The tyranny of a picture

Probably the biggest determinant of whether you are going to get a reply from that MBA hunk or the sporty lawyer on an online matchmaking website is your profile pictures.

There, I said it. I hear you protest – that can’t be true; what about my native wit and charm, my professional heft and my intellectual gravitas? Do they count for nothing? Surely looks can’t be the most important factor in choosing a life-partner?

And you would be right, but not in the world of online dating. It sounds desperately shallow and yes there are exceptions but for a majority of the male species, your profile pictures are what would turn them your way (or away).

So here is my hypothesis. That insolent guy who ignored your Like message on iBluebottle, he would have definitely talked to you had you met at the workplace or at a friend’s gathering. Politeness would have been a factor (it doesn’t appear as rude on a website to ignore a compliment) but more importantly he wouldn’t have been burdened with all the romantic baggage the online dating game brings. A Like message on iBluebottle indicates an explicit romantic gesture however minuscule, and people are going to be far more cagey.

You can’t blame them really. When you talk to someone face to face, there is a shared atmosphere and you quickly get a full sense of the person. Browsing an online profile is a completely different proposition. Even though iBluebottle’s famously comprehensive profiles are far better than other websites, there isn’t any body-language to help in your assessment. So your pictures become the main focus.

I believe understanding these differences in online and offline prospecting can be useful in your search.

A picture

Given the fact that your pictures are so important, and that you can’t pass of Katrina’s pictures as your own, what can you do?

Firstly, don’t be that gal who is too cool for her pictures. You might have tons of attitude but a profile picture is not where you show it. So smile, unless being morose is your default state. Face the camera directly and spare everyone the filters. You have Instagram for that.

Secondly, upload pictures that have you as the centrepiece. Not pictures where it requires a magnifying glass to make out your features. That pagoda you visited in Thailand, no need to show that in all its glory. The pagoda is not looking for a partner, you are.

Thirdly, get the technical stuff right. Ensure that your pictures are bright and clear. You might like dark moods but again, no need to display them in your pictures. Never ever ever (as Arnab would say) upload low-resolution pictures. They indicate that you do not think it is worth the effort to present yourself in the best possible way.

Bad pictures do a profound disservice to your profile, which would have taken you considerable time and effort to complete. Replace them and you just might be surprised how inviting your profile becomes. If you don’t have good pictures handy, go out and get them.

As narrated by a female iBluebottle member who noticed a marked uptick in her Likes after she replaced her pictures with better quality ones.

 

Dumb Ways To Marry !

The Dumb Ways To Marry video is now live !

Why Chetan Bhagat should ditch Shaadi.com and endorse iBluebottle

Dear Chetan

As you must have realized by now, many of your (non)fans have been left scratching their heads by your decision to appear in the Shaadi.com adverts. Tempting though it is, this post is not about conjecturing why you are fronting a service that appears to be completely orthogonal to your public persona.

This is about why you should ditch Shaadi.com altogether and consider endorsing the new matchmaking upstart, iBluebottle. Here are 5 good reasons :

Firstly, your celebrity appeal is totally wasted on Shaadi. As you say in the TV commercial ‘bees lakh’ people seem to have already used their services. Your endorsement is unlikely to gain Shaadi new members – someone who knows about you has already heard about Shaadi and anyone who hasn’t, is hardly going to be swayed by ‘Chetan Bhagat, Author’ as you are so modestly introduced in the ad. On the other hand iBluebottle is a new startup, proverbially tilting at the big matrimonial giants and needs all the publicity it can get. Many in our target demographic care about your opinion.

Chetan Bhagat Shaadi advert

Secondly, your endorsement can really help iBluebottle’s stated aim of actively discouraging caste/community based matchmaking. Unlike some of the matrimonial sites which seem to spawn ever more divisive versions of “MyCasteMatrimony.com”, we are trying to promote a casteless society. We actually write to our members who specify a preferred caste for their matches and encourage them to only consider attributes that a person has control over. Of course many are impervious to our exhortations but we have been able to convince quite a few. Surely if you believe in the underlying thesis of your book “Two States”, it makes eminent sense for you to back iBluebottle.

