The matchmakers

By Nafeesah Ahmed

Dating isn’t easy. Finding that perfect life partner seems even tougher. Especially, when it comes to busy urban Indian professionals, who rarely have time or opportunity to meet someone outside their immediate social circle. Poring over classified ads is passé, and so is browsing through thousands of random, unverified profiles on conventional matrimonial websites. Swiping through potential matches on popular dating apps may be an option, but for most successful city-dwelling professionals looking for a meaningful relationship, and at seriously upping their chances of finding a compatible partner, joining a contemporary matchmaking network, a singles-only club, or signing up for a personalized dating service could very well turn out to be their best bet.

The days of the traditional marriage bureaus and their “dated” ways are long gone. There is no resume to submit, no pundit to match horoscopes, and certainly no shubh-muhurat to meet that special someone. Here we’re talking about modern, professional matchmakers who, besides adopting a fresh take on the subject of matchmaking, take their jobs and their clients very seriously.

“It’s tough to get a sense of an individual’s personality by just looking at a couple of their photographs or a list of their hobbies. I ensure that I get a face-to-face meeting or a video call with every member before the matchmaking process starts,” says Anuradha Vinod Gupta, founder and CEO, Vows For Eternity (VFE), a high-end, personalized matchmaking platform for the Indian elite. “I got married at 34, and I always thought I would meet someone on my own, but soon realized that not only does it get tougher with time, but the process drains you emotionally as well,” she adds.

There are also times when delaying marriage can often lead to unrealistic expectations and even have people focusing on the superficial. For instance, a Wall Street banker once refused to meet a girl who, he felt, wasn’t “photogenic” enough. Gupta intervened and got them to meet, only to have the girl turn around and refuse, because she didn’t like the color of his socks! Reluctantly, she agreed to a second meeting which, luckily for them, turned into an eight-month romance, followed by marriage.

Calling her establishment a serious destination for marriage, Gupta says, “We act like a bridge that brings life partners together, based on mindsets, values and personalities.” More importantly, their social status — as the high profile client list at VFE includes successful professionals, entrepreneurs, industrialists and celebrities, based in India and abroad. While being headquartered in New York, VFE has an established presence in Singapore, as well as the Indian metros.

Unlike arranged marriages, these New Age matchmakers also focus more on connecting people, rather than rushing them straight into matrimony. “We ensure a pressure-free environment where clients can be themselves. They can date for years, get married the following week, or simply leave after a casual drink,” says Sunil Hiranandani, founder, Sirf Coffee, one of India’s first dating services.

Choosing to keep their approach boutique and personalized, Sirf Coffee only takes on about 500 new members annually. Their offices in Mumbai and Singapore cater to clients from more than 18 countries, while their priority markets remain India, the US, the UK, Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore.

The team personally strives to meet and interview every applicant, and not just bank on how good they look on paper. “Once we’ve determined an appropriate match, we get in touch with the client to tell them about their prospective date. If their schedule makes meeting for coffee difficult, we arrange for drinks or dinner after work,” elaborates Hiranandani. Even if you happen to be in different parts of the world, the relationship managers will go the extra step to co-ordinate your travel itineraries to ensure a hassle-free dating experience.

Sirf Coffee has been privy to several romances that have brewed over “just” a cup of coffee. Recently, they learnt that the record for the longest second “date,” in Sirf Coffee’s history, was clocked at 15 “short” hours, and this happened onboard a flight that took off from JFK and landed at Dubai!

Finding love online

Moving from the world of dating over coffee onto the world of dating online, Indians are taking to looking for love and relationships on the web like never before. With an influx of dating apps in the matchmaking market, and Tinder being one of the most popular, how then, does Aisle, another dating app, claim to be different and stand out amongst its peers?

Able Joseph, founder, Aisle, explains, “Aisle is the wise middle-path between traditional matrimonial websites and casual dating apps. We do not encourage our members to mindlessly try and connect with every user on the app. Instead, they purchase “Invites” and send them out only to people who they are genuinely interested in meeting, and not to “everyone” in order to maximize their chances of meeting “at least someone,” as is the trend on other dating apps.”

With verified members in over 60 countries, a majority of who are based in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, Aisle does not provide its users with matches, but gives them the option of applying the filters on the app to search for anyone they feel they might be able to strike a chord with.

iBluebottle, on the other hand, is another matchmaking site, that unlike Aisle, sends out high quality matches to its members every week. No random searching or browsing of profiles is allowed to protect the privacy of the users. Co-founder, Akhilesh Sharma, says, “We do an initial validation of every profile to establish its genuineness. Then we use a personality-matching algorithm to send out compatible matches. If the user likes a match and wants to establish contact, we do a second level validation of the profile and ask them to pay for a subscription.”

The vetting team ensures that only “top professionals” and those, who fall within a strict income bracket at that, qualify for a membership. Taking a personality test, while creating a profile, is mandatory. “We also ask for documentary proof as part of the second level validation,” reveals Sharma.

