There’s news of dating major Tinder’s parent Match Group looking to invest in Indian matrimony site Shaadi.com. There’s another report on InfoEdge, which has JeevanSaathi.com in its fold, acquiring dating site Aisle.
Elsewhere, Matrimony.com’s CMD Murugavel Janakiraman is planning the next phase of growth via new launch BangladeshiMatrimony.com and a wedding services acquisition, among other things. At EliteMatrimony.com, targeted at the top rungs, the company is set to introduce a few tweaks. At the other end of the spectrum is 2022 launch Jodii built to bridge the digital divide, exclusively for non-degree holders.
With consolidated revenue of 434.5 crore, Matrimony.com’s topline grew 15pc in FY 2022, with 8.94 lakh paid subscriptions and over 1.04 lakh success stories. Over 70pc of users on Matrimony.com today would be prospective brides and grooms themselves, estimates Janakiraman – a number that keeps crawling up year on year.
So how does he view the proposed alliances between dating and matrimony sites? The online matchmaking veteran notes that while most of the dating sites have been around for a decade or so in India, they haven’t made the revenues they expected to.
“They have realised that there is money to be made in matrimony – that’s where people are willing to pay. Slowly, some of the companies are positioning themselves as matrimony sites or serious relationship sites,” he explains.
In the Indian context, there may be a small segment seeking out casual relationship sites and even paying to list on them, but there’s not enough traction at scale for the category, is his understanding.
The online matrimony business on the other hand is very much relevant, as the numbers show. While the user registration spurt witnessed during Covid times has given way to more stable numbers, there is a rationale to that too.
“People who may have come on board and registered at a later stage in their matchmaking journey, went online during Covid as they had limited choice of things to do during the lockdowns,” explains the CMD.
Matrimony.com’s brands, led by dominant regional language matrimony brands it started with, Bharat Matrimony and others, would cumulatively account for a 60pc market share, estimates Janakiraman. If one maps organised players to revenue, that is an accurate ballpark.
The macro picture
Janakiraman, also Chairman of CII Chennai Zone, investor in his individual capacity in over 60 startups and founding member of Global Super Fund, is not too perturbed by news of layoffs and recession from across the seas.
“There may be a global recession but India is poised for growth – whether that growth is 5 or 6pc remains to be seen. India is in a strong sweet spot. People are looking at a China-Plus-One strategy for manufacturing. Two-thirds of our GDP is driven by domestic consumption. The government is also enabling manufacturing and has allocated a good amount for infrastructure. A combination of factors is going to accelerate India’s growth,” notes the entrepreneur.
He cites macro economic factors like the US pumping in money during Covid and its repercussions now, like spend cuts and drying up of funding money. The rapid adoption of technology at the time also saw trends like ‘hiring at any cost’ and ‘hiring like crazy’ in some sectors, which are seeing a course correction, explains Janakiraman.
Not everything is bad news, though. Thanks to developments in AI, attendant cost optimisation to some extent is helping offset inflation, he adds.
On the subject of funding, we are also in a phase where many startups are winding up or scaling down, we point out. Janakiraman concurs that some startups went overboard, as did investors.
“When the money supply was available, people went after deals at high valuations. Now that the supply has come down people are looking at the fundamentals. Sometimes it appears to be largely driven by momentum and the fear of missing out (FOMO),” he adds.
It also seems to be a cycle that repeats itself. “I have been on my entrepreneurial journey for 23 years. This is the third cycle I am seeing.I have seen this in the late ‘90s, in 2010-11, again more recently. It’s not something new,” he observes.
Based on some global benchmark, all valuation could change drastically, opines the man who has launched and shut down many verticals since he turned to entrepreneurship, to singularly focus on matchmaking and related services.
Sometimes the value assigned in India is also driven by global valuations, he points out – a rideshare business getting a high valuation in the US could impact valuation in the category here, for instance. It could cut both ways, becoming as it does a peer-level comparison rather than on the merit of the business, potential and performance locally, he contends.
Someone who cares for what you love…
“Without a doubt, women have been increasingly taking the marriage decision into their own hands. Their active expression of interest to males last year saw more than 30pc jump over pre-Covid phase. Not just that, women engagement on the BharatMatrimony app jumped by a massive 60pc” reveals a trend report from the company for 2021.
Matrimony.com sites have raised their voice for equality in marriages and prioritising education over marriage for girls, over time. #FindYourEqual with MS Dhoni followed and a larger vision to enable #HappyMarriages is now in place. It all started sometime around a decade ago, with a campaign that urged young folks to find a partner who cares for what they love.
