Ashwini GangalPublished: 11 Jan 2016, 12:00 AM
Interviews

"If you're looking for the love of your life, you need to invest more into it": Gourav Rakshit, CEO, Shaadi.com

Dating apps like Woo, Truly Madly and Tinder are gaining popularity in India. But what's it to traditional matrimony sites like Shaadi.com? These marriage-focused dotcoms are now mobile-savvy, have freshly revamped brand identities, talk directly to the youth and claim to operate in an entirely different space. Question is - are the two segments, 'online dating' and 'online matrimony', really that different today?

Edited excerpts from an interview with Gourav Rakshit, the affable CEO of Shaadi.com...

Edited Excerpts

Tinder recently announced its India operations. And a lot of people are using dating apps to find a life partner. Does this worry you?

Tinder is treating India like a serious market, yes. But they will need to do more than just white label their product in the country. In India, you need to do more than just show up.

They'd like to have high levels of retention and stickiness here. They'll invest in that, as they should.

I don't see it as a threat. To me, Tinder is as much of a competitor as a good marriage broker would be. The only difference is - Tinder has been successful outside the country.

Tinder's 'swiping left-swiping right' paradigm works very well in the context that they're trying to build. But on Shaadi.com, because you're looking for 'the one', it's not as easy to just 'swipe' someone away. If you're looking for the love of your life, you need to invest more (time) into it...

Right now, all of us, including Shaadi.com, have a mountain to climb. Some of our users are still figuring out what it means to be on the internet, along with what online matchmaking means for them. I don't think dating companies will need to go through that journey.

And we have a head-start in terms of being able to create a compelling matchmaking experience. To view dating sites/apps as a threat would mean not acknowledging our own journey.

We welcome them into the industry. We like what dating apps are doing. The segment is shaking up a group of people that would never have considered online matchmaking.

Sure, but there's no denying the user overlap across matrimony sites and dating apps. The person who manages his/her own profile on a Shaadi.com is very likely to have sampled a dating app or two...

Yes, individuals co-exist on both platforms.

It's the psychographic, not so much the demographic, that's different across the two platforms.

We find that people are looking for different things from different service providers. The same person may use Shaadi.com and a dating site/app, differently. We see that a lot... the kind of people they interact with, the kind of choices they make, are very different on these two platforms.

While marriage could be the end game on a dating site as well, the way people go about the search is quite different there than it is on a Shaadi.com-like platform. That's the nuance that makes these two different.

If Tinder-like apps are about hasty swipes, matrimony sites are restrictive in that they force you to find 'the one' within a given community...

As a nation, we're focused on community. But what's changing is people's definition of what their community is. It is no longer narrow. For example, a Telugu person may realise that his affinity to Mumbai is higher than that to the Telugu community.

And 50 per cent of the people on Shaadi.com say community doesn't matter.

Besides, it's unfair to assume that someone, just by virtue of looking for a match in a particular community, is not of a progressive mindset.

To youngsters, the process of finding 'the one' through a dating app might be more appealing than doing so through a matrimony site...

If we're becoming irrelevant to a large demographic, we'll have to think about what our brand stands for. But I don't think we are.

Yes, I do think our name positions us in a certain way. I do understand that, potentially, it could create a barrier in the minds of people.

Another thing we'll need to look at is whether there's a larger, societal shift away from finding 'the one'. That's a psychographic we need to be very, very aware of. Today, the segment that's looking for a long-term, committed relationship, but not for marriage, is very small, in India.

Shaadi.com and other matrimony brands are still struggling for 'app space' on consumers' mobile devices; they're largely seen as 'desktop brands'. Dating apps, on the other hand, own the mobile screen...

About 50-60 per cent of our users are using our app.

But in any case, the app system is evolving. The next cohort of people is likely to have less than 4GB of phone memory. Phones will get cheaper. Then, the battle may no longer be about 'app real estate'. It'll be a battle for relevance.

So it's not the potential threat from dating apps that keeps you up at night. What then?

Multi-lingual capability is something we're looking at very aggressively. Today, many people use English scripts to communicate in regional languages; you see that a lot of Facebook. But the next wave of internet users will not have access to English as a script.

Technologically, we'll be able to tackle this; it's the experience, the human side of it, that we're going to have to think about. Say, you've written your profile in English. In what ways can I show it to someone who can only read Hindi? Should it even be seen by him? How can I translate it and still retain the accuracy? These are the things we will need to think about.