Mayank Shah noticed two things after he co-founded Smart Pocket, a mobile app that allows customers to digitize their loyalty cards, in 2013.
First, his social life shrank rapidly. Second, the “good Gujju-Marwari boy” that he was, he was at the age-appropriate threshold of marriage, and since he was busy building a company in Bengaluru, his Kolkata-based parents decided to find him a match. The hunt, however, didn’t go well.
“The networks my mother tapped didn’t work,” recalls Shah, now 30, whose company got acquired by Goodbox in January. “The family business folks didn’t want to marry their daughters to some guy with a vague, seemingly intangible business.” Even within a community that understood the spirit of enterprise, Shah says, he was persona non grata since he didn’t have the security of being a co-participant in an extended family business. His previous Goldman Sachs job, he says, would have been a better sell—a predictable career path with a marquee name.
Shah decided to take control. He joined Floh, a singles’ network that helps urban and educated singles find life partners. It was here that he met his wife, Ritu Sahu, 30, marketing head of People, a brand of Madura Fashion & Lifestyle. They got married four months ago. At Floh, Shah says, he finally met people who “got” entrepreneurship and understood that it wasn’t quite the zero-sum game that it is made out to be. Even when ventures fail, people start again or return to corporate careers.
Entrepreneurship might be the cultural zeitgeist of our times, but when it comes to matrimonial matchmaking, the truth is that in upper middle-class homes, it’s considered to be lower than well-paid jobs in the private sector. Several entrepreneurs, and their parents, say they struggle to ace the “arranged marriage” market.
The media often focuses on the glamour stories of venture capital-backed start-ups with founders who have Ivy League degrees, says a 32-year-old founder of an education technology start-up who is looking for a match. For somebody from a decent but not pedigreed engineering or management college, the social status of being an entrepreneur still doesn’t have the same ring. He is certain, for example, that his bachelor’s in math degree from Delhi university and a master’s from “one of the newest IIMs” would have made him more attractive if he were working at a bank or a consumer goods firm. He is worried that the recent turn in the narrative around entrepreneurship, and the stories of closures and layoffs, will further spook parents and prospective brides.
It’s sociological, says a 34-year-old entrepreneur based in Delhi. Decisions around marriage are often determined by the notion of stability. Nobody thinks that a young man with a small office and an uncertain future is a promising bet, he says. In fact, this was a consideration when he decided, two years ago, to take up a large e-commerce firm’s offer to acquire his online accessories portal. They wanted him to run his entity within their larger umbrella. The salary and the brand name would help his matrimonial résumé, he thought. The acquisition, however, didn’t quite go as planned. He quit the company and started out again. He is yet to get married.
Interestingly, women entrepreneurs say they haven’t suffered such problems. It is an unfortunate reality that gender expectations continue to differ sharply, says one of them. Notions of “stability” don’t seem to be as onerous for young women.
If you put aside matrimony, the dating scene can be quite different. In his experience of running Floh for five years, founder Siddharth Mangharam, 41, says he has found that entrepreneurs can actually be quite appealing to others. “They are often confident, ambitious and determined.” According to the Indian dating network TrulyMadly, the male app users in the entrepreneur/owner/directors/partners category got 12% more likes than the overall average male since the network started in August 2014. Over the years, the sordid image of entrepreneurs as mavericks with no money and time, and toxic in a relationship, has certainly faded. But filters for marriage are different. For all the buzz around innovation and entrepreneurship, and a country supposedly learning to celebrate failure and effort, the arranged marriage checklist hasn’t changed at all.
Surviving Start-ups focuses on the stories of the people (parents, siblings, spouses and friends) who make up an entrepreneur’s world. Singh is the spouse of a start-up entrepreneur and draws from real-life experience.