While many may not admit it, but getting married is considered one of the important necessities in Indian society. So once you have gone through the process of education and getting an employment, marrying and settling down is on everybody’s mind (even if the thought never crossed yours.) So in addition to all the dating sites, parties, family attempts and matrimonial sites as options to find your mate, may we also suggest Footloose No More (FNM). However, FNM is different.
Footloose No More is a matrimonial website, because as explained by Co-founder Varsha Agnihotri Vadhyar, the intention of anyone joining the site has to be marriage and the aim to settle down. Since starting in 2009, Footloose claims to have grown over 300% year-on-year. And Varsha says they still get at least 80-90 requests from people who want to join the site on a daily basis. Read on for their story.
How they started?
FNM started as a group on Facebook in August 2009. It was co-founded by siblings Varsha & Abhishek Agnihotri, and came out of their personal needs to get married. “We were single and wanted to get married, but didn’t know where to find single people. The people our parents were finding for us were not people we could see ourselves with. And we were not very comfortable meeting people from the normal matrimonial portals,” admits Varsha. Abhishek had been suggested Salsa classes or cocktail making classes to search for single girls, while Varsha was also clueless about where to find single people.
One night, they made this group on Facebook and sent invitations to their friends to join. And lo behold, next day morning they were inundated with messages from friends asking them what the whole idea was? “In fact, the first member to join was a very close family friend, whom I literally bullied into joining. Then we started forwarding invites to people and within the first week, we had 200 people,” reminisces Varsha.
Back then it was an open group, there was no security and it was open for anyone to join. However, today applications made to the website are scanned thoroughly and after multiple levels of checks only, a member is admitted. Once the word spread and they had a sizable group of people, they organized their first event where they fixed the venue and people who attended the event had to pay for their own food and drinks. “When we did the first event, we three — Abhishek and our friend Ameet and I — went and out of the people who responded only 9 showed up. Another big group just walked in to see what the whole deal was about and who the crazy people doing this were. Some of them have gone ahead and got married, including me and Abhishek. Abhishek already has a daughter and I am expecting my first child,” shares Varsha happily.
The FNM model
FNM is very clear that members coming on the platform have marriage on their minds. When someone makes an application to join, the FNM team scans the member for their background and once they are sure of the person, s/he is admitted. A Facebook account is needed to join FNM and one of the conditions for admitting someone is that s/he has to have at least 100 friends on Facebook. This helps them understand that the person has not just opened a Facebook account to join FNM.
The basic membership is free, but for value added services, the members need to pay subscription charges. Women above 25 years and men over 27 years are admitted as members. FNM members are regularly informed of various events and meetups that FNM organizes, and members are expected to attend at least one event in three months to keep their membership active.
“All our events are on weekends, and if in three months someone cannot find time for oneself, that means s/he is not serious about marriage,” says Varsha. So far, no member has been struck off the list for non-attendance, and some members like sailors or those from airlines who may have long stints of absence continue to be members after they keep the FNM team updated.
Today, a bulk of members on FNM is media professionals, journalists, lawyers, businessmen and corporate employees. Currently, most events done by FNM happen in Mumbai, Pune and Delhi. Varsha says they have plans to scale quickly and enter other cities. Members on FNM are a group of well-travelled, internationally exposed, well educated people, who are settled in their lives and are now willing to take the next step towards matrimony.
FNM also conducts specialised events like Corporate Brunches – targeted at corporate employees, Single Parents, Creative Brunches – for people having a creative bend of mind like singers, dancers, etc. “We will not do anything to do with religion and caste. People are welcome to put it in their profiles and search, but we have nothing to do with it. So we will have a cricket match, but there will never be a Brahmins meet, for example” explains Varsha.
FNM is a lean team of 10 people who manage affairs at the venture, and Varsha says both she and Abhishek continue to be very hands on. The team members mostly comprise of the tech team, screening team and then a floating team which gets into any role that needs to be done.
Changing society perceptions
Looking back at the journey so far, Varsha says it has been extremely satisfying and through FNM, they have managed to break a huge glass ceiling. “Until four years ago, if you said you are looking to get married and looking for someone, you would be labeled desperate. But Abhishek says desperate is a good word, it’s an action word. If you are not desperate for anything you will not do it. Today things have definitely changed,” feels Varsha.
From parents dropping and picking up their children from FNM events, to children accompanying their single parents to FNM events, the acceptance for what FNM has set out to do seems to have set in – at least in the cities of Mumbai, Pune and Delhi. “The biggest challenge was to get people to admit that they wanted to be in a place like this. We have to regularly send out mails to encourage people to come to events, hand-hold new members when they come to events and make introductions. Talking to the press has been a huge help because they made it sound like a good thing,” admits Varsha.