Bollywood’s boy-meets-girl tales have told us for years that finding your match is a simple and dreamy affair—but it is simple only in your dreams. Fortunately, Gen X’s hip and urbane crowd has realized that the Hindi film industry is solely responsible for distorting their view on what finding love really entails.
Circa 2000—the advent of matrimonial sites, post the internet boom, made matchmaking an exercise based on profile descriptions. But what worked magically for some has left others dismayed, and inadvertently paved the future for companies with a more unique approach than one based on job profiles and hobbies.
Siddharth Mangharam (38) met his wife Simran (39) at a party discussing blue cheese and single malt whiskey and life flowed from there. However, they were aware that everyone doesn’t get as lucky as them.
Like Simran’s single friend from Paris who shared her experiences of using a dating site inFranceon a visit to India in March 2011. “The people here came across as very different in the real world in comparison to their virtual profiles where they masked their true status sometimes,” she remarked to Simran.
The thought was a catalyst to the birth of Floh (Find Life Over Here) —a by-invitation-only network started in August 2011 by the couple along with Sid Misra and Akshay Rawat, after they left the corporate world. Floh currently operates only in Bengaluru, where it acts as a channel for singles to meet like-minded, urban, independent and educated counterparts in natural settings, and more importantly, offline.
For Mangharam, the opportunity was also connected to the social aspect of India’s economic story. “Life for the middle-class has inexorably changed. People are more affluent and well-traveled. Also, big cities house migrants from smaller cities—that’s an opportunity for us,” says Mangharam, Founder and CEO, Floh.
Floh works on a membership model (its first source of revenue) with three subscription packages, currently priced at Rs.7,500, Rs.12,000 and Rs.15,000 for three, six and 12 months respectively. Applicants, who must be at least 25, go through a round of personal screening by founders to gauge their compatibility with the company’s intended target audience.
Once a member, they get access to Floh’s events, all Sundays of a month, at an additional cost. The events are interactive, ranging from dance workshops, cooking classes, quizzes, vineyard tours and book readings, capped at 20 attendees per event.
The events required many trials. From its first experimental event in May 2011, a free meringue workshop, till October, the founders tested the concept among their friends circle and references. In this period, they began charging from the second event onwards.
“The whole setting takes the pressure off meeting new people and I’m more confident approaching single women now,” says a male Floh member in his early 40s preferring not to be named. He joined Floh after daunting experiences with matrimonial sites.
“Since inception, every member has been screened and founders reserve the right to de-list anyone, in which case money is refunded in full,” explains Floh Co-Founder Simran.
The screening process filters out anomalies of the matrimonial kind. Anyone separated and not legally divorced doesn’t qualify as being single by Floh, for example. “I was asked to show my divorce papers, which is fair,” says a 33-year-old female divorcee and Floh member since February 2012. She moved to Bengaluru to join a large firm and is happy to have made new friends.
The startup’s second source of revenue comes from lead generations. “We help companies market their promotional offers, targeted at people with disposable income, by passing it on to our members and earn on a revenue-sharing basis,” says Mangharam.
The third revenue stream comes from certain events where the organizing party gives Floh a margin on the same, which currently covers costs for the startup.
US-based Weber Grills, manufacturing barbeque grills, started selling in India three years ago. It tied up with Floh at the end of 2011 and has conducted three BBQ workshops for members at the Weber Experience Centre since then.
Commenting on the tie-up, Aslam Gafoor, COO, Weber Grills India says, “It has helped us reach out to a newer and niche audience. Many of them are not familiar with the concept of grilling.” While Weber has sold only eight grills through Floh’s exclusive events, it’s optimistic on its larger goal—to tap the market of single, urban professionals, a first for the company. “There is no monetary exchange between us—it’s a quid-pro-quo model we’ve adopted,” adds Gafoor. “Our partners aren’t the daily-deal variety, but those looking to hit this target audience,” Mangharam points out.
Interestingly, 30 percent of Floh’s checks are signed by parents who have introduced their children to the platform. Consider Vir Dasmahapatra, 29, who joined Floh three months ago, thanks to his mother. “I’ve attended five events, all of which have been well-curated and offer value for money. The whole experience for me has been educational, not only in terms of exploring the city, but also learning more about myself and what I would look for in a long-term relationship,” says Dasmahapatra.
Interestingly, Floh gets more enquiries from women, which speaks volumes of its business model. In the Indian context, women have traditionally been wary adopters of dating sites, often outnumbered by the number of men using them.
“Women come with girlfriends, as a security measure, while men decide to check it out before they decide to share the secret or not with their male friends,” quips Mangharam. “I feel women are more confident, plus our biological-clock adds pressure on finding a mate soon,” observes Simran.
Sanjay Manchanda, Siddharth’s manager for 18 months during his Microsoft days, says that the idea is unique, and it caters to a need in the market. “Also the membership model, driven by reference, limits the potential of abuse. However, the scalability of the model is a million dollar question,” he says.
Floh plans on going pan-India and getting an annual calendar in place, but it’s sure no event will include overnight stays. “We aren’t a holiday company to take a bunch of strangers out. Our business is to provide a forum for people to meet and take the connection independently from there,” explains Simran.
It has also identified partners for verification checks and personal grooming. It will also provide counselor services for its members soon. Business will always be driven by human interaction offline as group events, but the founders will use the Internet to further these connections, like its ‘Living Room’ feature that helps interested parties connect and facilitate future meetings. While the startup has only one success story to its credit so far, after two members married each other, Floh’s model has nonetheless given singles in the city a reason to smile.