The campaign thought originated in a satsang (spiritual discourse), reveals Janakiraman.The strategic planner who wrote the words which became the campaign line, was his spiritual guru Mahatria.
“In one of the satsangs he mentioned that while people are looking for a partner and matching horoscopes and other things, it is important to see if the person is willing to support something that you really care for. He shared the example of a girl working in a large IT company who committed suicide post marriage. The girl wanted to work, the guy did not want her to. When they discuss so many things, they should have discussed this important aspect too,” recalls Janakiraman.
Whether it is pursuing a career post marriage – which should ideally be an individual’s right or choice – or practising dance, or anything else, the guru made the case for anything one is passionate about to be discussed prior. That was the trigger.
The success of the ‘Sudha’ campaign seems to have defined the path for the brand. The brands’ advertising, which still sees the largest share going to TV, has evolved and innovated but stayed on that progressive path.
“The younger generations want equality in marriages. #EqualMarriages with MS Dhoni reflected that,” avers Janakiraman, who still reads every ad script written for TV.
The latest work that hit digital screens for Valentine’s Day 2023 was an AI-driven campaign featuring AI-created ‘Aaditya Iyer’ (AI) and ‘his’ content that made AI ‘The Perfect Valentine’. The reveal that broke adoring fans’ hearts sent home the message: ‘While there is no perfect person, there is someone perfect for you. Be choosy, for real’.
Despite the cut-through communication being inspired by the age of ChatGPT, the campaign managed to align with the ‘Be Choosy’ message that Matrimony.com had propagated not too long ago – another empowering campaign for women to have the right to choose, as equals.
Janakiraman credits CMO Arjun Bhatia and his team for coming up with the Aaditya Iyer work. As for the women empowerment route, its origin as he says, was from a satsang.
Murugavel Janakiraman, Founder and CMD, Matrimony.com |
“Our purpose is to help people find the right life partner to lead a happy married life. So all our communication is towards that. Our communication is driven by that thought process. Some of the communication worked really well for us – like the Dhoni commercial and earlier the ‘Sudha’ (career) commercial,” explains the CMD.
Asked about research to measure effectiveness of creative campaigns, Janakiraman affirms that there are systems in place but also alludes to the famous adage of not knowing ‘which half worked’.
“It is important as a consumer-facing company to continue to advertise. Every year we spend close to Rs.150 crore on marketing, with a large amount spent on TV. On TV, we are almost ‘always on’. If you are a company that advertises just three times a year you can clearly measure the pre and post. When you advertise continuously, you can’t pinpoint the impact from each commercial,” he explains.
Matrimony.com brands were also present on high-decibel properties like the IPL and international cricket matches. But IPL is something the brand has decided to stay away from.
Murugavel Janakiraman, Founder and CMD, Matrimony.com |
“Too much of clutter and too expensive,” is the brief answer. Janakiraman observes, “It’s a good property to reach a large audience if you have Rs.40 or 50 crore rupees to spend on it. If the allocation is Rs.10 crore, in my view it is not worth the money”.
The duration of the tournament is another worry, according to him – with the extended duration, impact comes down unless one spends through the tournament. Matrimony will steer clear of IPL but continue to look at other forms of cricket, he reveals.
Ask about the digital opportunity with free streaming and the answer is equally spontaneous. “It’s about the cost versus benefit. Today TV works reasonably well for us. The advantage of digital is that you can target. But with that money, what are the other alternatives? Today audiences are everywhere – not limited to any channel or property. There are multiple avenues to target our user,” he clarifies.
Expanding the scope
The progressive direction is not restricted to ad campaigns. A lot of progress has been made on the product front too.
In September 2022, the group launched RainbowLuv, exclusively for the LGBTQIA+ community. It was inspired, CMO Bhatia revealed at launch, by a query from someone from the community a year prior. While there were initial apprehensions on its rub-off on the mothership of matrimony brands, the group went ahead displaying a commendable spirit of inclusivity. Notable inclusions in the diverse list of offerings already operational are Divorcee Matrimony, Second Shaadi and Ability Matrimony.
Jodii, which was piloted in Tamil Nadu, is now available in 10 Indian languages. The CMD underlines that it is an audience the company is committed to serving – with the stated purpose of bridging the digital divide.
EliteMatrimony on the top end is set to introduce a ‘success model’ moving from its subscription fee-based model. There will be a nominal annual fee, with another fee component kicking in only after the life partner is found. It perhaps stems from the confidence of the brand in enabling the right connections leading up to the couple saying ‘Yes’.
