Dating, detergents and product design.

What soap sellers can teach us about dating

 This week’s newsletter is inspired by soap sellers and how they organise themselves to be able to reach so many homes all at once.


Dating, and discovery

Over two decades of existence, I don’t think we’ve successfully solved some basic issues with the market - discovery and alignment of intentions. When dating apps became quite big outside of America about 6-7 years ago, one of the biggest challenges for a user on the app was discovering other users with similar intentions. Some were on the app to have hook ups, some to meet prospective spouses and others to simply beat boredom. But one could never be fully sure about the intentions of the other person until they’d “wasted” some time chatting. OkCupid was amongst the first apps that actually got their users to clarify intention before initiation. Then, other apps followed suite albeit much later.

Despite being quite clear on what their users can expect from other users, platforms like BharatMatrimony or Shaadi.com are still plagued with people who are in denial about not having a love marriage, and insist on dating for 6 months before making any sort of decision which is an attitude or pace you don’t necessarily expect in an arranged setting. This seemingly simple issue can become a big deterrent in building trust. It’s only natural for the user to feel jaded due to the unnecessary friction in the process, making them abandon the platform, and ultimately their mission.

Customer acquisition costs in the industry are so high with very little life-time value (duh!) that there is little incentive for platforms to be laser sharp on their branding or have the courage to identify their users. You go after whoever you can get. Instead, what if there were an ecosystem of platforms which fed users into each other based on the most optimal expected user experience, would that build greater trust, and lower acquisition costs in the long-term?

For instance, Matrimony.com has a plethora of sub-sites that they mistakenly believe as sub-brands. When you sign up, based on the language and caste entered during registration, they automatically sign you up on these sub-sites without your intent or consent. Instead of this, what if Matrimony leveraged their ability to observe user behaviour and dynamically made recommendations of sub-brands that are better suited for your needs? What if these sub-brands were not organised just around your caste or language, instead around your behaviour and expectations from the platform? Why can’t we use AI ML or some such shani thing to study user behaviour dynamically on multiple axes, build and present products that are more relevant to users?

Why are we still sitting in our own silo 10X10 Sri Sai Enterprises shops hoping to cut the damn pie into 20 pieces instead of collaborating to grow the size of the pie?


FMCG, and experience led design.

How many of you use detergents?

All of you, I hope. FMCG has managed to get into everyone’s lives. How’s that possible? Who they’re selling to defines what they sell, and not the other way around. It’s easier for people to relate to the product when it’s specially made for them.

Unless you’ve worked in the FMCG industry, or you’re a pertinent observer, it’s unlikely that you identify products with the company that sells them. You are either a user of Tide or Ariel. You seldom see people claiming to use P&G products for instance. Structurally, FMCG grooms brand managers to develop relevant products just as much as their sales force to strengthen distribution on the ground. With this approach they’re able to reach so many types of users at once.

If these companies classified their users based on just purchasing power, there would be one product made in different pack sizes, different quality grades, and at different price points. However, the same company that makes detergent pods with advanced technology to remove difficult stains also makes 10 rupees detergent bars to give you shirts brighter than your neighbours’. How much you obsess about wash quality, fragrance after wash or method of washing matters in determining what product you use. FMCG companies know this because they invest in user research and brand building as users and their experience is central to the products they develop.


I used to be a Product Manager

The technology industry isn’t structured this way. Instead of being centred around brands, like how most consumer products are, technology is “product first”. Consumer industry has brand managers. Technology is centred around product managers. For a product manager, the product is the hero, not the customer who is using it (it doesn’t matter how “customer obsessed” a company claims to be). So it is all about finding customers for the product that you have, rather than first coming up with customer segments and then designing products around them.

In other words, technology product companies don’t think of themselves as consumer products companies, even when they are.

If we could crack consumer products offline about a 100 years ago, cracking online matchmaking should be relatively simple no? The relationship market is not new, with Match.com dating back to 1993 (closer home, Shaadi.com and BharatMatrimony.com were both started in 1997). Match is in fact a relationship market behemoth now, also owning Tinder, OKCupid, Hinge, etc. apart from its eponymous platform.

