“Love comes after the marriage,” says Murugavel Janakiraman, the founder and chief executive of one of India’s largest matrimonial website companies, BharatMatrimony.
The entrepreneur believes it is a philosophy ingrained in Indian culture and one of the reasons Indians place more importance on matching other “various criteria” before tying the knot – “religion, languageâ€¦ matching the community, you need to also match the sub-community, then there’s horoscope matching”.
The long list of factors that need to be in alignment can seem daunting when it comes to searching for a potential spouse. But Mr Janakiraman says that thoroughness has made the internet increasingly popular in India as a tool for searching for prospective partners.
“Online provides the comfort and choice – the choice of millions of prospectsâ€¦ [and] much more information about a prospect,” he says.
Mr Janakiraman says he has married more than two million people through BharatMatrimony and spin-off sites aimed at different communities and in different languages.
He met his own wife through the service he had created, after he responded to a profile of her posted by his future father-in-law.
“We got married in three weeks,” he says.
The ‘new’ arranged marriage
Mr Janakiraman says the way people marry in India has changed significantly.
“It is not like 20 years ago where the parents chose the groom for the girl,” he says. “Today the parents know that it won’t work anymore.”
Instead he believes that although getting engaged is still very much a family affair, parents are “more comfortable nowadays” with their children choosing their own partner “as long as they marry within the community”.
To this extent, the entrepreneur regards online matchmaking as a new way of marrying couples that accommodates both the spouses and their families.
Mr Janakiraman says the range of choice on the web allows people to “identify the prospects” before “theyâ€¦ get parents involved”.
“At the end of the day, the singles have the comfort of the parents also being in the matchmaking process. The parents are comfortable that the singles are involving them in the matchmaking process,” he says.
He says of his own experience: “My initial conversation was with my father-in-lawâ€¦ then I came to India, I met the girl.”
Mr Janakiraman says he could not have predicted the success of online matchmaking in India.
In the late 1990s he was working in the USA as a technology consultant. In his spare time, he started a web portal aimed at the Tamil community. The website included a couple of pages of matrimonial advertisements – and Mr Janakiraman noticed that these drew a large amount of traffic.
This gave him the idea for launching a matrimonial website with different sections aimed at all the main communities and groups in India.
He launched BharatMatrimony in 2000 – but he says that a lot of people told him that they doubted it would succeed. One of the most common criticisms he heard was: “Indians won’t be comfortable using online sites to find a life partner, because they are very conservative.”
Mr Janakiraman tried to tackle the problem by introducing various privacy features to provide reassurance. Now, as people have become more accustomed to interacting with others online, some of these features have been phased out.
Another big challenge was how to receive payments from customers. In many parts of the world, the most common way to pay for goods or services on the internet is by credit card – but in India, credit card usage is still in its infancy.
Mr Janakiraman’s solution was simple: “We had to go to the doorstep and collect the money.”
It is an approach the company has perfected over time. “Today, anywhere in India, within three hours we canâ€¦ go to the doorstep and collect the payment,” he says.
“More than 60% of the revenue is coming from this doorstep collection mechanism in India,” he adds.
Forced to diversify
Somewhat surprisingly, Mr Janakiraman says he did not expand his business because of a desire to generate more profits.
He says he had to diversify the business model when growth began to slow down. In 2008 “our company was losing money so all of a sudden the market outlookâ€¦ changed”, he says.
“We had to do something different and if we are to become efficient weâ€¦ just cannot only focus on BharatMatrimony. We have to create new revenue channels.”
The company began to widen its range of services – for example, customers willing to pay higher prices were offered the option of help from a relationship manager.
Mr Janakiraman says that this diversification has paid off, and the company has increased its market share. He says it has given him the drive to reach further and look at international expansion.
He is also examining the possibility of entering the wedding industry, which he says is a sizeable market.
“Marriage in India is something – it’s a once in a lifetime eventâ€¦ the most expensive event,” he says.
Mr Janakiraman says every entrepreneur must be driven by purpose and passion. But he believes the key to success is perseverance.
“It’s very important because many times you hit the road block,” he says. “You’ve got to realise, ‘OK, it’s not the end of the roadâ€¦ it’s starting a new path’.
“It’s not about the money,” he says. “It’s about creating success, creating the name, creating the institution which can live forever.”