Dating as team sport

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If you fail in New York, try Nagpur. A US dating site is finding much love in India, says Yamini Deenadayalan

Illustration: Anand Naorem

THREE MEN IN New York might just have given the lovesick in Nangloi Jat, Uttar Pradesh, a reason to swoon. Three years ago, Adam Sachs, 28, and his friends Kevin Owocki, 26, and Daniel Osit, 29, launched Ignighter.com in the US. By the end of 2008, they had only 50,000 members — no competition to the massive dating industry in the US. So, imagine dating without Janaki Aunty and Sheela Maasi (along with all of Bhopal, of course) talking about it. This Indian fantasy fuelled Sachs’ business plan when he realised that 90 percent of the 7,000 new members who join every day are Indians. The rest are mostly from Southeast Asia, with the US being a minority. (They have stopped working on the site in the US.) Sachs is now in Delhi, hoping to hire “rockstars” for his India office, due to open next month.

Here’s how it works. Chameli’s group has two girls who will form ‘groupies’ with similar all-male groups in Delhi — then they’ll all meet for drinks or a movie. Groups pay as a unit to the website — a monthly group membership costs between Rs. 700 and Rs. 2,000, depending on usage. Sachs says, “Young people in India want to date and have a strong desire to be respectful.” He means the average girl or boy doesn’t want to be seen alone on a date by the ever-spying relatives, especially in the smaller towns.

Sachs and his friends in New York didn’t quite imagine that Ignighter will be mostly an Indian site. They had their share of bad dates and wanted to make dating more fun. It is not true that group dating is unpopular in the West, but is clearly more successful in Hapur, Uttar Pradesh, than in Houston. Blame it on an oversaturated online dating market in the US and the fact that there is no overt compulsion to date in a group. While most of the 1.5 million (of a total 2 million users) Indians are from the metros, an increasing number are from small towns like Nangloi Jat where dating is much more of a taboo. The numbers are also why Ignighter must get its Indianness right. Going by the homepage’s display of a groom and a bride in lehenga, the group seems to have done some homework (including, questionably, “naan bread” as virtual gift).

With a display of a groom and a bride in lehenga on the homepage and a naan bread as virtual gift,Ignighter has done its homework well

Investor Sasha Mirchandani, CEO of BlueRun Ventures that funds start-ups, says this is the first investment he decided to make after just one phone call. Forty percent of the $3 million the group has raised so far is from Indian investors, including Google’s Indian vice-president of sales, Rajan Anandan. Mirchandani has the same cultural reasons for believing dating will work but agrees that in terms of safety, it cannot be “fool-proof”. Most women have had their share of online stalkers who want to “make friendship” with them. Browse through some Ignighter profiles and you will see some groups of men who have put up women as their display pictures (a commonly used trick to befriend women). Sixty percent of the members in India are men — not a bad ratio by any means. Mirchandani suggests a solution in users recommending each other.

For now, Ignighter plans to begin its India operations in earnest; get to know India better and tie up with restaurants for discounts for its users. Hopefully, ‘Groupies’ in India will take on a new meaning and be less of a taboo now.

 

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