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He was the first in his family to attend college. He earned his Master's degree and started his career as a software professional. At 26, he set up his own matrimony portal and managed it in his spare time from his living room at home. The website has been going from strength to strength over the last 10 years and today he is the founder CEO of one of India's leading matrimony portals, employing 750 people in 40 offices across the country.
Murugavel Janakiraman, in an e-mail interview with rediff.com's Sanaya Dalal, shares how he went about scripting the success story that BharatMatrimony.com is today, and how budding internet entrepreneurs can translate their dreams into reality.
Tell us a little about your background -- your childhood, your educational qualifications and your first job.
I hail from a middle class family and was the first to go to college in my entire family. I completed my Master's Degree in Computer Science, from the University of Madras and started my career at the Chennai-based Nucleus Software as a software professional.
Give us a brief sketch of your career in the industry and the agencies you worked with before you founded your own company.
Right from my college days, I was very keen to have a business of my own. I worked in India for about one and half years with Nucleus software (Polaris [Get Quote] was known as Nucleus Software then) as a programmer in developing network projects on UNIX platform.
From there I moved to Singapore for a brief stint. I worked as a consultant in the US for leading companies on software which gave me good exposure and an insight into internet technologies. This inspired me to start BharatMatrimony.
What was your work-schedule like when you started out?
My initial days of work was too hectic as I started the community portal called sysindia.com
So I used to do my consulting work during the day and manage the site in the evenings. My work schedule used to be 16 hours a day. I was into programming, designing, customer support and also into marketing. I used to take customer calls in the evening.
When did you decide to establish BharatMatrimony? Was it a struggle -- what disappointments did you have to cope with?
So I came back to India and started TamilMatrimony.com. Then understanding the way Indians get married, I started other language-based portals under the brand name BharatMatrimony.com.
Of courses there were quite a few challenges in the beginning:
~ Online marriages, the concept itself was new to the traditional audience
~ Dot Com bust, I had to rebuild confidence in an online brand
~ Limited resource and funds: In 1999, when I made my first presentation in Silicon India, the proposal was rejected by all the top Silicon Valley investors. An online matrimony portal was considered a nonviable project then.
What is it like running the BharatMatrimony Group on a day-to-day basis? What has the experience so far been like?
Earlier I was involved with design, developing and coding. My experience has been great! Today, we have successfully established the word matrimony in India and have grown to various vertical spheres.
We have faced multiple challenges over the last 10 years, but it has been a wonderful experience. The company which was started in a small living room has become the leading matrimony portal in India and has grown steadily. Today we have 750 employees and 40 offices across the country. We get more than 10,000 people registering with us on a daily basis and success stories are growing rapidly. Every such success story has been an inspiring and cherished moment.
What do you think it takes to build a successful website? How important is marketing?
The most important thing in running an internet business is to have a strong business model. The business model should be unique and customer-driven.
I believe that understanding the customer mindset and exceeding their expectations is the key to build a successful website. For eg, understanding the way Indian marriages happen, we have developed features like horoscope generation, verification services, matrimony references, caste-based search options on our site. Our success is because of the way we have used technology; mere technology will not bring success.
Marketing is important for a service-oriented business like ours. We are one of the leading internet advertisers in India. Online matrimony is a highly 'evolved' and 'branded' category where users directly log on to well-known brands � which clearly indicates the brand-driven market.
Do you believe in the 'lucky break' factor, or do you believe that an innovative, new idea is all you need to guarantee career success?
Every problem is an opportunity, smart people create opportunities. Opportunity and work go hand in hand, it depends on the outlook of the individual. Luck does favour you but hard work, dedication and passion are important factors. Being open-minded helps one learn new things.
When presented with a new challenge, how do you set about the task?
I see every challenge as an opportunity. We are in the customer-oriented business and hence we look at challenges not as a problem but look at providing the best solution to our members.
What qualities set apart success stories like yours from the average?
We believe in creating an open culture for our employees and each and everyone contributes for the growth of the organistion. Every one of us is passionate about our work and we maintain the same culture till date.
What kind of criticism have you faced in the course of your career, and how have you learned to deal with it?
People were initially skeptical about the venture and felt that I was wasting time. But it didn't matter to me as I was enjoying my work and to me that was the most important thing. One needs to be positive and take criticism as suggestions. That's what helps enhance the product.
What do you think is the most common mistake newcomers trying to establish a dot com company make? What advice do you have to give them in this regard?
Many newcomers look at having a 'Me too company' I would say is a bad idea. They should try and do something innovative or customise the existing models to suit the Indian audience. One should ensure that a strong revenue model is in place apart from the advertising revenue.
Having come such a long way in your career in such a short span of time, what do you think remains to be achieved? Which dreams are yet to be realised career-wise?
We believe that we have come some way. We have made progress over the years but believe that there is a long way to go. We re-set our aims every time one is achieved and work towards the next with the same passion and belief. 'Higher we achieve, bigger we dream'.
Did you have a mentor when you started out?
I learn from successful people, people of inspiration. I didn't have a 'mentor' as such.
How has your successful career impacted your personal life? Do you feel like you've had to sacrifice a few personal pleasures in favour of your job, or are you a workaholic who thrives under pressure?
In today's high-pressure work environment, there are a lot of demands on my time. But I try and take time off during the weekends to spend quality time with my family.
There are quite a few young people in the US and UK who have set up million-dollar websites. Do you think the Indian sphere offers as much opportunity?
India possesses immense opportunities. More and more opportunities are coming up with regard to travel, tourism and matrimony sites being a multi business and thus offering a wide range to all the Indian consumers.
Moreover, with internet penetration getting stronger every day, people have now actually prefer online matrimony searches. It is however important to use technology to enable people to take convincing and faster decisions.
What tips do you have for today's youngsters looking to set up their own dot com company?
People starting out today need:
~ An understanding of the market and the technologies
~ A positive attitude and a mindset to face challenges and criticism
~ Self-confidence and a strong will to succeed
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