A Brother and Sister Venture: The Story of Harsanik.com

It’s difficult to imagine a world where information isn’t readily available to us. We have become accustomed to an easy internet search from our smart phones any time we need to find an address, phone number, or even vendor reviews. But a little over a decade ago most of us were still looking up contact information in the yellow pages, or asking friends of a friend for a phone number of a caterer they liked. In short, it was not easy to find the information you needed to plan a party, wedding, or event. This very problem was the inspiration behind Harsanik.com, a comprehensive online directory of vendors catering to wedding services around the greater Los Angeles area. Harsanik means “wedding” in Armenian.

Harsanik.com was started by a brother and sister duo, Garen Khanoyan and Marineh (Khanoyan) Tchakerian

Harsanik.com was started by a brother and sister duo, Garen Khanoyan and Marineh (Khanoyan) Tchakerian. The idea for the website was conceived in 2005 while they were discussing the challenges their friends faced while planning their weddings; many of the vendors at the time did not have websites and were difficult to contact. Garen and Marineh’s goal was to simplify the lives of those planning a wedding, and to help wedding vendors be easily found by potential brides and grooms, and see their businesses grow. “Whether it succeeded or not, we would have been happy if we created something useful for the community,” the duo told me.

The creation of Harsanik.com was no easy feat. The most challenging task for Garen and Marineh was finding a way to make time for their website idea while also working at their full-time jobs. Garen holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree from USC in electrical engineering and computer science, and Marineh holds a degree from USC in business administration with an emphasis in marketing. Their unique skills provided a combination that would be important to the success of an online business. Garen focuses on the technical aspect of the business, including the continuous development, maintenance, and optimization of the website. Marineh focuses on all aspects of marketing and sales, including developing content, partnering with vendors to help promote the site, and managing all advertising sales.

The duo began working on the website in December 2005, and during the development phase decided to create a categorized online directory (banquet halls, florists, DJ, etc.) completely free for both vendors and people to use. They felt that in order for the website to be truly helpful for the community, it had to be free. To this day Harsanik.com is a free service for users and vendors, and will remain so to serve the community to its fullest. After 15 months of solid development and long hours juggling their full-time jobs, Harsanik.com launched in March 2007.

When asked what motivated them to push through the long hours to see Harsanik.com to fruition, Garen and Marineh agreed that their number one focus was to help the Armenian community. “We knew our business would have a big impact on both those planning a wedding and vendors who cater to the Armenian wedding industry.” However, the initial challenge they faced was to gain public acceptance of the website concept. Most businesses were reluctant to receive a free basic listing on their website. They suspected fraud since they had never heard of Harsanik.com and did not believe they would benefit from a free service. Others were very skeptical of the idea and did not think the concept would work, but that motivated Garen and Marineh to work even harder.

By 2008 the website had gained traction and enjoyed a steady growth of online traffic, as well as a vendor and user base. “We started receiving countless emails from users and vendors thanking us for building a great resource for the Armenian community, and it’s that positive feedback that pushes us to keep working on the site and continue improving it.” They soon realized the added potential for helping the greater community by allowing users to share their experiences, and launched a ratings and reviews system as part of their directory. As the website continued to grow, the team focused on creating great experiences for their users, maintaining a high-quality site, and never compromising their integrity and core business values. They maintain an unbiased and fair system towards all businesses they work with.

In 2009 the Harsanik.com team expanded the business further by producing an upscale bridal show. They chose to partner with Christine Zohrabians of “Fancy That! Events” to organize the bridal event. The show was a huge success with hundreds of brides and over a thousand guests attending, proving that there was a high demand for a bridal show targeting Armenians. After receiving positive feedback from vendors and guests, Garen and Marineh decided to continue the bridal shows annually.

But what is it that motivates them to pull in long hours into the business? “It might sound crazy, but running a wedding website is actually a lot of fun. We have met so many amazing people through this business that we would never have had the chance to meet. We’ve both learned so much by running our own business, both professionally and personally. The experience of having our own ‘side project’ that has blossomed into a full online business has taught us many lessons, and we are confident there’s much more for us to learn on the Harsanik.com journey. “

Marineh (Khanoyan) Tchakerian is a Product Marketing Manager at Intuit. She has been with Intuit for 7 years, working on the product development and marketing of the TurboTax product. In 2011, she won the Scott Cook Innovation Award, which allowed her to spend 3 months in the Intuit UK office where she launched a pilot for a brand new mobile payment product in the UK. Garen Khanoyan has been working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for 15 years as a software and hardware engineer. He has worked on the last two Mars rover missions and is currently working on a perception system for autonomous helicopters and next generation decelerators for Mars landers.


Apricot Yogurt Cake

Modified from thegutsygourmet.net.

The following recipe produces a coarse-crumbed cake; for ease of slicing, dip your knife in hot water before cutting each serving.

•Two 8-ounce containers plain yogurt
•2 cups all-purpose flour
•1 1/2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
•1/2 teaspoon baking soda
•1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
•1/2 cup sugar
•2 large eggs
•3/4 cup dried apricots, chopped fine
•1 cup walnuts, chopped fine
•about 1/2 cup orange honey syrup (recipe follows)

Let the yogurt drain in a fine sieve set over a bowl, covered and chilled, overnight and measure out 1 cup of the drained yogurt, reserving the remaining yogurt for another use.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 10-inch spring form pan. Into another bowl sift together the flour, the baking powder, the baking soda, and a pinch of salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter with the sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy, beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, and beat in the one-cup drained yogurt until the mixture is just combined. Add the flour mixture, beat the batter until it is just combined, and stir in the apricots and walnuts.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and bake the cake in the middle of the oven for 50 minutes, or until a tester comes out with a few crumbs adhering to it. Put the cake in the pan on a rack set over foil, pour the orange honey syrup (see below) over it, and let the cake absorb the syrup. The cake may be made two days in advance and kept in the pan covered with plastic wrap and foil, and chilled. Remove the side of the pan and garnish the cake with the mint sprigs.

Orange Honey Syrup:
•1 cup honey
•1/2 cup fresh orange juice
•1/2 cup water
•1 1/4 teaspoons minced fresh orange zest

In a heavy saucepan, combine the honey, the orange juice, the water, and the zest and simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, or until it is reduced to 1 1/3 cups. (If the syrup is reduced too much, it becomes too thick and too sweet.) Let the syrup cool. The syrup may be made one week in advance and kept, covered, at room temperature.

Shantal Der Boghosian

Shantal Der Boghosian

Shantal Der Boghosian graduated with a master of science in environmental engineering from UCLA. A well-established "foodie," she combined her passion for food and science to start her own business, Shakar Bakery, to engineer designer cakes. Raised in a Uruguayan-Armenian household, she is fluent in Spanish, English, and Armenian. She writes a monthly column for the Armenian Weekly titled "A Piece of Cake." Email her at shakarbakery@gmail.com.

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