December 4, 2022
Match maker
Cover Story

Match maker

Oct 13, 2022

Anupam Mittal’s success story is that of selfbelief, determination and his never-say-die spirit. One of India’s early techpreneurs, he founded his matchmaking company right in the beginning of the dotcom era. His combination of business acumen, entrepreneurial spirit and keen sense of opportunity and growth in the personal segment, helped him succeed in creating his own niche.


The entrepreneurial journey

Born at the end of December in 1974, in Mumbai, to Gopal Mittal and Bhagwati Mittal, Anupam had a lot of inspirations during his formative years and fondly recollects his childhood days. “We grew up in a very humble background. Though my dad had done well, comparatively, his brothers’ businesses were still coming up, so some or the other uncle wanting to start a new business would come to stay with us in Mumbai. So, we always had almost 20-25 people living in our three bedroom flat. We never thought of it as not having the means because as children, it’s always fun having people around. I truly treasure those magical moments when my parents and their friends would go for annual group vacations. Overall, it was a very community centric sort of feeling that helps your mind grow and nourish as a child,” affirms our matchmaking mogul who has two elder sisters. Having completed his graduation, Anupam Mittal took to the United States, in 1994, to do his business degree from Boston University followed by his tryst with MicroStrategy for four years. However, the Company suffered losses owing to the crash of the first dotcom bubble so he had to return to India. “The Company did well from a valuation standpoint but the phase was still Web 1.0 and business models hadn’t evolved. Fundamentally, everybody was chasing eyeballs without determining engagement, so the companies got ridiculously valued. This how the bubble, boom and bust cycle works. The first dotcom crash happened in the year 2000 and what came out of the debris! All big companies that you see today—Amazon, Google, Facebook—started being formed around that time. It’s just that we see them successful now after 20 years!” he mentions.


The early techpreneur of India

Anupam Mittal charted his own destiny and started experimenting with entrepreneurship in 1997. “I was still working in the US that time but would get restless on the weekends. Besides, growing up hearing words like profit margins, cash flow, accounts, inventory from your father, business seeps into your blood. I had a few people back in India working with me like my cousins Pooja, Anand and Ajay—who deserve a lot of credit for the early success of our business —and started exploring with a few things. That’s how I started this little project in the form of a matchmaking portal Sagai.com, built with the idea of helping Indians find a life partner, a capital of $30,000. When the dotcom crash happened, I realised it was time to start my own company,” he states. Mittal sensed an opportunity in the personal industry segment even before the dotcom boom was in the news. He returned full-time to India and in 2003, he rebranded the portal as Shaadi.com under the purview of People Group Pvt. Ltd. “When you are naïve and young, you tell yourself stories that your company will be worth several billions but on another level, you are going along with whatever is happening. The reality and the story co- exist and the dream is that the reality will become the story. And sometimes, you have luck, timing, perseverance, and the reality becomes the story.”

Mittal continued to focus on the Internet business and within the first year, Shaadi.com got its first 100 successful matches, after focusing on NRIs. About the evolution of the matchmaking segment in India he says, “It is always exciting to have a business that brings two people together in life. We think the process of finding a life partner is very important in India. Here, marriage and finding a life partner is not an ‘if’ question but a ‘when’ question. Everybody has to go through it, because culturally we are attuned to it. I faced that myself when I was travelling between the US and India. In my family, people started planning and I could see the effort they were putting in. How do you solve that conundrum where the emphasis on marriage is so high but the potential of finding a partner is so low? Dating isn’t widely accepted and taking your boyfriend or girlfriend home is not common practice. We decided to solve the problem through Shaadi.com, and hence we call ourselves a matchmaking company. I always say, God is our competitor (laughs out loud!). Because, if you meet somebody by sheer coincidence, fall in love and get married, then we don’t get a chance for you to become our customer. Otherwise, everybody else look up to us for matchmaking.” And the rest is history.

