OPW INTERVIEW -- Aug 11 -- In the USA and Europe, internet dating sites help users hookup, find compatible partners and meet up. In India, matrimonials sites help users and their parents list themselves and their respective children’s details and advertise them as being available for marriage. Its a different mindset and methodology and Shaadi.com leads the rankings as the top matrimonials service in India (along with Bharat Matrimony). We interviewed he the founder and chief, Anupam Mittal. - Mark Brooks
What is Shaadi’s founding story?
It goes back to 1996/97. I used to live and work in the U.S. then I took a sabbatical for a couple of months and went back to India. Frankly, I was just bored. I wanted to do something, so I got together with 3 or 4 people and we started playing around with websites and tinkering on the Internet. One day I met a traditional matchmaker. In India, as you know, you don’t marry one person, you marry a family. So these matchmakers go from home to home, build relationships with families and try to make a match within their network. I was really intrigued about his business. I asked him: “How many people do you have in your network?” He said: “About 50 or 60”. So it occurred to me that if one chose this route to get married, then it was awfully limiting in terms of who you could marry. So one thing led to another and we thought, why not take this concept and put it on the Internet and that’s how Shaadi.com was born.
How would you say Shaadi is different from the likes of Match.com?
Shaadi.com is more a matrimonial platform. Match.com, for example, would never be able to justify providing all the various different fields that we do that are very important from a matrimonial perspective. For example, community and sub community or references, which is allowing people to call other people and do reference checks.
How does it work from the user perspective?
It depends on how involved you are as a user. Once you sign up we can find out, based on your activity, how involved you are as a user and what you are really looking for from Shaadi.com. One scenario would be where we don’t interact with you in the real world at all. We simply let you experience the site because you know exactly what you’re doing. The other extreme is that we call you and have you walk into a Shaadi.com center. We have about 75 Shaadi centers across India and one in Canada now. These are real world matchmaking centers.
In terms of pricing is there a big difference between somebody who uses just the online piece and the user who wants to use the matchmaking service?
There is a significant difference. In U.S. the pricing is different. We start at about $54 for 3 months, then it could go up to $300 if our members require phone assistance. In India, the price ranges from $40 to $400 because we offer the real world service there through the matchmaking centers.
How is the down economy effecting business?
Different markets are responding differently. Our Indian market has been growing stronger and stronger ever since the recession hit. However, if you look at the UK market, in September we saw a dramatic fall. But that lasted only about 2 months and since then it’s come back pretty well. So overall, we don’t see any impact because the growth in India and the growth in other markets more than compensate for the slight drop we had in the UK.
Facebook is growing quite quickly in India against the likes of Orkut. Do you see the social networks like Facebook and Orkut posing a threat to Shaadi or is there an opportunity in there?
This is a question that kept me awake a couple of years back. I used to ask myself, “Will social networks make sites like Shaadi irrelevant?” Now I know that it’s not going to happen. Over the years we have developed the site in such a way that it offers features and things that are very relevant to matrimony and marriage which Facebook or Orkut could never replicate. Their purpose of being is not to get people married but to connect them. So I see it more as an opportunity and in the next few months we will figure out how to use Facebook to make a big difference for our purposes.
You have other businesses beyond the matrimonial area. Could you tell me more about those businesses you’re involved in?
After starting Shaadi.com, I founded a couple of more businesses and over time we ended up as a group of businesses called The People Group. There are 2 primary focus areas. One is Shaadi.com which is matrimonial, of course, and the other is online real estate, Makaan.com which in Indian means home. That is something we started almost 3 years back now and it’s tracking pretty well. We also own another company, called Mauj Mobile, which is a mobile company for entertainment, mobile value added services technology and service management where we help operators generate higher revenues. Finally, there is People Pictures which is a film production company.
Where would you like to see Shaadi by the end of 2010?
India is a very complex country. You’ve got several languages, thousands of dialects, many states. India in a way is like Europe; you go south and it’s a completely different culture and within the south as well there are 4 states which have completely different ways of matchmaking and completely different requirements. So our biggest challenge is how to use the power of the Internet to be everything to everyone. That involves building a technology platform that has extreme customer segmentation based product features and the packaging that becomes very relevant to the member. If we can crack that, then I would like to use the same for the non-Indian market and expand to other cultures and communities that are culturally aligned or similar to the Indian culture.