Thirdly, iBluebottle fits the mould of your “What Young India Wants” meme. We haven’t read the book but it is a safe bet that you didn’t  include ‘a better platform to find a compatible match’ in the wish list. And who is to say that such is not one of the most pressing needs of the modern Indian professional? We believe we are introducing new, innovative features to make the process of finding a match more pleasant and delightful than a soulless, assembly-line one which it has become.

The fourth reason has to do with your conviction about the service you are promoting. Indulge us for a moment and imagine that you weren’t lucky enough to find your wife the way you did and were considering using online matchmaking websites. Given your educational and professional background, we would like to posit that you would rather sign up with iBluebottle than with Shaadi. This flows from our belief that compatibility between life-partners owes much to similar sophistication levels than anything else, except maybe in Bollywood.

Lastly, we at iBluebottle have always thought that you would make a great brand ambassador for us. We wanted to approach you but kept waiting till we became big enough to afford you (or a TV commercial). Admittedly, we also considered the dubious theory of brotherly equivalence – ‘Chetan nahin to Ketan sahi’ but ultimately decided against approaching your brother, Ketan Bhagat.

So Chetan, there you have it. Tis the season of letters and we reckoned “A letter from a Young Indian Startup” might catch your eye. Over to you.

 

 

On Arranged Marriage

This ia guest post from one of the iBluebottle members. She is 22 and has just finished her degree from one of the better known liberal arts colleges in the USA.

At an age when most young women have had several ex-boyfriends and a current “it’s complicated” relationship, I’ve stayed surprising romantically un-entangled. I don’t date; I want an arranged marriage.

Of course, as a teenager I scoffed at arranged marriages, fantasized wild romances, waited to be swept away by my good-looking hero from foreign shores, our courtship involving secret kisses, convoluted misunderstandings and dramatic declarations of love, his name like a prince, from an improbable chick-flick, say Princess Diaries. But my only real exposure to romantic love came from my parents’ patently middle class, apparently boring and very much arranged marriage.

 

Arranged Marriage

I have since left home, gone to the States, studied and been alienated by the very entrenched and ineffectual western dating system and its soaring divorce rates. I have had some American friends express horror at what they viewed as forced marriage and others wish they were born Indian so that their parents and matrimonial websites could help them pick out husbands from a catalog.

The more I see the world and meet its people, the more I am convinced that falling in love is the easy part, getting everything else to fit is hard! (Sure, he’s gorgeous, but is he even interested in marriage? He’s smart, but does he earn enough? He’s sensitive, but will he support your career choices? He’s fun, but does he want to settle in India? He’s sweet, but does he want kids?) I see that all kinds of marriage work. (Introduced by a friend, met online, hooked up with at a college party, childhood friend reconnected; everything from Vivah type arrangement to Kannada serial shtyle elopement.)

And all kinds of marriage, arranged or “love” can fall apart because of dishonesty, abuse or financial hardship. If I can’t ultimately be sure of the outcome in any case, why not aim for the catalog of eligible marriage material to minimize risk rather than pub-crawling with potential dating material who might eventually turn into reasonable boyfriends and still later, decent husbands?

I believe that if all parties in the arranged marriage market are completely transparent about expectations and honest about assets, the probability of a successful match and enduring partnership is very high. My parents have the most beautiful, honest and caring relationship I have witnessed in all my travels. I’m optimistic and I know there’s someone out there who will make a great partner in the joint project of sharing a life and raising kids.

I’m realistic and my body’s on a clock. Expecting to bump into someone who ticks all the boxes, falling in love with, getting into a relationship with, moving in with, getting asked The Question, and getting married to that great person in the next two years is, without all other logistics under consideration, just mathematically improbable.

I returned home from college, older, wiser and so ready to meet some suitors. And what better in this connected world to meet someone with the purpose of marriage than online? I don’t know about expectations, but I sincerely hope that there are other people like me, educated and well traveled, who don’t dismiss arranged marriage and are willing to give it a shot. I did my research and calculate a high probability of success with iBluebottle.

So here I am, embracing arranged marriage, fantasizing a successful match, waiting to be swept away by my faceless hero from the shores of cyberspace, our courtship involving exchanges of photos, transparent credentials, business-like declarations of acceptance, and his name like a prison tattoo, from a probable profile designation, Profile Number D5620V09.

