IS MATRIMONY.COM A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN FOR IN­DIAN IN­VESTORS?

Ex­perts are rais­ing doubts about a re­cent IPO.

The National - News - - BUSINESS | IN DEPTH - Re­becca Bund­hun re­ports

When one of In­dia’s big­gest mat­ri­mo­nial match­mak­ing web­sites, Matrimony.com, launched its ini­tial pub­lic of­fer­ing (IPO) on Monday, it was in­un­dated with suit­ors. Af­ter three days of rais­ing funds for its stock ex­change list­ing, the US$78 mil­lion deal had been sub­scribed by more than 440 per cent.

It ap­peared to be a com­ing of age for the on­line match­mak­ing in­dus­try in In­dia.

But de­spite the suc­cess of the IPO and trends, such as grow­ing in­ter­net ac­cess and an on­go­ing tra­di­tion of ar­ranged mar­riages in In­dia, an­a­lysts are cast­ing doubt over the sec­tor.

“It’s not an ideal match for in­vestors,” says Sid­dhartha Khemka, the se­nior vice pres­i­dent of re­search at Cen­trum, a wealth man­age­ment and in­vest­ment bank­ing firm head­quar­tered in Mum­bai.

“For on­line match­mak­ing ser­vices, the num­ber of unique vis­i­tors is key. The to­tal num­ber of unique vis­i­tors for the top three play­ers, de­clined from 3.75 mil­lion in March 2015 to 1.76 mil­lion by June this year. While the de­cline in Matrimony.com has been lower com­pared to oth­ers, the fall­ing trend in the in­dus­try is a cause of con­cern.”

The back­drop looks at­trac­tive. In­dia’s wed­ding ser­vices mar­ket is es­ti­mated to be worth $50 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to widely quoted fig­ures.

There are a num­ber of cri­te­ria that are typ­i­cally con­sid­ered crit­i­cal when find­ing a suit­able match in In­dia. Suit­abil­ity is of­ten judged by fac­tors in­clud­ing caste, re­li­gion, in­come and skin colour.

The reach of match­mak­ing web­sites is ex­pand­ing with the rise of smart­phone and in­ter­net us­age in In­dia, on the back of ris­ing in­comes and low data costs.

Ar­ranged mar­riages are still a preva­lent prac­tice in the coun­try. Par­ents of­ten se­lect part­ners for their chil­dren, or the par­ents will, in many cases, at least be very in­volved in the de­ci­sion.

Matrimony.com, the first match­mak­ing com­pany in In­dia to go pub­lic, earns rev­enue through its var­i­ous sub­scrip­tion mod­els. Cen­trum’s re­search shows that Matrimony.com’s av­er­age spends over the past two years in­creased from 3,655 ru­pees (Dh209) to 4,605 ru­pees. Nev­er­the­less, com­pe­ti­tion is fierce and there are hun­dreds of on­line mat­ri­mo­nial ser­vices in In­dia and Mr Khemka notes that there are “low bar­ri­ers to en­try” into the in­dus­try.

The big­gest In­dian on­line mat­ri­mo­nial com­pany, Shaadi.com boasts of 35 mil­lion mem­bers world­wide.

While it my look like “a good story” with the rise of tech­nol­ogy help­ing unite In­di­ans with part­ners from suit­able back­grounds, amid heavy mi­gra­tion flows to dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try and abroad, Su­jan Ha­jra, the chief econ­o­mist at Anand Rathi, a fi­nan­cial ser­vices com­pany based in Mum­bai has “doubts over the business model for on­line match­mak­ing sites”.

Match­mak­ing web­sites are un­likely to gen­er­ate re­peat users, he says, whereas a job por­tal for ex­am­ple has re­turn business, he points out. “You’d hope that peo­ple wouldn’t be get­ting re-mar­ried every three years.”

An­other fac­tor at work against the on­line matrimony sec­tor is that al­though it will fre­quently be the par­ents who man­age the pro­files of their off­spring on the web­site, this is chang­ing.

Sin­gle In­di­ans have a num­ber of op­tions avail­able to them which are more tar­geted to­wards their gen­er­a­tion, in­clud­ing dat­ing apps such as Tin­der and a ser­vice called Woo, which aims to bridge the di­vide be­tween mat­ri­mo­nial ser­vices and more ca­sual dat­ing apps.

For a coun­try which still has a rel­a­tively con­ser­va­tive at­ti­tude to­wards re­la­tion­ships, Tin­der has per­formed well. The app’s user num­bers jumped 400 per cent in 2015.

“A note­wor­thy trend is the shift of part­ner de­ci­sion from el­ders to sin­gles,” says Suka­mal Pegu, the co-founder of Mar­rily.com, an on­line match­mak­ing start-up launched in Mum­bai last year. “That is why there has been a vis­i­ble push from matrimony com­pa­nies to woo sin­gles.”

