Floh – the offline networking platform that can potentially disrupt the dating business

What’s the big deal in dating business? You can always start a site that matches people based on their interest, preference, has filters like religion etc and you are all set to clock millions of pageviews (if not matchmaking).

Actually not. Bangalore based Floh is taking a totally different route and is not positioned as a dating site. Floh is a platform to bring single people together at awesome events with the objective of meeting like minded people.floh

The invite-only network (currently Bangalore only) enables members to have real, in person interactions at events and is heavily targeted towards urban, educated and independent singles. Most of such networking happens over events organized by Floh – ranging from dance workshops to personal grooming sessions, vintage car experience etc, with an underlying principle that meeting people who enjoy similar activities helps in creating a better connection.

“Truth be told, Floh isn’t for everyone. Every person who requests membership is called by a founder of the company before gaining access to the network. The reason we’re selective is that we’d like to ensure that the DNA in the membership pool remains at a high level and that our members feel very comfortable at our events. Our members are professionals, entrepreneurs, doctors and lawyers who are well educated and gainfully employed. They love new experiences and have an open mind. We screen each and every person who evinces an interest in Floh before getting them into the network.”

The 1-year old company started off with 18 members a year ago and now has several hundred active members and a waitlist of over two thousand people (is a premium service that starts with membership fee of Rs. 7,500 for 3 months).

Floh: More women than men?

The most interesting part about Floh is that it has more women than men members and the company attributes this to the safety measure that they undertake as part of the member screening process.

A more subtle reason is despite Indian society evolving at light-speed, singles in the city actually don’t have too many options to meet other singles in person and in a safe and comfortable environment. Walk into a bar in any Indian city and you’ll see what I mean. A lot of our women members tell us that Floh is like a breath of fresh air. It’s exactly what they’ve been looking for – a curated set of members meeting in person at highly interactive, exclusive and fun events.

Another interesting data point that founder, Siddharth Mangharam shared with me is that 30% of memberships are driven by moms!

That is, a very non-traditional model that relies on curation of members and uses interest/activities as a starting point for connection/networking.

Is Floh a lifestyle business for the founder, Siddharth Mangharam who earlier was founder of Peek, the email-only device which was pitched an cheaper Blackberry alternative? Actually not. Why would an offline-networking business hire a product manager?

Here is a QnA with Floh cofounder, Siddharth Mangharam

Pi: What business are you in? Dating?
Floh is in the business of connecting urban, educated and independent singles in the real world. Currently Floh organizes high quality events where our members meet and interact in person. For example, we’ve had vintage and classic car experiences, personal grooming sessions with fashion guru Prasad Bidapa, cookouts with India’s best chefs, dance workshops and outdoor activities where our members get to meet and interact in a natural way. Membership is curated and each person is screened before gaining access to the network. Our repertoire includes over 50 events that we’ve executed in the first year of operations. While we’re all set to expand our product offerings across different formats, we will always be anchored in providing real life experiences rather than only virtual, online offerings. We’re changing the way singles in urban India are meeting and connecting.

Pi: What has been the success ratio? Do members look at Floh as a dating site and leave when they get hooked?

We’re a platform for singles to meet and connect. We’re not a conventional dating or matrimonial site which are very Web 1.0. Our focus is most definitely on getting singles to find a partner of their choice, but rather than stress on caste and religion, our approach is to get our members to meet and interact in person. Our strong belief is that people need to meet in person to determine if there’s a chemistry between them. Otherwise they end up having a relationship with their computers.

We’ve had folks get married after meeting at Floh and others are in meaningful relationships. Members leave the service after they lose their single status.

Pi: Why hire a product guy? What are the product attributes you guys are building ?

One of the most critical hires we made recently was a product lead. Our inspiration is derived from startup veteran, Steve Blank and the customer development process. We have successfully built a minimum viable product (MVP). Our vision is to build a platform for singles to connect across a variety of offerings from Floh. Our approach is to run several pilots and experiments and measuring results against hypotheses. To do this systematically and quickly requires a deep product development mind set.

Pi: You started as offline business and you are now going online. What would the online version be like?

The offline business reflects the fundamental reality of the problem we’re solving: there’s simply no place for urban singles to meet and interact with like-minded folks in India. Now that we’re providing a solution that squarely addresses this problem, we’ll use the web to scale. We have an online-offline hybrid offering that will get our members to engage with each other. For example, after meeting someone at a Floh experience, a member can go online to learn more about them, view photos from the events, request a coffee date or get an alert when there’s an event that their Floh friends are attending. And then meet them again in real life based on the information that they obtained online.

Pi: Who is your customer ? You mentioned moms driving 30% of membership!

Our primary customers are urban, educated singles in the age group of 25-40. That said, very often their families are also looking out for a potential partner for them. We didn’t expect that parents would end up paying the Floh membership fee on behalf of their children, but empirically we noticed that about a third of our revenues are from parents. This led us to a very deep insight: In the usually contentious debate between generations on the subject of relationships, Floh is in a unique spot where both our members as well as their parents are in strong agreement that Floh is the way to go! All of our communication is targeted to the core members, since they are able to make decisions on their own, but we appreciate the fact that many of them confer with their parents on relationship matters. It’s a win-win for all.

Pi: Please share a few behavioral insights that you have observed w.r.t Indian context.

One of the key insights has been the fact that we’ve got more women members than male members. This is primarily due to our obsession with keeping Floh safe for our members.

Related  to the above insight is that men value safety too. In a purely online model, a man has no clue weather the woman he’s communicating with is a real person or a scam artist. We’ve heard repeatedly from our members that they really value the fact that everybody, including women, is screened before gaining access to the network at Floh.

And the most surprising and encouraging insight has been the changing mind set of the parents – who are supporting a non-traditional route like Floh to get their children to find a partner.

What’s interesting about Floh is that they started off by first understanding the user offline, and the startup is now building a platform for them.

If you are single and ready to mingle, do give Floh a spin and share your comment/feedback.