Is she the one ?

I like to reason. I like it when I can reduce all my decisions to an optimization problem. I can happily solve for the maximum utility function or for the least uncomfortable experience, given the constraints.

So it frustrates me no end when my life’s most important decision turns out to be an intractable, no-optimization-would-work-on-me problem. How do I decide if she is the right one? Even though I tried modelling it in an excel spreadsheet (inspiration here), the results were unsatisfactory.

Adding to the complication are a few missteps that have made me far more circumspect. Suffice it to say that I will no longer be eager to take a longish flight to surprise someone in a long-distance courtship!

Is she the one?

Having met scores of women with the explicit purpose of marriage, not only am I more confused now about what I am looking for but also have no inkling of the shape or form of the acceptance that would materialise once I met ‘the girl”.

Would there actually be a “click” sound when I finally happen to meet my destined life partner or would an audible “aha” escape from my lips? Would it be the mesmerising beauty of her lovely eyelashes or her Gladwell-esque intellect that would bowl me over?

See? I have no bloody clue what I am looking for.

For the first time when I went out on a date with the express purpose of finding a partner, I was determined to be positive and pleasant. She was a cousin of a friend’s friend and we started off well. But I suddenly realized that the weight of selecting ”marriage material” sat like a dead stone on my head and crimped my natural conversational style. Affectations took over on both the sides – mostly to appear cool and nonchalant. Pretty soon we became like two adversaries judging each other over coffee. I wanted to cry out loud that both of us were on the same side but of course I didn’t and neither did she. Tepid text about catching up again done away with, we continued our separate ways.

The story has repeated many a times since then. A few of the girls I liked chose not to go ahead, inexplicably, in my opinion. Some did string me along with gifts and long conversations but no cigar. Of course I am guilty of the exact same behaviour – ignoring perfectly acceptable matches in the hope that maybe a better one is just around the corner. And even though it gets tiring after a while, you don’t know when to stop.

My mother has continued sending me profiles with renewed fervour – filtering from many hundreds that she gets from the usual matrimonial websites. Someone told me about iBluebottle and I was curious enough to spend the better part of an hour completing my profile. I am hoping their personality based matching might help but the fundamental question still remains.

One charitable and encouraging view is that I would know it when I see her. In my heart. In an instant. And even though hope is not a great strategy, I have no other choice. Or I could be like the guy who decided that he had spent enough time looking and come what may, he would marry the girl whose proposal came next. And that’s what he did. I am not privy to how the marriage is going.

So the quest continues – kabhie toh milogae!

And we are on !

Last Friday we completed sending out the first set of matches to our members. These matches were determined by our matching engine, CHARMM, based on the results of a personality test and the partner preferences that each member specified.

Not everybody received a match – we probably won’t have a sufficiently big pool to satisfy every member’s preferences for the next few weeks. Nevertheless it was an important milestone for the iBluebottle team and for which we are justifiably proud.

It has been almost a year since we first started thinking about building a matchmaking service for professionals. As so often happens, iBluebottle was conceived as a direct response to one of the founders’ unsavoury experience with the existing matrimonial services.

Startup

As a matchmaking startup that claims to do things differently, we are keenly aware of the risks ahead. Apart from the usual competitive pressures that every new startup faces, we also have to deal with challenges peculiar to our product and business model.

Any new player in the Indian online matchmaking space risks being tarred by the same unedifying brush by the wary customers. We need to work extra-hard to convince people that we are a different tribe.

iBluebottle’s product is far removed from an impulse purchase, and we are not even talking in monetary terms here. Completing a profile on our website requires a reasonable amount of time and thought.  A user would need to convince herself of the efficacy of our approach before she invests her time and emotional capital in becoming a member.

Once she does register with us, she expects that all the sensitive personal information she provides as part of her profile (and we ask for a lot) would remain totally confidential and private.  We will do our utmost not to endanger their trust in any way. We are absolutely committed – both in technology and in personnel terms – to safeguard this data.

We have been fortunate to have had great support from our early customers. They have been willing to accept the occasional technical glitch, have provided useful feedback, have argued with us harshly but then came around to give us one more chance and have generally been on our side.