At the Shark Tank India show


The business of playing Cupid

With the growth of the Internet and accessibility, the business around planned marriages picked up in India. In 2007 the company raised venture capital to get liquid cash. Mittal also made his first angel investment in a digital ad agency, Interactive Avenue, which went on to become the largest in the space and made Anupam the largest shareholder. In 2011, he invested `1.5 million in Ola Cabs as the one of the first investors along with his friend and investor Rehan. Shaadi.com is completing 20 years and has touched over 50 million lives during this time. From $30,000 capital to becoming a colossal business, did he dream of this success story? “If you look at it from the scale and impact standard, in 20 years people have built Google, Amazon, HDFC, TCS, etc. and we are not even close. The scale has been difficult, because we were challenging the cultural ethos and trying to do things in a way that was not acceptable to people. Yes, we have brought 7 million people together so far and that’s a huge impact on the trajectory of humanity. Had Shaadi.com not been around, maybe those customers wouldn’t have met the same persons, which would have had a slightly different arch of future generations. It is the millions of lives we have impacted that we take pride in and the people who work in this company. We have a wonderful culture that is very performance-oriented and empathetic.” Having had seven million success stories is the basis of his motivation and that’s what keeps him going. He emphasises on the sincerity within his team to achieve a refined and effective work culture. “I would love to believe I did it, but there are a lot of people who have contributed to it. I happen to be the leader of the company so I get the credit. Of course, I get the blame also when things go wrong but that comes with the territory. The reality is that it’s a combination of things that come together,” adds Anupam Mittal, whose organisational abilities and soft demeanour set him apart as a leader.


Onwards & Upwards

From being the Founder-CEO of People Group to venturing into other businesses, Mittal’s journey has been a roller-coaster ride. He established Makaan.com, India’s real estate platform and Mauj Mobile, a mobile gaming and short video company. “We were sniffing out opportunities. Basically, we were looking at digital businesses that don’t have inventories, and don’t require too much capital or chasing people for money. We just stumbled upon things that came our way. Makaan.com had a great exit to REA, a NewsCorp company, and Mauj Mobile was way ahead of time so didn’t fully live live up to its potential,” says our dotcom pioneer.

In 2015, he focussed on new areas of business and over time invested in 200+ tech and brand startups including Druva, Prop Tiger, BigBasket, FarEye, Lets Venture, Ola, Rupeek, Quizzezz, Docsapp, Rapido, Chalo and more including several early stage funds. “I have been running my own Shark Tank for more than 10 years now! A lot of people like me who started investing early have participated and facilitated it,” he smiles. Looking ahead, he foresees growth and expansion in his ventures. “I think of ourselves as People 1.0 when we first launched Shaadi.com. People 2.0 was a deliberate growth; although we were just accidental where the investing period came in, and now we are in the process of trying to define what People 3.0 looks like. It is more global in scale.” He knows how to maintain the status-quo in the workplace while benevolently rising up to setbacks and challenges. “When you are young and have nothing to lose. You think that ‘Kuch gaya to phir bana lenge’, and with that kind of an attitude you just go on, experiment, fall, then get up again, brush yourself off and move on. As you get older, you start realising that you are not going to live forever, and fear starts creeping in. That’s where my stubbornness helps. I can be really stubborn as a mule. If people tell me, you can’t do something, I will put my mind and heart to making sure that I do it, and that has helped to some degree.”

With wife Anchal Kumar and daughter


The shark we love

In 2021, the business reality TV series Shark Tank India (Indian version of American series Shark Tank America) made waves on the small screen and Anupam Mittal was seen as one of the favourite sharks on the show. Talking about his experience, he says, “Shark Tank was very eye-opening for me. As an angel investor, my reach was limited. With the show, however, I got to meet the real Bharat-preneurs, people who come from small towns and villages, who don’t have an IIT or IIM background, or do not have access to us, and also women who otherwise get a very small part of institutional capital. Sitting in our airconditioned offices, we get gilded and lose touch with reality. Shark Tank gave me an interesting perspective on what is going on in our country and I have tremendously learnt from it. I got to see real stories, real struggles and real people. And what has happened after that is even more interesting. Once you are on a TV show every day of the week, you become recognised. So now people who come and talk to me are the average persons on the street. Besides that, the learning from my co-sharks was also immense. They are all top achievers in their fields and so simply being with them helped develop me laterally.” Mittal believes this decade is for startups and it will change India’s entrepreneurial landscape. “In India, everybody is reading about unicorns and building valuation but not everyone understands what it means. We have always been a land of entrepreneurs—the artisans, traders, paanwalas, chaiwalas, women making papads and pickles at home, are all doing business. The missing piece was that India had not figured out the scale and speed of entrepreneurship and hence they had questions in mind. The show came at the right time to answer those questions. I believe, once the curiosity starts of how you do business at scale and speed, all you need is belief. A show like this gave that belief to people and expanded people’s horizons. It has brought the entrepreneurial discussion to the dining table and is going to be a game changer,” explains Mittal who gained media attention as one of the fair and favourite sharks on the show. To this, he laughingly retorts, “That is because of how cool I am! Seriously though, everybody thinks they are being fair. Nobody sits on a show deciding to be unfair. I believe that when you’ve had a few knocks in life, when you have been down and out a couple of times, life has a wonderful way of bashing the ego out of you. Once you embrace that, you see everybody from their own perspective.
You become a little more empathetic; and when you understand people’s viewpoints, humility comes automatically. From a selfish perspective, when I invest in an early stage company, I have to invest in the person and that becomes an important part of evaluation,” adds the humbleentrepreneur who invested `5.338 crore in 24 companies on Shark Tank.


