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ENTERING GLOBAL MARKETS

A Dating Site Thrives in Delhi

What would you do if your online start-up found a huge audience... in India? For Ignighter co-founder Adam Sachs, the answer is to hop on a plane.
He's Huge in India: Adam Sachs, co-founder of the dating site Ignighter, found unexpected success overseas.
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Some would call it an unintended consequence. Others would call it entering a global market. Most people would probably just call it dumb luck. 

Along with partners Dan Osit and Kevin Owocki, Adam Sachs started a dating website called Ignighter.com in New York City in 2008. The idea was to make online dating "safer, less awkward, and more fun." The premise was simple: Online dating was weird, but less weird if you did it as a group. After a year of modest success in the States, the founders noticed a puzzling trend that has completely reshaped the company's business strategy: The company was becoming incredibly popular in India, where Western-style dating remains somewhat taboo. Ignighter, which organizes friends to go out in groups, solves a problem in the traditional culture. And the market there is huge: Approximately 65 percent of India's 1.1 billion people are under the age of 35.

So in March, Sachs is India-bound, with a one-way ticket to Delhi, where he will be setting up Ignighter's official Indian outpost. Raised in New Jersey, Sachs has never been to India before, let alone set up a business there. 'It feels like such an adventure,' he says. Sachs recently spoke with Inc.'s Eric Markowitz.

So, are you excited for the big trip?

Yes. People talk about how start-ups are a rollercoaster. For us, it feels like such an unexpected, unanticipated ride that we're on. We just never expected to be where we are when we started the company three years ago, but I think we're in a cool place.

When you started the company, whom did you envision the demographic to be?

Ourselves. When we started the company, we were 24-, 25-year-olds. We built it because we wished something like that existed.

When did the pickup in India happen?

We started to notice it in the middle of 2009.

Was there any promotion or word of mouth in India that spawned it?

Nope. The first product we ever had was a Facebook app, and at the time we noticed that people internationally were signing up. It wasn't in huge numbers, but it was not insignificant. I think that was enough to seed some of the growth that we saw in 2009.

Right now, what percentage of your users are based abroad?

About 90 percent of our users are overseas, and of that the majority are in India.

When did you realize how big this could be?

Six months ago, we sat down with Sanjeev Bikhchandan, founder of Info Edge and Naukri (one of the most popular sites in India). He said, "You guys might not realize this, but you're in the Top 10 in terms of user growth of all websites in India. The companies in your bracket are Facebook, LinkedIn, Gmail, and Naukri."

Was there ever a point where you kind of just looked at the numbers and scratched your head and wondered, like, Why is this happening?

(Laughs) Yeah, absolutely. It wasn't like one point. It was like one year of that. We were certainly intrigued, and we didn't have an answer. We made it our mission to understand why it was happening. We've gotten to a pretty good place there, but I think we're going to learn more as we open our office there and spend more time there.

I guess that raises the question, Then, what have you learned?

The universal story that we've heard is that people in our target demographic, the twentysomethings in India, are growing up in a different India than their parents. Their parents grew up in an India where arranged marriage was very much the norm, and a love marriage was rare. But their children grew up with more exposure to Western culture, through Facebook and TV, and so many of their interests about dating are starting to align with how Westerners date. But they also want to be respectful to their parents, and so being able to date with your group of friends and tell your parents, "I'm going to go out with my friends, and we're going to meet some people" is a lot easier than saying, "I'm going on a date."

What do you look forward to getting out of this trip?

If you are running a dating website in New York City, you can just go to a bar and see the way people interact. But because we have so many users in India, we can't just watch people on a date to get a feel for how the culture works. We're learning a bit about dating in India through our investors and our mentors, but we want to see it firsthand. We want to live it.

So, you are a couple of guys from Jersey who have never been to India. Now, you are leaving in a few weeks to officially open your business there. Do you feel like that is, I don't know, a little strange?

(Laughs) Yeah, but I think it's a good strange. I think one day I'll look back on it and be, like, Wow, that was really cool. I would feel like more of an outsider if we hadn't surrounded ourselves with a lot of good people in India. I have a network that will welcome me.

Does it ever make you sad that your company isn't as popular here in the States?

I have buddies in the start-up world that have companies growing nicely in the city, and it's cool for them to see people they know using their products. I think there's something there that's really fun. And when we move to India, I guess we'll get to experience that, too.

IMAGE: Courtesy company
Last updated: Feb 14, 2011




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