Mar­riage and wed­dings are an im­por­tant part of In­dian cul­ture. In­di­ans are will­ing to fork out money on find­ing the right part­ner for them­selves or for their off­spring. With a pop­u­la­tion of more than 1.2 bil­lion, tech­nol­ogy gives com­pa­nies the scope to tar­get far flung places in even the most re­mote parts of the coun­try. “Un­til now matrimony sites have been tar­get­ing ur­ban cen­tres and tier-two cities. But lately at­tempts are be­ing made to ad­dress the ru­ral seg­ment,” says Mr Pegu.

The po­ten­tial is enor­mous for com­pa­nies that get it right, he be­lieves.

“De­spite be­ing such a mar­riage cen­tric so­ci­ety, only about 4 per cent of mar­riages in In­dia hap­pen through on­line plat­forms,” he says.

“This is chang­ing rapidly not only with the democrati­sa­tion of the in­ter­net and de­vices, but also with the gen­er­a­tional shift where young In­di­ans are tak­ing con­trol of not only their ca­reer and life­style choices, but also that of their part­ner choice. The whole stigma of be­ing on matrimony or dat­ing sites is not there with the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion any­more.”

His com­pany is bank­ing on crack­ing the mar­ket with the lat­est tech­nol­ogy.

“Re­al­i­sa­tion there is a role for

ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence in dis­cov­er­ing the ‘con­nect’ peo­ple are look­ing for is dawn­ing now. Mar­rily and more com­pa­nies in the fu­ture will be har­ness­ing the power of ma­chine learn­ing for match­ing and help­ing peo­ple find their life part­ner faster. The match­mak­ing space in In­dia is un­der­go­ing a fun­da­men­tal shift and and you will see lot more dis­rup­tions and in­no­va­tions.”

At the other end of the spec­trum, Rad­hika Shah is one of In­dia’s tra­di­tional match­mak­ers. She runs Rad­hika’s Matrimony, based in Ahmed­abad in the western In­dian state of Gu­jarat. Spot­ting a lu­cra­tive op­por­tu­nity, she left the fashion in­dus­try to be­come a match­maker four years ago.

She trav­els across the coun­try, meet­ing prospec­tive brides and grooms and their fam­i­lies.

Her ba­sic fee is 50,000 ru­pees, and if she matches a cou­ple suc­cess­fully, she charges fam­i­lies 200,000 ru­pees to 500,000 ru­pees.

Ms Shah has a team that con­duct back­ground in­ves­ti­ga­tions on the in­di­vid­u­als that she is try­ing to match.

“On­line match­mak­ing sites are do­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent – I go to their homes and meet them, I ad­vise them,” says Ms Shah.

She doesn’t think the tra­di­tional match­mak­ing in­dus­try is los­ing its lus­tre be­cause of the rise of on­line web­sites.

“Fam­i­lies are will­ing to pay money for per­sonal match­mak­ing. You are not mar­ried to one per­son – you are mar­ried to the whole fam­ily in In­dia.”

In one case, Ms Shah re­lates, a fam­ily in Delhi that was try­ing to marry off their son to a woman from a very wealthy back­grounds and boasted a fleet of BMWs and Audis. When her team in­ves­ti­gated, they dis­cov­ered that the fam­ily had rented all the cars in or­der to el­e­vate the el­i­gi­bil­ity of their son in wealthy cir­cles.

“On­line com­pa­nies don’t of­fer these kinds of ser­vices.”

But Matrimony.com is ea­ger to cap­i­talise on the ser­vices it can of­fer. Through var­i­ous web­sites, it has branched out to cre­ate other av­enues for cou­ples and par­ents to or­gan­ise their wed­ding through the com­pany, from book­ing pho­tog­ra­phers to venue hire and jet­ting off on their hon­ey­moon

For its part, Matrimony.com, re­mains con­fi­dent that its in­vestors have en­tered into a happy mar­riage.

“We are in­deed over­whelmed by the re­sponse to the IPO,” says Mu­ru­gavel Janaki­ra­man, the founder and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Matrimony.com.

“I’m con­fi­dent that to­gether we will de­liver value for all stake­hold­ers in the years to come.”

Un­til now matrimony sites have been tar­get­ing ur­ban cen­tres and tier-two cities. But lately at­tempts are be­ing made to ad­dress the ru­ral seg­ment SUKA­MAL PEGU Co-founder Mar­rily.com

Getty

Mu­ru­gavel Janaki­ra­man, founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Matrimony.com, says he is over­whelmed by the 440% sub­scrip­tion to his com­pany’s IPO

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