Not everyone’s modus operandi is the same when it comes to the delicate task of bringing two people together. While private dates and algorithms work for some, at Footloose No More (FLNM) “face to face” meetings at curated events work best. Perhaps, no one knows this better than the founders of FLNM, Varsha Agnihotri Vadhyar and her brother Abhishek Agnihotri, who found their respective partners at FLNM parties, where marriage is always on the cards.

“We’re not a casual dating site. We seriously want to bring people together to explore the route that takes them from being “Footloose” to “Footloose No More” in a fun, interactive and safe environment,” says Varsha. No member is auto-approved. Every applicant is first interviewed, and then, depending on a host of factors, approved or rejected.

Members meet during casual movie nights or fun Sunday brunches. For the outdoor enthusiasts, FLNM organizes treks, photography walks, etc.

With around 5,000 clients spread across cities like Mumbai, Pune, Delhi and Bengaluru, most of them fall within the age bracket of 25-27, but Varsha insists that they have no upper age limit, since finding love and togetherness should be for everyone.

This thought finds resonance with Reemma Dalal and Jemma J. Antia, founders of the Mumbai-based entity Mix & Mingle, who also believe that the older age bracket should not be left out when it comes to helping people find love. While most of their private, themed events are organized for singles between 25 and 35 years of age, they have cared to include and cater to the age brackets between 35 and 50 years, as well as the “50 and above” group of individuals, these clearly being the age groups that are often overlooked by other matchmaking platforms.

Guests are screened prior to the events and the venue is only revealed post the screening process. Reemma says, “The idea behind our events is for singles to meet and interact with one another, find a partner and expand their social network. These events give people an opportunity to dress up, have fun and let their hair down.”

Icebreakers galore

But hosting over 250 events in a year, across different cities, is no mean feat. Perhaps, that’s why at Find Life Over Here (Floh), a singles network, active in Bengaluru, Mumbai and Delhi, they claim to see at least one wedding or engagement every week amongst its members.

Siddharth Mangharam, founder and CEO of Floh, says, “We accept less than 10 percent of the applicants into the pool, and this results in exceptionally high quality profiles on Floh.” The vetting process, again, is quite stringent, with multiple levels of screening, which includes a personal interview, besides analyzing an applicant’s Facebook and LinkedIn profile. “We look for politeness during the interview and across all communication. A person may be exceptionally qualified, but if they are rude, their application is definitely rejected,” reveals Mangharam.

Based upon their interests, members can choose from the gamut of curated events, where they are guaranteed to meet like-minded people. There are wine tastings and cookouts, sailing and hiking trips, picnics and photography workshops, dance sessions, debates, quizzes and a wide range of other events to pick from. Floh even has an exclusive app in place, which enables members to request a one-on-one introduction with a person of interest. So, even as they’re gearing up to launch in cities like Hyderabad, Pune and Chennai, it is their attention to detail and their “more-than-willing” attitude to deliver greater value to their customers, that will help entities like Floh shape up their industry.

Similarly, for those looking for a weekend soiree with a fabulous guest list, free flowing champagne and wine selections, paired with some great food and music, they needn’t look beyond A World Alike (AWA), which is another exclusive, “by invitation-only” singles network, active across Bengaluru, Delhi and Mumbai. Equally apt for those who’d rather settle for an afternoon game of paintball, a beer pong tournament, or even an army tank ride, AWA is where they should sign up.

Even though these events are only reserved for a select bunch, who are handpicked by the AWA’s founding team, it sure has opened up a whole world of possibilities for singles out there, eager to have fun and network, with no underlying agenda.

“Our events are classy, experiential and hosted in some of the best venues across the country,” says Himanshu Gupta, founder of  AWA. Although he wouldn’t call AWA a dating or a matchmaking platform, he does believe that, “Only when you meet somebody in person, you are in a position to gauge the chemistry and discover their personality traits, rather than swiping online endlessly.”

Memberships to most of these matchmaking and networking platforms range from Rs. 5,000 to 7,500 for a three-month package, and rise to about Rs 15,000 to 33,000 annually. Curated events are sometimes charged extra. Then there are the likes of Vows For Eternity’s premium matrimonial search packages, which range from 1.5 to 3 lakh. But more than the membership fees, the entry to these exclusive clubs isn’t easy, as most of them have a no-nonsense approach when it comes to taking on a new member. Rules and eligibility criteria are clearly, and candidly, spelt out online.

According to Himanshu, the basic criteria that probably holds true for gaining entry into any one of these reputed networks is that, one has to be an interesting personality. “Well-spoken, well-educated and well-travelled, and of course, open to meeting new people.” A deal-breaker would be if, “one is not articulate enough, or isn’t gainfully employed.” But for those who make the cut, these platforms sure is a promising way to meet a prospective partner, sooner or later. Now, that’s a promise most of these matchmaking entities would be happy to keep, just as the tagline of iBluebottle optimistically states — Kabhi toh milogae!

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