Q: Could you tell us a bit about your growing up days, your education etc? I believe your story is both fascinating and inspiring.
BK: For me even daily life was a challenge during my early days even when I was at college. When I was 20, all I wanted to do was to complete my degree, get a job, go to a house with electricity and an attached bathroom. That was my ambition then… since in downtown Royapuram, Chennai where we stayed, 14 houses shared one bathroom. Till the age of 23 we did not have electricity at home.
My uncle suggested I do BSc in chemistry, “it will help you get a lab technician’s job,” he said. I didn’t get admission in BSc Chemistry, I got in to BSc Statistics instead and that helped me to do MCA. The MCA degree changed my life. I worked in the US. I wanted to do something connected to online technology because of my educational background and that eventually led to BharatMatrimony.
Q: What attracted you to Entrepreneurship? Could you share the story? How has the experience been?
BK: Initially wanted to do something on my own, so in 1997 while in the US I started a community site for Tamils. Being a programmer I built the site myself during my after-work hours. The matrimony section saw good traction and I soon saw an opportunity for an online matchmaking business. I returned to India during the dotcom bust and started the service. I discovered the entrepreneur in me by accident. But when we launched BharatMatrimony, I found my purpose for life.
Q: Share a bit about your professional background?
BK: Right from my college days, I was very keen to have a business of my own. I worked in India for about one and half years with Nucleus software (Polaris was known as Nucleus Software then) as a programmer in developing network projects on the UNIX platform.
From there I moved to Singapore for a brief stint. I worked as a consultant in the US for leading companies on software which gave me good exposure and insight into internet technologies. This helped me launch BharatMatrimony.
Q: What was the big motivation behind BharatMatrimony? Between the time you launched and now, what has been the most interesting pivot and inflection points?
BK: When I was working in the US, I started a Tamil community site; matrimony was a section in that site. When I saw the traffic in the matrimony section, I got the idea to get in to TamilMatrimony.
The initial moment of no-looking-back was when I noticed that consumers were willing to pay and I decided to branch off matrimony into a separate website.
There were interesting inflection points. Our expansion of online matchmaking services into multiple domains including TeluguMatrimony, BengaliMatrimony, MarathiMatrimony and KeralaMatrimony; launch of personalised services like EliteMatrimony and Assisted services; moving from franchise-model of retail outlets to company-owned 140 retail branches as of today and the expansion into marriage services like MatrimonyPhotography, MatrimonyMandaps and MatrimonyBazaar.
As for the major milestone, it was the Matrimony.com IPO in Sept. 2007.
Q: You have an umbrella brand and then multiple brands that granularly connect myriad consumer segments? What are the advantages and disadvantages of such a brand mix?
BK: Our segmentation makes us stand out. BharatMatrimony has 15 language-based matchmaking sites like MarathiMatrimony, HindiMatrimony, BengaliMatrimony and TeluguMatrimony. With over 300 sites, our CommunityMatrimony caters to specific matchmaking needs of different communities.
Our micro-market strategy and personalised services (Assisted Services and EliteMatrimony) distinguishes us from the rest. Our large database of over 3 Million active profiles and the consequential network effect makes us stand apart from competition besides the large on the ground network of 140 retail centres. Further our marriage services MatrimonyPhotography, MatrimonyMandaps and MatrimonyBazaar makes us unique.
Q: How do you see the issue of ‘trust’ in a highly sensitive area like matrimony? What has the brand been doing to ramp up the trust quotient with customers?
BK: Trust is a very critical aspect of our service and we make every effort to earn our members’ trust.
Our brand, BharatMatrimony.com, has been ranked as India‘s most trusted online matrimony brand by The Brand Trust Report India Study 2014 (a study covering 20,000 brands across 16 cities).
We have 140 retail branches for members to walk and in and avail our services or get their queries answered.
Being the market leader, there are things we do to build trust with our members. Our profiles are mobile-verified and mobile numbers have already undergone “KYC” process. We pioneered the mobile verification and are probably first in the world to do this. Our trust badges help members build credibility in their profiles.
Q: We are in an eco system of perennial connectedness and surveillance- how do you see personal branding in the context of an always on world?
BK: It’d be an understatement to say that personal branding is important in today’s world.
We reckon there would be a certain degree of overlap amongst registered users on your platform and amongst competitors like Shaadi, Jeevansaathi etc? Is it something that comes with the territory?
We have 60% market share in online matchmaking. A miniscule overlap is therefore possible.
As organisations clamour for digital transformation (the new old buzzword), what is expected of corporate chieftains and leaders in the context of building their brand image online?
We have to be constantly ahead of the curve.
We are in a ‘ Post Truth ‘ world and in a lot of cases there is apprehension and an ‘ authenticity drought ‘- what do you recommend are the ways in which these issues can be addressed by brands?
It all starts from the CEO and the culture needs to be built throughout the organisation.
Q: How do you see the Indian market evolving over the last two decades or so in the context of a pure play online business?
BK: From the days of insignificant online traffic to 400+ million smartphone users, we have come a long way. From scepticism of online payments to the trust people have today in online. Just look at the sheer number and value of transactions online today. Besides, many businesses have demonstrated online growth and scale.
Searchability, Viewability, Believability, Likeability: would you consider these 4 to be the pillars of making a stellar online personal brand presence in an ‘ always on ‘ world?
Each one is important. There’s also “Understandability” – brand must understand customers through user behavior and leveraging technologies like AI.
Q: If there is an inspiration mantra that you want to articulate for entrepreneurs & executives, what would that be?
BK: While you go through challenges cultivate the belief that whatever happens is for the good and learn from the challenges faced.
Which are the books that have most inspired you and which are the ones that you look forward to reading?
The book I loved reading are The 4 Disciplines of Execution, Blue Ocean Strategy, The Goal, Hacking Growth, Sapiens, Most and More by Mahatria and Monk who sold his Ferrari.
Q: What is the Road Ahead for Matrimony.com and its bouquet of brands? More markets, products, offlline presence?
BK: We’re expanding our global footprint for matchmaking services. At the same time, we continue to expand our marriage services across regions.
How does Murugavel Janakiraman wind down? Share a bit of your hobbies?
I do yoga regularly and love to visit places that bring me closer to nature.