Archive for the ‘Startups’ Category

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.

 

 

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.

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.