Finding a life partner is no longer an affair where the families introduce the bride and groom to each other. A good part of the search has gone online and several matches are now made through matrimonial portals on the Internet. One of these portals that enjoys instant recall is Bharatmatrimony.com. For founder and chief executive, Murugavel Janakiraman, Bharatmatrimony.com was a means for him to utilise the then new digital medium to connect prospective brides and grooms online. When he launched in 1997, it was among the first few matrimonial portals in India, and one of the few original Indian Internet ideas of the time.
After a masters degree in computer applications, Janakiraman worked as a programmer for three years from 1993-96, in Chennai, Singapore and then the U.S. In 1997, the Internet was making waves and Janakiraman was fascinated by the medium. He wanted to do something with it and found a great demand among the NRIs for a matrimony portal.
“It was a one-man show. Right from designing to programming to marketing, I did everything. It took two-and-a-half years to get this going and I had no revenue model”
While continuing to be a consultant in the company he was working for, he simultaneously developed this portal. “It was a one-man show. Right from designing to programming to marketing, I did everything. It took two-and-a-half years to get this going and I had no revenue model,” recalls Janakiraman.
Website traffic analysis showed that even among the NRIs, finding prospective partners within the community was critical. So, in 2000, Janakiraman expanded to make his portal community-based.
But, in a year or two, the dot-com bubble went bust. “This proved to be a good thing for me,” he says, as during this time, he set up an office in Chennai. The portals at this time, in a bid to survive, were increasing content on their website and Bharatmatrimony.com offered a very critical service. He found “suitors” for his offerings in Rediff and Sify where matrimony became a channel. This enabled him to create a revenue model and matchmaking became a paid service.
Prior to this, Janakiraman tried to raise money, but because of the lack of a revenue model, nobody was interested. With the paid services model, the revenues grew and this not only enabled him to expand but also find funding. “Sometimes, unintended consequences prove to be better,” he says explaining the windfall the dot-com bust provided him. By 2001, he had developed a good customer base and business took off.
All this while, Janakiraman continued to work and handle this only part time due to his family commitments. And then, something happened that changed the way things worked. “9/11 happened and I lost my job,” he says simply. He took the plunge and entered business full time. In 2004, he moved to Chennai for good.
The journey thereafter
With his entire focus on the business, it started to grow and Bharatmatrimony.com received its first round of investment of U.S. $ 8.65 million in 2006, from Yahoo! Inc., and global venture capital firm Canaan Partners. In 2008, the firm received its second round of investment to the tune of U.S. $ 11.75 million from California-based venture capital fund Mayfield Fund, Yahoo! Inc. and Canaan Partners.
Founders: Murugavel Janakiraman
Industry: Internet services
USP: Market leaders in matrimony. Careful segmentation of their target markets and separate web portals for each of these segments.
This enabled the company to expand its offerings. Newer portals were launched, and content was delivered through the mobile platform as well. In 2007, the company was renamed Consim India. Today, Consim employs over 1400 people across the different functions and web properties it operates. In addition to matrimony the other verticals include jobs, property, automobiles, classifieds and loans, all focused on connecting people online. The 70 Bharathmatrimony offices all across India act as retail outlets for people not comfortable with using the Internet.
The company also believes in the power of offering a focused service to the different segments of its target audience. Within the matrimony vertical the company runs several portals including communitymatrimony.com, privilegematrimony.com, abilitymatrimony.com and mantrimonymatters.com. Each of these portals is customized to suit the nature of prospective customers under these segments.
“The recession last year was an eye-opener,” says Janakiraman. It helped him prune inefficiencies and tighten operations. The slowdown also allowed the company to consolidate and lay the foundation to achieve a 40 per cent to 50 per cent growth in revenues in FY 2011. Meanwhile, an international head has been appointed to scale global operations. The company has also announced its intent to opt for an initial public offering by 2011.
Consim’s ability to stay ahead of the game in terms of technology, and continuously innovate in terms of ease-of-use and feature set development, plays a key part of its overall strategy. In the case of Janakiraman and Consim, inopportune moments have been viewed as opportunities and it is this attitude towards life and business that will hold both in good stead.