While the number of retail outlets that bear the names of the regional language matrimony brands have come down to 110 from 240, they are still very much relevant, underlines Janakiraman. People do walk into these outlets – the touch and feel and visibility helps parents, who constitute 15pc of the user base.
Besides the matchmaking business, Wedding Bazaar (into which acquired ShaadiSaga.com has been integrated) today lists 60,000 vendors from across India. Mandap.com pitches itself as India’s largest wedding venue platform with over 40,000 venues.
This (non-matchmaking) part of the business is currently small but growing on a triple digit basis, informs the group founder, who hopes that it will achieve profitability next year.
Relevance in the Indian context
Janakiraman famously found his better half Deepa on his own site in its nascent days. A lot has happened since then with the company and consumers. His older child is now 21. We posed the question: Will a Matrimony.com portal be the gateway of choice in the next five or 10 years, when his son’s generation decides to get hitched?
Murugavel Janakiraman, Founder and CMD, Matrimony.com |
“Definitely. Because marriage in India is deeply ingrained in our culture. It’s not like in the western world, where a boy meets a girl. It’s not that today in India parents are deciding who their child should get married to, but it’s still in our culture to seek parents’ acceptance.You won’t want to get married without their involvement. It’s different from the west where parents have a limited role or no role to play. The respect we have for parents is a factor,” notes the CMD.
He also points to another factor – the cultural nuances in India, with its myriad languages and people wanting to marry someone from their linguistic and cultural background.
“To a large extent, communities are still strong. Given the parental, language and cultural aspects, the need for online matrimony will continue to be there. Also, why would someone want to go beyond online matrimony, if it serves all their needs – including helping them find a life partner on their own? With online matrimony, you are basically arranging your own marriage,” he adds.
It allows youngsters to therefore be in the driver’s seat, but with the parents being involved at a certain stage – that’s why online matrimony will remain relevant in the Indian context, he underlines. It’s an argument that’s hard to disagree with.
Ask him about mushrooming competition, including some from publisher brands, and he is again not perturbed. For, in the last 23 years, he has seen ‘enough matrimony sites come in and enough getting folded’. The leverage of the ‘Matrimony’ brand ensures that the cost of acquisition is much lower compared to a new entrant and network effect much larger, he reasons. The lifetime customer value that Matrimony is able to extract is another distinction that works as a competitive advantage.
A culture for perpetuity
Saturday is officially declared ‘Learning Day’ at the company. The CMD has just had a session with his senior leadership team. While the staff work on one Saturday in a month, the founder is known to be in the office every weekend.
The company successfully went public in 2017 and has proved to be a stable performer. It is pushing the bar on innovation, focusing on building related service offerings and has a dominant share in its core category of matchmaking. But as people who know him well will testify, Janakiraman is not one to let hubris reign.
He wants to make the next year count. For he believes it will be the time when things are getting back on track and some of the new initiatives and strategies could help the company grow further. With growth and attendant margins, he hopes to invest further on certain initiatives.
While numbers are critical and watched closely, what is stoking the fire more is the larger vision of ‘Happy Marriages for a Better Bharat’. Matrimony will host webinars for married couples and those looking to get married. The belief is that while marriages succeeded by default in the past, in future they will succeed only by communication and design.
“We want to educate people because today’s youngsters don’t have that understanding. They are getting married with expectations – if you get married as a giver in the relationship, it will work. As Mahashria says, ‘Love is a giving emotion’,” says Janakiraman.
“At every stage you have to plan for the future. Today we are close to a Rs.500 crore company. We have some plans for the next five years, next 10 years. Those plans excite us, motivate us. We also need to stay true to our purpose, of building a better Bharat by enabling happy marriages. Whenever I meet someone who is in a happy marriage through us, there is excitement. It makes us want to do a lot more,” he reveals.
Murugavel Janakiraman, Founder and CMD, Matrimony.com |
The down-to-earth entrepreneur also wants Matrimony.com to evolve, alongside its growth. He encapsulates the cultural shift he envisions, thus: “The thought process is about building a long-lasting company. It’s not about my lifetime. It’s about building a company for generations to come. If an organisation has to last for perpetuity, it also has to evolve in certain aspects. Today, to some extent, the founder is playing a role. Can the organisation continue to drive growth, overcome challenges and innovate, not limited by the founder’s involvement? Then you are building a long-lasting organisation. We need to move to that level.”
(Content powered by www.MediaNews4u.com. First published by FreePressJournal.com/BrandSutra under exclusive syndication arrangement.)
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