We draw great strength from the fact that our customers care about us and want us to succeed. Recently one of them even expressed her concern about why we were working and answering her email on a Saturday evening. Only a few lucky startups can probably claim that.

Is your startup progressive enough?

Recently one of our members asked to be removed from our records. She complained that we were not a progressive/modernist startup, contrary to what we had been implying. The example she cited was that we did not have “Atheist” as a choice in the section where we ask for a member’s religion. Never mind that she was free to select “Other Religion” and also “Religion does not play an important role in my daily life”.

The semantics of “Atheism” being equated with “Other religion” aside, how does a startup respond to such an allegation? Is there a universal and precise definition of progressiveness?  This may not sound a terribly relevant question if you are just selling stuff online but it gains significance if you are in the business of matching people for life. iBluebottle does want to be perceived as a progressive company (in the broadest sense of the term) and this accusation did seem puzzling.

progressive

We replied that she was of course entitled to her opinion but equating “asking for your religion and not offering an atheist option” to “not being progressive” appears to be a rather narrow interpretation of the term. We might consider including “Atheist” as an option  but our decision will probably be driven more by a business imperative then a purely ideological one.

According to wikipedia, Progressivism is a general political philosophy advocating or favoring social, political, and economic reform or changes usually in opposition to conservative or reactionary ideologies.

We believe we are trying to make the process of finding a match more personal and less commoditized. Incorporating a personality matching engine, deterring parents to complete the profiles of their sons and daughters (or sending us their “bio-data”) and explicitly discouraging caste as a matching criteria (even though people can still choose to include it) are some of our features we think could be considered progressive.

And then there is the proverbial elephant in the room, same-sex matching. At this time iBluebottle does not offer its services to the LGBT community. Are we playing it safe? You bet.

We have no desire to alienate our mainstream customers or fold under the weight of the political and social furore that will no doubt ensue if we welcomed LGBT members. Our matching philosophy does not exist in a vacuum but is necessarily framed by the societal mores of the market in which we operate.

Whilst all of us at iBluebottle can profess to be deep liberals, we cannot hoist our personal values on our startup. We believe we can be progressive even if we allow our commercial sense to trump ideology every time.

Do you need a dating coach?

Would you like to be turned into “a stud from a dud”? Would you like to dazzle your date with your native wit and charm instead of that nervous throat-clearing you do when talking to an intelligent and attractive woman? Or maybe you run out of conversation topics and start blabbering about some random friend of yours who your date knows nothing about? Congratulations, you appear to be a perfect prospect for a dating coach!

A dating coach seems a relatively new profession but the problem it tries to solve is an old one – how to have a great date and avoid rejection. There have been numerous self-help books that claim to demystify women so that men (who are not and probably do not want to be seen as mysterious) can”get” them – in both senses of the word. But a dating guru who explicitly coaches on dating tactics is a recent phenomenon brought forward by the immense popularity of online matchmaking.

Dating coach

A quick google search for “dating coach” throws out a mishmash of cheesy-sounding websites which are all trying to sell their Platinum/Gold  dating packages. Most of them claim to convert you from “duds to studs” or effect some other equally improbably rhyming transformation. A few tend to ply their trade in more subtle undertones with blurbs like “The freedom to be your true, outrageous self without fear of rejection.” Others have no qualms touting their services a bit more commercially -Revealed : How to attract women with one AMAZING stealth strategy!!.

And then we came across a desi version – something called the Real Man Academy. They claim to be India’s first dating consultancy and conduct a four day bootcamp that teaches men how to approach women. The website targets Indians but all the pictures on the website are of Westerners and the copy has mildly surreal aphorisms like “Every father should teach this to his son’. Dating advise from dad ? Brilliant. Their workshop slots are shown fully booked but err…these go back all the way to January. Maybe they got saddled with real duds and the bootcamp is taking longer than usual.

How effective is date coaching? There have been little research done on date coaches and there is no accreditation agency. Shiva, the guy who purportedly runs the Real Man Academy cites ‘slaps, kicks, drinks thrown in my face, thrown out by security guards’ amongst his credentials which qualify him to become a dating coach.