The eternal optimist

An explorer and optimist, Anupam Mittal keeps himself motivated at all times. “I call myself an eternal optimist who feels instinctively about the world. I feel that ultimately everybody wants to be happy, successful and to do the right thing. Nobody is trying to harm you; it is just your interpretation that people are against you. They do not have the time, as they’re too busy trying to figure out their own crap. Look around, we have never been more abundant than we are now, poverty is at the lowest level ever, world hunger is pretty much over to a large degree, from an average of 45 years people have gone to live an average of 85 years, and that’s growing. All these indicators tell us that we are on the right path. The only problem is that we compare ourselves and think that we have less than the other person, which creates dissatisfaction. These are the effects of social media. This is the first generation that is growing through social media, and whenever such major tectonic shifts happen, one or two generations must pay the price for it and adjust accordingly. But I believe enough that we will find a solution to that and the world will become more equal,” he explains.

Anupam Mittal credits his business acumen to his Marwari bloodline. Like most other entrepreneurs, he has received a lot of learning in business and life from his parents. “You are a summation and multiplication of the values given by your parents. There were a few principles given by my parents: working hard, maintaining high levels of integrity, and living up to my word. I imbibed these very deeply as life lessons.” He continues, “My father had a very humble beginning; he earned `100 per month in his job. Eventually, he set up his own factory. I remember that whenever he would be upset and unsettled, it would either be due to inventory building up which means the market had slowed down, or somebody was not paying him so accounts receivable was going high. Later on, he moved into a monopolistic business that required people to pay him in advance. Looking at him, I took fancy towards businesses that don’t involve inventory problems, sales cycles, chasing debtors, accounts going for a toss, etc. Hence, we are a technology business—we getpaid first and then we service our suppliers or vendors.”

With family


The family man

In July 2013, Mittal married his long-time girlfriend model Anchal Kumar. Talking about the understanding and compatibility they share, he says, “We are very similar yet very different and hence complement each other. We are both aspirational; however, she’s more conservative while I like walking on the edge of the cliff. She’s more guarded and I am more open. Perhaps, because I grew up with so many people around me. I am always raging to go and mix up with hundreds of people, and she’s more private. She was a well-known model and has been successful way before me. She is very supportive of me and encourages me to be the best I can. I am more in the limelight now and she supports that and brings the stability factor in our lives. So, we both play different roles at different times, and I think we’re doing it well. She also gives me input on social media and marketing as being in the business of glamour she has an instinct for it. Also, now she has started working again as our daughter is a little older.” With his family and four-year-old daughter Alysa Anantara Mittal to spend time with, Mittal knows the art of juggling work and personal life. “It is tough but I have a great team that makes it easier. I have figured out that having a fixed format of dedicating seven hours to work in a day and then three hours of family does not work for me. I have everything blending into each other. Even on vacations, I am available to answer emails, reply to messages, and that works for me. I do calls at 11.00 pm in the night or send emails at 1.00 a.m. In the last two years of the pandemic, I have spent a lot of time at home with my family.”


Leisure & more

Mittal loves talking to aspiring entrepreneurs in his leisure time. “My job is so much fun that I don’t need a pastime. I have an interest in reading and writing. I detest travelling as I don’t like the process of going and coming, but once I am there, I enjoy myself. I love to travel with my daughter, as I like seeing the world through her eyes,” says the tycoon who once owned a boat racing team called Team Sharks. However, with the funding getting dried up during the pandemic, the initiative had to be shut down. He also has a racehorse that is currently being trained by champion jockey Pesi Shroff in Pune and will be back before the racing season starts in November. A true Marwari at heart, he likes to live life king size with high-end cars and a luxury home in Cuffe Parade in Mumbai. But he denies being extravagant. “I live the same life that I used to have. Yes, my life is comfortable relative to Indian standards of living. But I don’t have a second home, I don’t go overboard, nor have parties all the time. I don’t shop for years, and tend to stick to a few basic things. In fact, you won’t see me adoring brand names. I feel, I am my own brand. Even if I buy something designer, you won’t see the label, it will be subtle. I feel that it takes away from my identity. I believe more in the relationship part of life than being brand conscious. Yes, I have a taste for luxury cars and like to splurge on that. I don’t have something that I have acquired because I have the money to demonstrate to people. That’s not something that appeals to me,” he states in his parting note. And we agree with you Mr Anupam Mittal, you are your own brand!.