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There's Yahoo! (YHOO
) Finance, Yahoo! Autos, and Yahoo! Jobs. So why not Yahoo! Weddings? In India, the Internet giant is playing online cupid to people looking for arranged marriages. In September, Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO
) and Silicon Valley venture capital firm Canaan Partners jointly paid $8.5 million for what industry insiders say is roughly 10% of BharatMatrimony.com, a nine-year-old marriage Web site that also has 50 offices across India to serve those without Net access. "BharatMatrimony will help us get a larger share of the Internet market" in India, says Yahoo India Managing Director George Zacharias.
One satisfied customer is Pradeep Nair. The 32-year-old packaging material exporter from Mumbai tried finding a bride the traditional way: by hiring a matchmaker. "There was something or the other missing" with each of the 50 or so candidates, he says. Either her horoscope didn't match his own -- a key consideration for conservative Hindus -- or she fell short of his ideal: a tall, attractive working woman. Frustrated, Nair paid $27 to sign up with BharatMatrimony. Three months later, he wed Vrinda, 28, an accountant working for Indian carrier Jet Airways. Nair plans to register his sister on the site next. "It's easy to access, and it throws up good choices," he says.EASY TO SAY "NO"Yahoo isn't the only foreign player getting hitched to an Indian marriage site. Microsoft Corp. (MSFT
) a year ago hooked up with Shaadi.com, though it didn't invest any money in the site. "Shaadi helps attract huge numbers of users," says MSN India country manager Jaspreet Bindra. Silicon Valley venture capital fund Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers has plowed some $4.6 million into Info Edge, which runs matrimonial site Jeevansathi.com. Google Inc. (GOOG
) also is said to be prospecting for a partner, though the company declines to comment.
There are plenty of potential mates for overseas Net companies. India has scores of sites dedicated to brokering marriages, while Net dating services are less popular. Some 7.5 million people use the marriage sites, up from 4 million in 2004, the Internet & Mobile Association of India estimates. Since registration is free, and users only pay when they want to contact a potential partner, the sites are likely to take in just $21 million or so this year. But there's plenty of room to grow. Indians lay out nearly $500 million a year for offline marriage services such as matchmaking, the biggest category of print classifieds. "Today the emphasis is on compatibility and being a professional, something the Internet lets you test, as opposed to the traditional contacts," says Anupam Mittal, Shaadi.com's founder.
The popularity of the sites reflects the changing face of India. Traditionally, Indian marriages have been brokered by family, friends, or professional matchmakers, a laborious process that involves matching candidates on the basis of religion, caste, community, and horoscopes. Busy professionals such as Charoo Kher prefer the speed of the Net. A customer-relations manager at India's commodity exchange, Kher, 31, had no time for dating so she registered on Shaadi.com. She and her Punjabi family reviewed 100 or so profiles -- with details such as hobbies, favorite foods, and salary -- and settled on Gurmeet Walia, a 35-year-old caterer. "The ease of finding many profiles online under one roof seemed practical," Kher says. The couple wed eight months ago.
Online matchmaking offers another advantage: In India there's a stigma attached to turning down a marriage proposal. The Internet allows users to disengage easily if they don't, well, click. By Nandini Lakshman