Next up: making online matrimony more transparent

Update (15 Oct 2013): Our landing page is up! Welcome to TrustedRishta.com.

We've been fascinated by relationships and marriage in the Indian context for several years now. So when we decided to do a new product a couple of months ago, we started researching this space to understand if there were any major pain points that a startup could address.

Let me quickly summarize for you what we learned.

  • Indian weddings create an industry worth $38 Billion annually
  • Matrimony in India has four distinct verticals (the first two don't exist in the west to the best of my knowledge)
    1. Discovery: I need to find matches for my son/daughter (driven almost exclusively by parents)
    2. Verification: Is this a good match? (handled by the so called "aunty networks" and private detectives, with Facebook/LinkedIn research slowly on the rise)
    3. Retail: Where do I buy stuff for this wedding?
    4. Operations/Event Management: What do I need done for the event?
  • Only the discovery vertical has gone online in a big way (shaadi.com, bharatmatrimony.com), functions pretty much like any online classifieds service (no algorithm based matching etc.), has less than 20% market penetration, generates ~$100 Million in revenue and is growing at a phenomenal 30% year on year
  • Like almost any other similar space in India (like jobs), misrepresentation of facts is rife leading to a 30% year on year growth in matrimony focussed detective agencies and a substantial rise in divorce rates as reported by the BBC and the Economic Times.

So for us, the big, unaddressed need of the matrimony market lies in the verification stage. Indians depend on a family based trust network to achieve goals and make important decisions. Marriage, expensive purchases like real estate and cars, finding jobs, hiring - all this and more has traditionally depended on a close, tight knit network of family members.

As people migrate to the cities in incredible numbers, these networks are breaking down. We suspect that re-establishing these ties of family and friends and re-building the trust network using digital tools is the way forward.

If anyone can nail verification using such a network, they can easily expand out into discovery. But the reverse isn't necessarily true.

Personally, I think anyone contemplating marriage needs all the information about their prospective better halves they can get. The most effective approach to this is to spend time together. Lots of time. Years.

However, across the 60 or so people we polled, a few facts popped up consistently irrespective of community, caste or religion. All those we spoke to were middle/upper-middle class, most had masters degrees from top Universities, all used the internet and had Facebook accounts.

  • The discovery stage is driven entirely by parents
  • Facts available at this stage typically include a few carefully curated photos, age, community, caste, horoscope, and salary
  • Typical workflow followed by a family looking to find a match for a son/daughter:
    1. Generate a lead through offline/online matrimony bureaus or "aunty networks"
    2. Initial filtration based on community, caste, salary, height, address, skin colour (oh yeah, that happens), general appearance and horoscope (if available)
    3. Ask around to find out more about the family's financial health and general reputation; if possible, have a trusted friend or relative visit the address supplied with the lead and make enquires in the neighbourhood about the family
    4. The head of the families call one-another and chat; a meeting is set up
    5. The families meet; the man and woman that are the subject of the meeting get to talk to each other in private for a couple of hours
    6. Over the next couple of days, the two families separately decide if they'd like to proceed
    7. If it's a green signal from both families, the engagement is announced and the shopping begins
  • The people getting married restrict themselves to a veto on leads generated by parents that they find unattractive but otherwise prefer to stay uninvolved until they have to meet the other party
  • Communication between the prospective groom and bride before a formal engagement is prohibited (but encouraged after)
  • Average number of proposals considered seriously before a match is found : 4
  • Average time from discovery to meeting: 2 weeks
  • Average time after meeting for one family to give a yes/no answer to the other: 3 days (asking for a second meeting is rare)
  • Average time after a "yes" answer to a public commitment ceremony (like an engagement): 1 month
  • Average time from engagement to the wedding: 4 months

In other words, things move quickly. The people getting married don't have even days to get to know one another before making a commitment, leave alone months or years. This is an even greater pain point for the bride as the typical Indian couple moves into the groom's parents house, so the bride's family worry a great deal about not just the groom, but also the personality and background of the groom's parents.

A family in this situation has just two choices when it comes to verification: ask around, or (very rarely) hire a detective. Worse, they only have a few days to do this.

This is the problem we're going to take a stab at. We want to make "asking around" enormously powerful by building it on top of existing networks like Facebook (80M users in India) and LinkedIn (20M users in India). We want to make it quick, cheap and painless to find out how one family is connected to another through friends or relatives. We want to collate and organize the substantial amount of publicly available information so that families can make decisions quickly and effectively.

We should have an alpha out in a few weeks and start figuring out which of our hypotheses are correct and which aren't. With luck, we'll have a market and a real need we can build a product for.

If you or someone in your family is looking out for a match through traditional channels, please do consider helping us by signing up as an alpha customer. We'll be deeply grateful.

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