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A match made on an algorithm

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There are over 2,000 matrimonial websites operating in India but only 4% of all marriages per year happen through online matches. The online matchmaking business is estimated to be worth ₹1,000 crore but despite being a crowded space it is yet to reach its full potential, according to the founders of a Mumbai startup called Marrily.in, who say it could actually be under monetised and currently suffers from a problem of catering to a wrong demographic and mindset. Entering that space, and trying to do things differently, was thus a no brainer.

Marrily was launched in February 2016 by four alumni form IIT Kanpur. For Sourabh Varma, one of the founders, the decision to enter the space was borne both out of personal experience and the recognition of a business opportunity. “When I was looking to get married, I found the entire process of going on to websites like shaadi.com and bharatmatrimony awkward and frustrating,” he says. “Strangers acting strange”, is how he describes the experience and the whole process was complicated by the fact that it was the parents who seemed to be playing more of a leading hand.

“I’m sure many people have experienced the same thing,’ Mr Varma adds.

As for the business opportunity, the logic of establishing Marrily is essentially a study of the Indian marriage market. According to data from Comsats and KPMG, there are about 23 million marriages that happen in Indian annually and about 60 -90 million people who are looking to get married. As compared to the 4% of the marriages that happen through online channels in India the corresponding number in the US in 40% and 35% in China.

Moreover, a significant chunk of the customer base for many of the traditional matrimony websites are parents — people who are 55 or older, which is actually a pretty small segment. It might have made sense, Mr. Varma explains, between the years 1990 to 2000 when, according to Census figures, the average age at which people got married in India was between 23 and 25 and parents may have had a larger role to play in the process. Over the last decade-and-a-half, however, there has been a shift and according to the Census of 2011, the average age at which people get married is now 28. “This is a key trend because it points toward the fact that many single people are looking to make a decision about marriage on their own, but the websites haven’t changed. They still cater more to the parents rather than to the person who is looking for a match,” explains Harsh Vardhan, another of the founders.

Marrily then, is an Android-based app that in simple operational terms, works very much like the dozen-or-so dating apps currently on the market. Users have to register through Facebook and post an acceptable picture. They can then swipe yes or no on people anonymously and will be allowed to initiate a conversation only if there is a match. The USP of Marrily though is to refine the search algorithm as much as possible and make the matching process better through the use of AI and information that can be found on social media. Marrily uses parameters like the Big Five personality test which ranks major dimensions of personality such as openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, extraversion, and neuroticism. Their algorithm also uses techniques like word cloud measures,which collects a stream of text written on social media accounts that are then compiled to match personality types. Refinement, and the adaptiveness of the search engine to each user’s preference is key to the game. “I can’t expect users to see a hundred profiles before they find one that they like. The process has to be faster,” Mr Varma acknowledges.

There is, of course, a comparison with other dating apps that mostly use the same mode of operation. Mr. Varma explains that an app like Tinder for instance, uses proximity and attractiveness as the major parameters to match users, while Marrily is set up to analyse a lot of other parameters such as mutual tastes, community, education etc. That may not be a particularly novel approach but the fact that Marrily is aimed at the marriage market is in some ways an organic response to the ways in which dating apps have come to be used in India. “While doing research among friends and other people who use apps like Tinder we discovered that a lot of people are actually using these apps as a way to find somebody to get married to rather than for casual dating as it is used in other countries,” Mr Vardhan says.

Marrily has over 15,000 registered profiles and the eventual plan for revenue is to convert themselves into a freemium model where after a point a user will have to pay money to see more matches. The company has so far raised about $100,000 from investors such as Aloke Bajpai (Co-founder, CEO of Ixigo.com), Kunal Sinha (Founder-CEO, HealthCareMagic), Quentin States-Polet (Co-founder of Kreeda.com) and Shome Danani (Executive Director of Bharat Bijlee).

Over the past couple of months they have started an offline initiative called Marrily Socials in Mumbai where they invite users from similar cultural and social backgrounds and provide them with a neutral and fun environment to interact. These events are themed and happen twice a month.

Founders: Sourabh Varma, Ajay Pandey, Harsh Vardhan, Sukamal Pegu

Funding: $1,50,000

Originally published by The Hindu

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