To find love online, and make money

I move a little closer to Sachin Bhatia, the co-founder of Truly Madly. Just so, I can be sure about what he just told me. “Really?” I say. “It is true,” he says. “For guys, the whole thing just gets stuck at the first line of starting a conversation. Everything before that goes well. The profile is created. There is a compatibility score and his profile has been verified. But after that is a conversation. And he gets stuck.”

Like how?

“Like they don’t know what to say. Very well-meaning guys, qualified, doing well. Decent looking also, but stuck at the first sentence itself. You have a nice name. You have a lovely smile. And hello. 80% of the messages from guys to girls are one of these messages. How is the girl going to decide which of these guys should I take forward?”

What are the results expected?

It is quite likely that you’ve heard of Truly Madly before. Sachin Bhatia, maybe not so much. Well, you should.

The man is 45 years old. Born and brought up in Delhi. Unknowingly, Bhatia has a habit of getting into businesses that are perhaps a little ahead of their time. When he started out, it was with selling drinking water jars. In Faridabad. To small industrial shops.

This is the mid-1990s we are talking about when drinking water jars were priced at Rs 2 and Bisleri bottles at Rs 12. People weren’t into buying water back then, they used to carry water from home. Bhatia did that for a while and then switched to bowling. Yup, bowling.

He joined AMF Bowling where his job was to set up bowling centers across India. It is at AMF that he bumped into Deep Kalra; a man now better known as the co-founder and CEO of MakeMyTrip. In 2000, Bhatia joined MakeMyTrip as co-founder with Kalra.

This was the year MakeMyTrip was incorporated; remember, those were also the days of ridiculously patchy internet connection and non-existent penetration of credit cards. For the longest time, Bhatia stayed put at MakeMyTrip. In 2010, when the company went for its Initial Public Offering (IPO), he quit. He then ambled around for a while.

Three and a half years back, Bhatia along with two other co-founders (Hitesh Dhingra, founder of Letsbuy and Rahul Kumar, ex-MakeMyTrip, Expedia) ventured into the online dating business. It will be fair to say that nobody ventures into dating just like that; you know, you don’t wake up to the idea. Neither did Bhatia and his co-founders.

What were the challenges?

When they started out, thinking through what they wanted to do in life, they figured matrimony would be a business ripe for disruption. This was arrived at mostly by rejecting other ideas. Bhatia didn’t want to do online travel. He’d already done that. Dhingra didn’t want to do e-commerce. Rahul, pretty much the same, no travel. In 2014, that left you with online real estate, jobs or maybe, matrimony. The men picked matrimony. Soon enough, that idea took a turn into dating.

What follows below is a candid conversation with Bhatia. About his business. The sum of his experiences running it and experimenting with ideas to make money. The choice of subject is important. Finding a date is a need. For both boys and girls. Data suggests this is also a problem. So, what happens when one builds a business around solving this problem? Do enough boys and girls end up dating each other? But before that, let me tell you a little bit more about the man.

Bhatia is dressed in a black, collared, Calvin Klein t-shirt, dark jeans, maroon running shoes and a grey, digital sport band on his left wrist. His face is long, the salt and pepper beard makes it look fuller, his hair brushes his forehead, very often. There’s also the reading spectacles, black frame, oval glasses.

 

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