At a tiny storefront in the bustling T.Nagar district in Chennai, a poster picturing maids, construction workers, carpenters, and hairdressers offers a tantalizing promise: “No matter who you are, you can get married here happily.” That pitch enticed the mother of a 35-year-old electrician in March to drop by the store, one of the city’s 25 Popular Matrimony outlets, to seek a suitable mate for her son. “We have been searching for a match at temples and brokers for the past three years,” says the woman, who wouldn’t give her name. “One of these salespeople saw our ad in the newspaper and called us here, and we hope we can find a girl.”
Such Indian parental anxiety has helped turn Matrimony.com, owner of the Popular Matrimony chain and the Bharat Matrimony website into a matchmaking powerhouse. The company, which has brokered more than 2 million marriages, helps parents arrange marriage by caste, complexion (dark to fair), and religious values (orthodox to liberal). Its Elite Matrimony unit, an offline service for the wealthy who don’t want their children’s profiles floating around the Web, can cost up to 400,000 rupees ($7,370) for a three-month subscription that provides a “relationship manager” to help short list spousal candidates. For the less affluent, who may not even have access to the Internet, the company’s Popular Matrimony unit is rolling out new products such as lists of 10 potential suitors for 1,000 rupees.
“Whether it’s bottom of the pyramid, top of the pyramid, online, offline, the idea is that we need to help them find a suitable life partner,” says founder and Chief Executive Officer Murugavel Janakiraman, who met his wife through the small marriage site he created before starting Matrimony.com. “Marriages within the community is still very much the norm, and I don’t see that changing.” The BharatMatrimony.com website has had 20 million customers to date, with 10 percent finding partners via the site, according to Janakiraman, who says he’s signing up about 200,000 new customers per month.
BharatMatrimony.com operates much like IAC’s (IACI) Match.com, allowing users to post their profiles and indicate preferences for a would-be mate. The key differences: Marriage is the stated goal, many posts are managed by parents, and customers get directed to one of 350 regional websites focused on community or caste. Indians long relied on family members or friends to set up matches. As communities have scattered or youth have moved abroad, many are turning to websites. Even younger Indians posting their own profiles on matrimonial sites typically search within home regions and castes.
Marriage is big business in India, given its population of 1.2 billion. The country accounted for 30 percent of global gold jewelry demand in the third quarter last year, according to the World Gold Council. Much is bought for weddings, where brides are often covered with gold adornments. Researcher Netscribes in 2011 estimated that the total value of wedding-related merchandise and services in India would hit 2 trillion rupees in 2012, after expanding 25 percent in each of the previous two years.
That boom has helped boost sales at a host of companies. Jubilant Foodworks, which operates the Domino’s Pizza (DPZ) franchise in India, began supplying pizzas to weddings in North India three years ago, and demand is growing about 30 percent a year, says Harneet Singh Rajpal, vice president for marketing. “In India, people spend their lives collecting money to spend on their weddings,” says Neha Gupta, senior research analyst at Gartner in New Delhi. To get a bigger share of those dollars, Matrimony.com last year started a directory that for a fee lists wedding service providers, such as printers of invitations, caterers, and florists.
Janakiraman, whose father made a living loading sacks of grain and cargo at Chennai’s harbor, started the Bharat Matrimony website in 2000 while working as a software consultant for Lucent Technologies in Edison, N.J. He returned to India in 2004. He says his company, whose private equity investors include Bessemer Venture Partners and Canaan Partners, turned profitable based on earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization three years ago. The Times of India reported in January that Matrimony.com is in discussions with investment banks to do an initial public offering that could value the company at up to $450 million. “We are a PE-funded company, so at the right time we have to go public,” Janakiraman says.