Yet, if you visit any of these websites or apps, it is clear that they have been built with a product-centric view rather than a brand-centric view. Match’s suite, for example, should be able to profile a customer based on his/her interactions with the product, and then nudge him/her to the group product that is best fit for her. Shaadi or BharatMatrimony, through analysing a user’s behaviour on the platform (browsing history, messaging history, popularity, sort of people interested in), should be able to similarly customise the user’s experience on the platform (even if it all comes under one brand) based on this, but they don’t.

Unfortunately, none of this exists today, because, as I mentioned earlier, the hero in tech is the product, not the customer or the brand. One look at the ad or the packaging on a bar of soap makes it evident to most customers who it is and it is not meant for. This sort of differentiation and customer focus is entirely lacking in tech, where the job of the product manager is to increase the number of customers who use the product, rather than making sure that the customer is shown the product that is right for her.

And so you have the same platform used by people looking for a “no second look” arranged marriage process and those who intend to use the platform as a dating app. The same platform, without differentiation, caters to people managing themselves or those managed by a parent or a “broker” (hint, hint). Whether someone wants to look at a curated set of 10 prospects, or “right swipe” every profile in the book, it is the same place to go to.

What if these relationship services would realise what they are, which is consumer products, and then treat the consumers the way a soap or a biscuit brand would? But no, this is tech, and tech is all about creating products that consumers don’t know they want (yeah you can have all those Steve Jobs speeches playing on loop), and tech managers don’t want to stoop to the level of consumer product marketers, do they?


More from Shapely Gal

With the fifth week into lockdown, I’m going to confess that this week was a big washout. As a consequence, I’ve made little progress on some of the initiatives I set out to work on early on in the week. In any case, here’s a little sneak peak in case you’re curious:

  1. Arrange your own marriage - This is my humble attempt at productising my signature market-advisory service at M.B.A. The plan is to launch it in the form of self-paced video based learning modules to guide singles in arranging their own marriage. I’m excited about starting to build this product as I am a huge believer of self-learning and being able to do it at one’s own pace offered at a great value price.

  2. Stuff people say in the market - Based on the success of this video, I’ve got requests from various friends to put out another video like this. Hopefully, I’ll muster the will to shower and put on anything other than my pyjamas at some point this weekend to give this another shot. So, watch this space, and be kind, ok?

  3. LoveinLockdown - We delivered our virtual date night kit fifth Friday in a row last night, and boy has there been such terrible response for this. I don’t know if people are tired or our idea sucks, clearly the poll last week didn’t help matters much. So far, Jois and I have been doing this for kicks, yet to really figure out if we want anything more from it at this point, but if any of you have any thoughts/ ideas/ rants about this that you’ve been dying to share with me, drop me a note.


Sneak peak into …

What I’m reading:

  • The mating season - PG Wodehouse. I’m still not done with my fiction fix. This is a book I started reading towards the end of last year, and I abandoned it midway because my aunt, who first introduced me to Wodehouse, passed away. For the first time ever, British humour made me cry more than it made me laugh. But I’ve picked it up again this week and I’m going to finish it this time around.

  • Nutgraf - Found this amazing visual piece by The Ken on how COVID-19 has influenced products across Asia. I got excited at how well written this piece was and decided to subscribe to their weekly newsletter, and now I get a mail from them everyday. Sigh.

What I’m listening to:

  • a16Z - This is an interesting podcast about the passion economy, which is especially relevant in these times.

  • Naval - The first time I listened to him speak about how to get rich on Farnam street or Joe Rogan’s Podcast, I remember finding it quite insightful and inspiring. But now, this is my bed-time ritual. I’ve discovered that Naval has more than just fundaes for life, he also has an extremely soothing voice that unfailingly puts me to bed every night.


Shapely Gal is a weekly-ish newsletter that discusses love, relationships, marriage and the various markets these are traded on. This newsletter is a concoction of observations, theories, ideas, real stories, figments of imagination and sometimes just rants on romantic relationships.