How 2 MIT Friends Left The US and Built an Indian Matchmaking Platform!

betterhalf

4 years, 750K matches and hundreds of investor pitches ago, the idea of Betterhalf.ai was brewing in the mind of Pawan Gupta, co-founder and CEO of India's first matrimony platforms, especially made for urban Indians. Pawan comes from Ranchi and while working in the US, he was looking for a life partner in India. But during his partner-search process, he often came across people with few preconceived notions in their mind — ‘A guy with a job abroad’, ‘Attractive pay package’, etc. And sometimes, people were totally different from what he was looking for. 

After toiling hard on several matrimonial sites and apps, he found no luck. While he was in that process, several of his Indian friends in the US had faced similar experiences. Being an alumnus of MIT Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts, his entrepreneurial mind nailed the perfect market to tap into — the umpteen number of Indians who can use technology for finding their potential life partners. And that’s how Betterhalf.ai started!

Without wasting any further time, Pawan teamed up with his engineer friend Rahul Namdev, who is also an MIT alumnus, to start work on Betterhalf.ai — a platform for individuals with serious intention that will thrive on connecting personalities through compatibility rather than traditional factors such as race, caste, appearance, complexions and religion. On this Independence Day, we decided that why don’t we let our founders take us through the memory lanes— what exactly made them come back to India leaving all the luxury back in the US. Let’s go!

The Reverse Brain Drain

India and weddings go hand-in-hand. Matrimony market in our country is so huge and with very few serious players dominating the market, Pawan had his ideas right on the nail. Once the plans were finalized after discussion with Rahul, Pawan approached his mentor at MIT for further direction. On learning about the startup plan, the MIT Entrepreneurship Cell offered them the luxuries of incubating the startup within the campus premise, a full-fledged office space, mentorship, aid with fundraising and much more to operate the India-based plan from Massachusetts.

“I always wanted to come back to India. It is my home. Since our plan was created for people in India, it was imperative for us to be closer to our consumers and understand their needs better,” said Rahul who understood the importance of prioritizing their consumer base over attractive foreign perks (read: ditching 6-figure salaries), the duo set their base in Bengaluru, the perfect hotspot for techies and innovators.

Revamping on the Go

The first version of Betterhalf.ai initially had a personality-based matchmaking function. Rahul designed the algorithm using the behavioral aspects from his personal learnings. Talking about it, Rahul said, 

“Back in 2016, when I was searching for a partner, I had signed up on my community matrimonial website. I met a woman there and liked her too, but got rejected. In between, the matchmakers got me several rishtas. One day, one of my uncles came with the profile of the same person I had met on the community site.”  

However, Rahul was wary as things did not work out before. But on much insistence, he agreed to meet her in person once, and guess what, now they are happily married!

“I did not connect to him before just because he was from MIT, and I didn’t know about the person he was,” says Ankita, Rahul’s wife. It became clear to both of them that traditional platforms were not effective in matching the personalities of two compatible people. It was necessary for them to create a matrimony platform which could fill the gap between a casual dating, hookup app and a traditional, rigid match-making site.

Before Betterhalf.ai, they made a product where marriage bureaus can sign up, share their database and provide matches through this product. 

 “These bureaus are able to match very few people and 90% of the data is lost inventory,” explains Rahul. “So we matched people using their database.” 

However, they didn’t achieve what they were planning. A major reason for it was the lack of trust and the stability of consumers. Hence, the team began working on the user psychology, decoding personalities, took the help of a psychologist and came up with a 16-step, personality-based questionnaire. And there they had the first version of Betterhalf.ai. 

“Sites like Jeevansathi.com, Shaadi.com or any traditional site for instance, we observed that the mainly parents were operating their children’s accounts. And especially in the case of women users. We wanted users to take the charge back. With Betterhalf.ai, we’ve shifted the focus back to individuals and entered serious matchmaking. We are sailing in between the rigid, old-school matchmakers and casual dating apps,” explains Pawan.   

Roadblocks on the Way

Fast forward to March 2018, Betterhalf.ai had around 3,000 qualified singles. However, the matrimony platform was missing essential features like verification, blocking a non-serious user and deactivation of accounts. One of the good things during that time was they were able to raise $60,000 through US investors. Both of them believed in only one thing: Revamp and Evolve. 

In that process, the platform was launched for mobile users for the first time with new, exciting features. It brought in 10,000 new users. Immense digital traction, online ads boosted their popularity and in the next 8 months, Betterhalf.ai had a total of 150,000 users.

The meaning of roadblocks depend on your perception. Often roadblocks appear to push us to greater heights. Soon, the team was face-to-face with one such roadblock — funds. They were getting exhausted and the entire team had just a few months of runaway time. All staff members were informed that they might need to shut the business and were told to search for alternatives. Somehow dragging for 2 months till the money lasted, they approached the last days. BUT…

Sometimes, difficult situations bring the best out of people. 

“We had to let go of 80% of the team. One day we walked into the office and started the computer only to take some data stored in it. And we saw an email saying an investor’s check was coming in. We didn't know how to react, were overjoyed, called all our employees and started the business with new vigor,” beams Rahul.

By now, the lengthy 16-question process was making users lose interest. We saw that some users have left it halfway. They lost a good percentage of users at the top of the funnel. We figured that using artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict romantic relationships was the way to go. 

We figured a few baby steps to increase user acquisition. An AI model was incorporated into the app to predict partners’ preferences. With this model, we reduced the questions in the profile stage, and the time taken to sign up and begin was reduced to 10 minutes than what earlier took around 25-30 minutes. And it made a huge difference. Gradually, we developed our algorithm in a way that users connected their social media accounts for data and this improved matches. And with this, the onboarding time was reduced to 30 seconds to 1 minute. In 4 months, Betterhalf.ai had a 50% rise in new accounts on the app. 

Breaking away from the age-old system of circling within communities, caste and religion, the team at Betterhalf revolutionized the matchmaking scene by diving to make connections based on interpersonal, intellectual and social levels.

We are living in a time of pandemic and several of us are locked indoors. In such difficult times, Betterhalf can play cupid for you. One’s love life need not come to a crashing halt as you can explore the app, connect with like-minded persons, go on virtual dates and have a special someone by the time we step out of the lockdown.

So, if you are looking for your life partner, now would be the right time to sign up!

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