Startup of the week: matrimony.com grows up with a stellar IPO


This week we feature the popular matrimonial service matrimony.com running the flagship brand BharatMatrimony that recently completed a stellar IPO raising about Rupees 226 crore ($35 million). It was founded in 1997 by Murugavel Janakiraman, who later met his wife through his own matrimony site.

The business model of online matrimonial sites is very straightforward: Create a large database where individuals post their details, including ideas on preferred partners. Individuals may also be able to search online through the database to find and screen suitable matches and then contact them. While searching is generally open to public and is free, portals generally require a subscription or membership if one wishes to contact a person listed in the database. The subscription fee ranges from $10 for a “basic” membership to hundreds of dollars depending on the services being provided. Most Indian portals surveyed charged anywhere between Rs 500 and Rs 1,000. The subscription fee model is a huge revenue-spinner for portals if one were to consider the fact that most portals claim to have hundreds of thousands of subscribers.

Competitive landscape

If the online matrimonial business model were as straightforward, thousands of entrepreneurs would be jumping in to rake in the big bucks. The challenge most portals face is from the human angle—managing customer expectations. Though most of these websites have automated registration and payment processes, they try to build manual checks and balances. Says Muruga of Bharat Matrimony: “Ours is a technology driven company but we manually authorise the profiles to make sure the profiles are genuine.” 

Managing customer expectations becomes harder because the “product” or “commodity” that portals are dealing with is the hopes and expectations of individuals. Also, individuals have a wider choice when it comes to online and offline advertising, and posting one’s details on the Internet is just one of the several medium available. The big players in this market—including BharatMatimony.com and Shaadi.com—have cornered a niche for themselves in the cyber world, ranking high in search engines.

BharatMatrimony.Com also has also succeeded by carving out alliances with successful online portals and search engines. They also have huge advertising budgets, given that ads for matrimonial portals regularly appear in TV, radio and print. Alongside, the traditional avenues for matrimonial advertisements—newspaper classifieds, continue to eat into the overall market share. Interestingly, most newspapers also post their print adverts free in their online editions, further competing with pure-play online portals. Large portals also have sub-portals catering to different ethnic sub segments of the society; for instance, the BharatMatrimony is actually an umbrella of 14 matrimonial websites based on the major Indian languages.

Lower barriers to entry have lead to intense competition in this space, especially because of the number of players who have jumped the bandwagon. (Ref: The business of online matchmaking )

Bharat-matrimony-logo.gif

Startup Bytes

Founders:  Murugavel Janakiraman started a community portal in April 1997. A small section for matrimony attracted steady traffic. Which eventually made him to start BharatMatrimony.com in the year 2000.
Startup Focus:  Matrimony.com and its flagship BharatMatrimony is an online matrimony service.
Future Plans: To continue growth in the online matrimonial niche

Competitors:  Shaadi.com and other online matrimonial portal (link).

Startup stage and funding: BharatMatrimony’s IPO subscribed 4.4 times on final day, raising about Rupees 226 crore ($35 million).

Q&A: Offline views from Murugavel Janakiraman, founder and CEO

Murugavel Janakiraman

I interacted with Murugavel ‘Muruga’ Janakiraman during the early days of dot.com era when I was running the NRI focused portal, GaramChai.com.

During offline interactions, Muruga came across as a candid but astute techie and businessman who understood the power and potential of the internet. He also realized the potential of digital networks in connecting people seeking serious relationships and matrimony, as opposed to casual dating that was much more prevalent in the west.

In the decade-and-half since, I have been following the success and travails of the business of online matrimonials. I have also benefitted from the business, given the advertisement revenue and listing services from successive online eCommerce ventures entering the space.

The business of Matrimony: A consumer case study

Book extract from the Amazon eBook “The Bounce” that explores a user view of online matrimonials:

Late in the evenings, I would sit in front of the laptop reviewing email inquiries and performing
searches. I approached this search like most technical projects at work. I maintained a simple “project plan,” recording basic details of searches, number of email inquiries received, people I had
corresponded with, and the outcome, whether I was going to pursue that proposal further or not.
However, unlike most of my technical projects, I was emotionally vested in this, and was finding it
hard to balance the tug between the heart and logic.

Responding to online advertisements and inquiries was turning out to be an interesting adventure.
Along the way I learned to spot fluffed-up profiles, especially those of girls who sounded dishonest. I eliminated profiles posted with obviously conflicting expectations like “looking for a driven, serious, easy going husband with a good sense of humor.” Serious and easy going, at the same time? It wasn’t my job to resolve such contradictions.

Also excluded from my search were those who posted expectations I wouldn’t meet. “Brahmin girl
pursuing Ph.D seeks highly educated boy from upper caste, preferably vegetarian, family.” Would a
girl pursuing a Ph.D be willing to travel the world with me? Didn’t Seema give that reason while
spurning my advances? Sometimes it was hard not to look in the rearview mirror while driving forward.

Some of the email correspondences, when I got past the initial search, were intriguing. A few bungled their mails or were simply dishonest. I began corresponding with a woman named Sunita whose profile said she was 28 and single. She said she was a software engineer living in Bangalore with her parents and a younger brother. We exchanged phone numbers and agreed to meet for coffee on a Saturday afternoon.

The morning of our scheduled meeting, I received a text message from Sunita. “Sorry, can’t make it
today. My son is sick.”

“Your son?” I texted

“Yes, my two-year-old. Will send email.” I was left scratching my head. Didn’t Sunita indicate she was single?

That evening, I got an email from Sunita explaining she was a recent divorcee and had custody of a
son from the marriage. She said she hadn’t told many people about her separation, and was hesitant
to post details on her online profile. She apologized for this “miscommunication” and requested we
meet the following Sunday. So much for starting a trust-based relationship.

Another time, I began exchanging emails with a girl, Shanti. Her picture was attractive and the profile said she was 26, five feet, three inches, and worked as a clerk at ICICI bank’s MG road branch. I decided to meet her after work one evening, as the bank was on my way home.

Shanti arrived at Café Coffee Day, promptly at 6 in the evening as we had agreed. After a few minutes of chitchat we ordered some coffee while I pulled out my Blackberry.

“It is not very polite to leave a young lady alone while you stare at a Blackberry,” said Shanti.

“I am sorry. It is not very polite,” I replied. “Just wanted to check something quickly.”

After a few minutes, I pulled out Shanti’s Shaadi.com profile and handed the Blackberry to her and
said, “This says you are five feet, three inches. You seem to be two inches taller than even me! And
this picture doesn’t look like you.” I realized I was sounding superficial, just pointing at a lady’s
physical appearance. But to me this wasn’t just about her looks or height; it was about basic integrity and honesty. If she was being dishonest about basic details posted online, what else was she hiding?

“Sorry about the mixup,” replied Shanti sounding unperturbed. “My sister, Neeru, helped me create
the Shaadi.com profile and must have made a mistake. I think she updated her picture and details
instead of mine.”

“Maybe I should meet Neeru then,” I joked. But my humor was lost on Shanti. We quickly finished our coffee and bid goodbye.

Articles about BharatMatrimony’s recent IPO

  • BharatMatrimony’s IPO subscribed 4.4 times on final day – VC Circle
  • I am married to and through Bharat Matrimony: Murugavel Janakiraman – Economic Times
  • Joining India’s IPO boom, Matrimonial.com goes public – New Delhi Times
  • Matrimony.com IPO a huge hit, subscribed 441% on last day – Business Today

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