A 21st Century Spin on the Matchmaking Business
Jasbina Ahluwalia of Intersections.
Photo© Natalie Brasington
Matchmaking is a centuries-old business in India, and the entrepreneur is usually an elderly woman with a book listing the eligible singles in her community. It is not particularly lucrative.
But its equivalent in the United States--online dating--is spectacularly profitable: A $1.5 billion-a-year business (according to Online Dating Magazine, a watchdog group for the industry), much of it collected in small monthly fees by corporate websites promising a "love connection." Match.com alone has 1.8 million paid subscribers.
A few years ago, Jasbina Ahluwalia was one of them. A lawyer in San Francisco and Chicago, Ahluwalia decided she was ready to settle down, and hoped to meet someone of Indian background, like her. But the dating websites, both the mainstream ones and the exclusively Indian ones, were impersonal and time-consuming. It took two years of Internet dating for Ahluwalia to find a husband--yes, online--but she found a business idea, too: A matchmaking service for South Asians in the U.S. that combines the personal elements of Indian matchmaking with online technology and social networking. Sparks flew. Since her company, Intersections Matchmaking, was founded in 2007, its revenues have grown 200 percent to 300 percent per year, and it's now operating nationwide, with "scouts" from Washington, D.C., and New York to the Bay Area.
"The scouts might be in medicine or running their own businesses, but they are important because they connect us to people from their professional and personal networks," says Ahluwalia, who has made about 50 successful introductions. "We cast a wide net."
Like those other dating websites, Intersections allows anyone to register for free, which puts them on the company's radar. But from there, the service becomes much more personal, and expensive: Clients schedule a two-hour consultation with Ahluwalia for $375. And then they can embark on a focused "search plan" in which Ahluwalia works with her scouts to locate potential love interests, canvassing South Asian events in different cities and placing ads in publications read by that demographic. The search can cost upward of $10,000; she is now working on search plans for about 15 individual clients.
Ahluwalia is looking to expand into Europe next, and her success has led to speaking engagements at Harvard and Columbia business schools and being honored with a Best Business Idea award from IndUS Business Journal. And her business model?
Well, don't expect a romantic answer.
"Executive recruitment," she says.