As more young people graduate with honours in Facebook, online gaming and virtual socializing, face-to-face conversation skills are bound to get scarcer. We will probably see dating coaches become mainstream in the next few years. But for now even though you might benefit from some generic common-sense advice, it is unlikely that you would have a harem anytime soon after a coaching bootcamp.

Get paid to date?

Do you consider yourself attractive? Attractive enough that people would be ready to pay you to be able to go on a date with you? Would you like such an arrangement?

Most people tend to react with a mixture of bewilderment and mild disgust when first told of such a proposition. How crass! But after a moment of consideration, some start to see merit in the arrangement. A kind soul figured out that there was a viable business catering to such people and started www.whatsyourprice.com

The slightly demeaning name and the possibility of being equated to an escort service aside, the website works like an ebay of dating. You first decide what role you want to play – a ‘generous” member or an ‘attractive’ member (this alone might be a worthy exercise in self-examination but more often than not, a generous member is a male). The generous member bids to go on a date with an attractive member who then decides if the price is right and accepts the offer. Both parties go on a first date where cash is exchanged but there is no obligation to go on a second date.

generous

The strictly transactional nature of the date requires that there be remedies for fraud. The website advises that the attractive member demands half of the price agreed at the beginning of the date and the other half at the end of the date. And what if the generous member simply refuses to pay ? You can file a complaint in the Small Claims Court!

From a purely utilitarian perspective Whatsyourprice seems to solve a real problem. If you are an attractive woman on a dating site, you are likely to be inundated with messages from scores of males, many of whom would be termed ‘losers’ (in American parlance). It is a plausible bet that by keeping your price sufficiently high, you can weed out such losers and increase your chances of meeting the right one. Even if your date turns out to be a dud, you would at least be compensated for your time.

For the generous member the situation is not as favorable as he risks losing both time and money if his date turns out to be that delightful species – the beauty without brains. Nevertheless he gets an opportunity to stand out from the crowd by bidding high and ensuring that he gets a look-in by the prettiest girls.

But the money aspect does complicate things. It is unlikely that your cash-induced first date will ever blossom into a long-term relationship. It will forever remain a commercial transaction – the generous member is trying to buy love whereas the attractive member is concerned with getting sufficiently remunerated for her time.

And even though there are geriatric billionaires with wives as young as their granddaughters, we all know what these wives are after.

Would you like to marry a billionaire?

This way please…oh don’t be alarmed..this machine would record your heart rate while we ask you some deep, probing questions..and these guys? relax ..they are our plastic surgeon detectives who would check if you have had a face-lift…just one more thing…ahem…we need to check if you are a virgin..now now..please understand that we have to be very strict when deciding upon the contest finalists…try to imagine your life if you married a billionaire….you have already scored highly on your looks, don’t screw it up now…

marry a billionaire

Thousands of Chinese women are taking part in a contest to be one of the 100 finalists who would get a chance to meet billionaire men looking for wives. Gold-digging it is definitely not if you believe some of the contestants – ” I don’t care if people call me a money-worshipper because I am not. It is fine for me to marry a normal man but it is better to marry a rich man.”

The degrading qualification process of this contest apart, who could fault these starry-eyed beauties, some of them from top universities? Most women marry for money, a consequence of prizing stability- for themselves and for their future progeny – over everything else. Some of us might not find the blatant quest of marrying-up very edifying but there is no denying this evolutionary trait.

Of course you could be one of those who do not care an iota about the pecuniary situation of their future husband. But you are probably an exception. And it is likely that even if he has no money now, your subconscious would probably assess his future earning capacity before marrying him.

There is this romantic notion that it is somehow ignominious to mention money in the matter of the heart and that true love doesn’t care about baser things like finances. In the stories and films of popular culture, nothing provides a better backdrop than the vast monetary gulf between the two protagonists in love. A rich heir or heiress always falls for the indigent and they get together (or die trying) irrespective of all the threats/pleas of their parents. We all know how that turns out in real life.

If you do not want to explicit chase money or be seen chasing money, why not fall in love with a billionaire? But for that to happen you would have to first engineer a meeting or at least position yourself in their general vicinity. The Chinese women described above are doing exactly that. There is a small hitch though – no one is sure if the Chinese men being touted as billionaires are for real because their details have never been released.