Is there one definitive formula for finding love? Mainstream media and films pitch an idea of mush, which is not altogether unique. Stereotypes and off-the-shelf ideas abound for want of viable alternatives.
The editor briefed me about the story he was expecting out of me - a piece about likeminded people meeting in necessarily classy up-market settings, having a grand time and hopefully finding love and may be, just may be a spouse. As I took the elevator up to the 17th floor, I heard in my head Fiddler on the roof track playing out in a loop - Matchmaker matchmaker find me a match, catch me a catch. I was hoping to meet someone who'd profess Eros and Cupid to be his presiding deities. But Siddharth Mangharam, 37, turned out to be a far cry from your typical matchmaker persona.
More than building stereotypes it seems he believes in dismantling facades. He doesn't believe in playing God, in the context of making matches. He finds the idea of soul mates, dining à deux and other conventional dating routines, convoluted plots of courtship. It's great if marriages happen, but that's not the sole agenda of his start-up Floh (Find Life Over Here) launched in May 2011.
Co-founded by Siddharth and his wife Simran along with 2 partners, Floh is what he does full time. Well-documented fact that he and his wife spent one full hour sharing notes on some cheese, says volumes about how this couple internalized the idea and then decided to bring similar joy in more hearts.
Having gained experience at McKinsey & Co. and Microsoft this is Siddharth's second venture. Peek was this business management graduate's first start-up. While Peek was about cloud computing this current one enables educated, urban singles meet likeminded people.
Vintage Car event: Ladies evoking old-world charm. Members not only got to ride in the cars, but also got to drive these classics.
What is Floh all about? Let's hear about its inception, the hows and whys...
When you think about the audience of India, there are many segments. And lot of business is going on and a lot opportunities are there where the mass market is. People seem to have forgotten this sandwich between the very rich and the mass. It's really difficult today for single people who are professional who are educated to meet other single people. Where would you go? You would go to your parents, then your friends and after that you've sort of hit this dead end. You might find potential partner at work but that again comes with its own set of caveats. Then out of sheer desperation people end up going to a matrimonial site. It's not something that they are just waiting to get to. And we wanted to have people experience a wow when they went out to meet other single people, which is just not there in India today.
Shouldn't finding love be easier today, what with plethora of options available - social media avenues, dating portals and matrimonial websites?
We're losing touch with one fundamental fact which is that companionship is a basic human condition, an in-person companionship. So it's much better to talk to you in a business context or professional context in person than over the phone or via Skype. Because our DNA and genome is built in that way. And where is social media taking us? We are spending more time in front of our computers than meeting people. So is the case with matrimonial sites. People are having affairs with their computers not going out and dating real people. They are spending hours every week trying to sift through millions of profiles. But they just want to meet one special person, they don't want to meet a million people virtually, they want to meet one person in real life. And that's a key aspect of what's being missed.
Pretending to be thicker than I am, I prod him some more and force him to compare a great platform like Guardian Soulmates with his infant Floh.
The idea is to get people to meet and interact in real life. We don't think that love is a function of some algorithm. We think that companionship is something that has to be experienced in person. People can choose to stay in different cities and still remain in a relationship but the human companionship is the foundation for everything. The audience that we are successful in attracting is flocking to these computer-algorithm-driven services because they want to meet people in real life in a very chilled out, no stress environment. They don't want to be put on the spot. They don't want to have something like speed dating or meet 20 people of the opposite sex in one hour. They want to enjoy the afternoon, learn something new. In that context they are in their natural state and therefore they end up having more meaningful conversations with the opposite sex.
Comparing Simran's (his wife of three years) interests with his own, he says "I like running and mountaineering, she likes travelling and music. Had we entered this information in a computer we could have been told that we weren't compatible. But that's not true. We know after being happily married for 3 years." Sure, now this is beginning to make sense.
"It's not a fuction of time, it's a function of intensity which again can never happen in an abstract sense," continues the CEO and founder of Floh.
Wine tasting event: The two members of the group at Olive restaurant in the middle of genuine conviviality
So how is Floh a departure from what's already available? The answer lies in a simple fact that Floh organizes events on a weekly basis where people meet and do non run-of-the-mill stuff together.
We don't think of stereotypes as meaningful at all. What we did for Valentine's Day is a case in point. The notion of manufactured and synthesized mush doesn't cut it for us. How does a singles network which positions itself for the urban educated, intelligent singles do a Valentine's Day without seeming cheesy? We organized an event that was called Make Love and War, this Valentine's Day. It was a paint ball competition for singles. It is very interactive. It gets your adrenalin pumping and your endorphins pumping. Because you're literally fighting and shooting and it doesn't really matter whether you are male or female. But that's so much more real, exciting and authentic than organizing a candle light dinner.
Besides these there are other events the group had organized. Floh website drives the idea home
Floh events are unique and we spend an enormous amount of energy conceiving the idea and ensuring that they are exceptionally well executed. We've had a theater workshop at Jagriti, a cheese tasting with La Fromagerie at Toit, a talk on war photography by Ryan Lobo, an introduction to meringue dance by Lourd Vijay, a visit to the Grover winery, a BBQ grilling session with the Executive Chef of Olive - Manu Chandra, Bangalore Walks, a photography workshop, golf school for beginners and a whole lot more.
Vintage & classic car event: Jolly group this
How does one gain right of admission?
The best members come through references of existing members. And that is also the quickest way to gain entry into the group. We interview everybody and screen everybody before allowing them into the network. We get a limited set of people in the network every month. We also take people based on interviews. We interview everybody. There's a wait list of 2000 people right now.
Do you have an active policy on homosexuals? Are homosexuals welcome in the group?
We've thought about that. In our initial days we did some research around the gay market and we realised that, that market really requires a very different approach and so therefore it's a self selecting audience and we are not necessarily yet ready to cater to the gay, lesbian, bi markets.
Siddharth Mangharam, CEO & Founder of Floh
How are the groups selected?
The demographic is 25 to 40, men and women and the folks are usually professional, a lot of entrepreneurs, lot of people are in start-up world, doctors, design professionals - it's quite a spectrum of professions but the common thread running through it all is people who are well educated and that is one thing which is across the board. It's a person who has spent certain amount of time in sharpening his or her skills.
And is managing these weekly meetings a challenge?
Our events have between 20 and 30 people at each event. That is an ideal size neither too small making it uncomfortable, nor too big making it impersonal. The age range is actually quite similar for men and women. So there'll be folks in their 30s, mid-20s. Because it's an eclectic group of people they are very comfortable with each other and who knows where a romantic relationship can be sparked, it's not really up to us to determine that, it's really up to individuals to figure out. For some age is just a number and it's a state of mind. So we've seen a lot of people connecting across different age groups.
What if you had somebody who is 40 plus entreating admission?
We have been getting a lot of inquiries from people who are above 40 but until we have a critical mass we're holding off getting them into the network. The real reason for holding off is that things that would juice them are different from things that would juice somebody in early 30s.
What about your confidentiality policy?
We have a very strict confidentiality agreement with our members and we do share pictures on our website, on our facebook page or with media once we've got their consent.
I can think of several single friends who are struggling with the Bridget Jones syndrome. Now, there's some real hope. If only the team at Floh expanded and opened a Delhi chapter soon!