MURUGAVEL JANAKIRAMAN, Founder and CEO of Matrimony.com Ltd (its flagship brand is Bharatmatrimony.com) talks of the micro-market strategy and segmentation that has worked for the brand, how online match-making has changed over the last 20 years and plans to expand in South Asia and beyond
HOW MY LIFE CHANGED
I come from a very humble background. I was the first one to go to high school or college in my family. I wanted a BSc degree in Chemistry as my uncle said it would help me get a lab technician’s job, but I did not get a seat. I ended up doing BSc in Statistics, on the advice of the college Principal, who noticed I had good marks in Maths. Statistics was a turning point in my life. I went on to enrol for a Master in Computer Applications degree, and realized my strength in programming. I worked as a techie in Singapore, then moved to the USA. The first learning of my life is that whatever happens, happens for the good. Unintended consequences are better than intended consequences. In any situation, take the outcome in a positive way.
BIRTH OF AN IDEA
I was working as a consultant in the US in the late 90s, when a lot of dotcom companies started flourishing. Since I was good in programming, I wanted to run a portal; since I am from Tamil Nadu, I thought it should be useful to the Tamil community. So I started Sysindia – with Tamil festival reminders, Tamil calendars and Tamil ‘Make Friends’ and various other services. Matrimony was one such service for the Tamil community, and it was getting some serious traffic; people were getting married through it too. Initially, there was one tab for brides and another for grooms. Over a period of time, I added search facility and other features. In late 1999, I got married through my own service! Then I thought of launching separate portals for each language or community in India, and thus came into being Marathi Matrimony, Punjabi Matrimony, Gujarati Matrimony, etc., under the brand Bharat Matrimony. Bharat Matrimony was born in March, 2000. In 2004, we launched Tamil Matrimony and Telugu Matrimony and several other matrimony sites under it. By 2005 end, a lot of sites were under Bharat Matrimony, but that’s when the dotcom bubble burst. I was working for a company in the US. I was laid off. I had been contemplating getting into full-time business because I used to work as a consultant during the day and develop the websites in the night as a one-man show. It was my opportunity to get full-time into this venture.
GROWTH & CHALLENGES
Right from the beginning, it was a paid service; the money made was put back into the business. I moved back to India and started expanding our operations. In 2006, we raised $8.6 million from Yahoo and Canaan Partners. After two years, we raised another $ 12 million. When I started, $10 was my initial investment per month. Today, the company’s market cap is Rs 2000 crore. After the first round of funding, we had created a lot of other verticals as well, like a property portal, a job portal, an automobile portal, etc. In 2008, collapse of the global economy hit us too. We had limited capital, and had to decide to keep only our core business and shut down most of the other ventures. That was the most challenging phase of my career - 2008-09. I had to let go of people, close down the business.
Despite the challenges, it was more like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly phase. Until that time, I was a caterpillar, focusing on CAGR, and on technology and product. I was pushed against the wall, but the butterfly was emerging. My focus was now on each and every area of operation, be it finance or marketing or administration. I understood how efficiently the business could be run. Turning the company from a loss-making entity to profitability, I acted more like a war-time CEO.
Within six months, it became a profitable venture. We brought in innovations in the match-making space. In addition to Bharat Matrimony.com, we launched 300 community and religion-based sites under the brand communitymatrimony.com. So there was christianmatrimony.com, muslimmatrimony.com, and also divorceematrimony. We also pioneered assisted match-making services, with relationship managers taking the match-making offline at extra cost. We then launched Elitematrimony, an exclusive match-making service for the affluent. We scaled up the business, and listed the company in 2017. Today, apart from match-making in India, we have launched our services in other South Asian countries. We have Bangladesh matrimony.com, Srilankanmatrimony.com, Arabmatrimony.com. We also launched match making services for the global audience with a brand called Muslimmatch.com. We recently launched Doctors and IIM-IIT Matrimony.
Meanwhile, we expanded into the weddings business in India with Mandap.com, possibly India’s largest wedding venues platform with 20,000 listed venues. Then we have weddingbazaar.com, a marketplace model for wedding service providers, caterers, decorators and various other service providers.
THE COVID CHALLENGE
In the last year, during the COVID situation, we adopted a defensive strategy, to save money wherever possible. Our offensive strategy was to invest where it matters as the crisis is too big an opportunity to be missed. That has paid off. In the last three quarters, we saw double-digit growth, and we expect this to continue. Because of COVID, there was strong digital adoption across India. Also, in the lockdown, people were stuck at home, and we saw a surge in the number of people hitting the portal.
While we are the pioneers in the online matrimony space, we are also pioneers of industry standards. We were the first company to take mobile numbers for registration, and verified the ID proof properly. It actually built credibility and trust on the match-making platform. Today, there are lakhs of profiles on our platform with verified ID. That gives additional comfort to the registered members.
CHANGES OVER 20 YEARS
Parents were the initial users of matrimonial sites. Today, individuals themselves are creating their profiles. After 21 years, we’ve been able to establish credibility, and these sites have become the primary choice for someone who wants to get married. Initially people from Tier I cities took to our sites; today, 40% of our users are from Tier III cities. It’s a big shift. Our largest user base consists of males in the 24 to 28 age group and females in the 23 to 25 age group.
The brand needs to continue to expand with match-making because there is a phenomenal opportunity in India. We will continue to innovate, improve our market-share. Today, we have 60% market-share in India in the match-making space. We are expanding our wedding services, and entering South Asian countries.
The thing is to go as far as you can go, and once there, you will see further. Keep learning, keep improving. And keep setting a goal post. We were a matrimony company and we had a challenge attracting talent. They thought it was a marriage broker polished up. Today, we have a best-in-class leadership team.
MY MARRIAGE STORY
While I was still in the US, an article about our service appeared in one of the magazines in Tamil Nadu. My mother-in-law read that article and they created a profile for my wife - a Tamilian born and brought up in Gujarat. My initial correspondence was with my father-in-law, who was very particular that the horoscopes should match. I asked to talk to the prospective bride, but he said I could talk only if the horoscopes matched. Thankfully, they did and I spoke to her. A meeting was fixed in Chennai. They flew to Chennai. I flew from here to Chennai. Within a few weeks, we got married.
A DAY IN MY LIFE
I get up at 5.30 am and do my meditation, yoga and exercise. I work for 10-12 hours and spend time with family in the evening. On Sundays, the full day is for the family. Meanwhile, I continue to learn, continue to improve. I read books or listen to audiobooks. During lockdown, we as a family – my wife and two children – have taken to playing the online game Gartic.io., where one person has to draw something denoting a word and the others have to find the word. I am always the loser, as they are very good in drawing. Every day, we take turns to pick a game to play.
FOR COVID SUPPORT
We have 3,500 employees across India. Everybody is working from home. In the pandemic situation, we’ve asked our people to take Zincovit and Vitamin C; and put money in their accounts to help them take care of their immunity. We facilitate video calls with the company doctor on COVID-related things. We pay for all COVID tests and vaccinations. We also paid some money to the Tamil Nadu Government to buy oxygen cylinders from Singapore. Besides, we donated Rs 50 lakh to the Tamil Nadu Government and also Rs 50 lakh to the PM Cares fund.