4 years, 750k matches and hundreds of investor pitches ago, Betterhalf.ai was brewing in the mind of Pawan Gupta, founder and CEO of the match-making platform. Originally from Ranchi and working in the US, he was looking for a life partner in India but often came across people who were looking for ‘a guy with a job abroad’, ‘attractive pay package’ or were different from what he was. After trying several matrimonial sites and apps, he found no luck. Several Indian friends of his in the US had similar experiences with no fruitful result. 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 use technology for finding their potential partners.
Pawan teamed up with his engineer friend Rahul Namdev, who is also an MIT alumnus, to get on board with Betterhalf.ai — a platform for serious matchmaking that thrives on connecting compatible personalities rather than through factors such as race, caste, appearance, complexions and religion. This independence day, our founders take us through the memory lanes of what made them come back to India, leaving the luxurious work set up back in the US.
The reverse brain drain
The market was huge and with very few serious players on field, Pawan had his ideas right on the nail. After developing the plans with Rahul, Pawan approached his mentor at MIT for 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,” says Rahul. Prioritizing their consumer base over attractive foreign perks (read ditching 6 figure salaries), the duo set their base in Bengaluru, the hotspot for techies and innovators.
Revamping on the go
The first version of the app had a personality-based matching. Rahul designed the algorithm using the behavioural aspects from his personal learnings. “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 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,” he says. However, Rahul was wary as things did not work out before. But on much insistence, he agreed to meet her in person once, and now they are 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 then to Rahul and Pawan that they need to play a crucial role in matching personalities of singles as the traditional platforms were not effective. They had to 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, things did not materialise as planned and a major reason for it was the lack of trust and stability the consumers had. The team began working on the psychology of users, decoding personalities, took the help of a psychologist and came up with a 16-step, personality-based questionnaire and there you had the first version of Betterhalf.ai. Rubrics of six personalities were followed to determine matches.
“Sites like jeevansathi.com, shaadi.com or take any traditional site for instance, it was the parents operating their children’s accounts. This was the case especially with women seeking partners. Their models haven’t been revamped. With Betterhalf.ai, we have shifted the focus to individuals and entered serious match-making. 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, they had around 3,000 qualified singles on their website but core features like verification, blocking a user and deactivation of accounts were missing. Meanwhile, they raised $60,000 through US investors. Revamping and evolving was their motto. In January 2019, the platform was launched as a mobile app for the first time with new features, getting 10,000 users to sign up. Immense digital traction, online ads boosted their popularity and in the next 8 months, they had 150,000 users.
Often roadblocks appear to push us to greater heights and the team was struck with yet another crisis — funds. Their funds were getting exhausted and the entire team had just a few months of runway time. All staff members were informed that they might shut the business and were told to search for alternatives. Somehow dragging for 2 months till the money lasted, they approached the last days. “We had to let go 80% of the team. One day we walked into the office and started the computer to take some data stored in it, we received an email saying an investor’s cheque is coming in. We were overjoyed, called all our employees and started the business with new vigour,” beams Rahul.
By now, the lengthy 16-question process was making users lose interest. Some left halfway. They lost a good percentage of users top of the funnel. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict romantic relationships was the way to go, they figured. Baby steps to increase user acquisition. An AI model was incorporated into the app to predict partners’ preferences. With this model, they 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. Gradually, they developed their algorithm in a way that users connected their social media accounts for data and this improved matches, the onboarding time was reduced to 30 seconds to 1 minute. In 4 months, they had a 50% rise in new accounts being created.
Breaking away from the age-old system of circling within communities, caste and religion, Betterhalf team revolutionised the match-making scene by diving to make connections based on interpersonal, intellectual and social levels.
With several of us locked indoors in the pandemic, Betterhalf.ai can play cupid. 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.
Psst! We are also going global soon by launching the app for Indian diaspora across the world. So stay tuned and spread the BetterHalf word amongst your friends!