someone to depend upon?
Quickly decide if this is something that’s worth the mental headache to you or not. If this goes wrong, will I care? For me, the answer is almost always no. I imagine it’s the same way for most men. What happens if the food is too spicy? Well, I’ll ask my cousin to get me a subway sandwhich. Literally. This means I don’t have to be involved in any food decision. Next.
You need to evaluate quickly and efficiently what are the few key decisions you need to be involved in. For all those that you don’t care about, delegate them anyway. You don’t care either way, so you might as well let someone else decide! And the few people you do trust absolutely are far too important to be burdened with decisions you don’t care about.
Grab All Decision Makers
One of the most common issues is that there tends to be too many decision makers.
Each family has an expert on religion or an expert on food, and often times they may clash. The worst situation you can put yourself in is to be the go-between for these folks. Grab them all into one room and have them decide right then and there, within a timeboxed interval of time. Otherwise, the decisions drag on and your valuable time is wasted being a messenger. It’s just not worth it.
If they absolutely can’t meet in person, then organize a phone call. Whenever I ended up doing this - and I usually did this as a last resort instead of a first resort, we left that meeting with the absolute final plan, and it always worked out. Do this sooner rather than later, even if they approach you with the attitude of the “you are the most important decision-maker here.” As the groom, I can promise you the following: you most certainly are not.
Understand Your Customers
Who are you serving?
Thankfully, I don’t think many men are under the illusion that the wedding is for them, so it’s not something I have to fight many people on. The wedding is obviously not for you, if you’re the groom - if you’re from a Western culture, it’s more likely for the bride; if you’re from an Eastern culture, it’s more likely for the two families (read the two sets of parents); but either way, it’s not for you, the groom.
This may seem depressing, but it’s actually not! It’s the most liberating aspect of all of this.
I find that many people treat this as one of the most stressful moments in their lives, but as the CEO, you need to remain cool more than anyone. Your only job is to make your customer happy - everyone else is the press, and who cares if the media is happy? As long as you’re turning a quarterly profit and your shareholders are happy, everyone else can go to hell.
As the groom, your customer, regardless of who the wedding is for, is ultimately and solely for the bride. That’s it. Period. Because the larger goal is to make sure she’s happy and still wants to marry you. So whatever you can do to make her job easier, even if that means letting her yell at you (because she’s going through way more than you are, I promise you that), do it!
Once I realized this and drowned out everyone else’s concerns about what’s right or how things must be done, my life got incredibly easy. Many of your wife’s concerns will be making others happy; for the most part, you can just ignore these. Focus just on the things she really wants, even if they’re not always communicated in the best way. These are the most important things to get right. If you can get the others right, fine, but focus on her intrinsic desires first and foremost.
You need to be very quick at recognizing when something isn’t working out.
This is because you’ve delegated a lot of tasks to people, and if you’re following up with them regularly, it becomes obvious when progress isn’t being made. For Indian weddings especially, these things last 3-4 days. So you’re trying to find out who you can rely on and depend upon as quickly as possible.
This is uncomfortable, even more so because they’re often times family and not just coworkers, but it absolutely must be done. And this really is something nobody but you can do. Where you draw the line of having a backup person just tag along and make sure it gets done versus actually just transitioning that responsibility to someone else is up to you, and I’m certainly not going to tell you how to fire people.
But it must be done early and quickly.
I only had to fire two people from tasks during my wedding, and in both cases the difference was night and day. The people that replaced them were more passionate, did the job quicker and better. Ultimately I wondered why I hadn’t fired those people sooner.
A wedding is an exciting and hopefully once in a lifetime experience. I find that more people should spend time enjoying it than freaking out. I had a pretty incredible time, in no small part due to the incredible amount of help I got from my parents, the parents of my wife, and all our close relatives. Lean on people close to you to help out, let the small things go, and just enjoy it. It’s the start to a beautiful relationship, and the more you spend stressing about the small details, the more you’re missing out on a rather remarkable change that’s happening right before your eyes.
Be in the now, and enjoy this beginning with someone you love.
Who cares if Uncle Bob hated the salad? Fuck Uncle Bob anyway!