From being a notoriously naughty teenager and a billionaire-to-bankrupt businessman in his 20s, Anupam Mittal became India's number one matchmaker with his matrimonial website. The businessman, who wears many hats today, shares his life's biodata with Phorum Dalal
Anupam Mittal, founder, Shaadi.com (People Group)
The turning point in Anupam Mittal's life came when he attended his first lecture in Boston College where he was pursuing an MBA in Operations and Strategic Management in the year 1994. After the professor explained a theory, a classmate raised his hand and said, "I don't agree with you."
Anupam Mittal at the office of People Group, which includes businesses such as Shaadi.com, Makaan.com and Mauj Mobile, at Tardeo. Pic/Bipin Kokate
"I was sure that this student had landed himself in trouble, as until that day, I had been brought up to believe that the teacher is always right. I had always felt that education in our country was really about reading from books," says the founder and CEO of People Group, that runs one of India's leading matrimony sites, Shaadi.com. Having bunked most of his lectures during college back home, he took to the American system of education like a duck takes to water.
Impeccably dressed in black denims, black blazer and a white shirt, Mittal's penchant for classy clothes is evident when we meet him at his office in Tardeo. Reminiscing early days, the Cuffe-Parade resident reveals that he usually hung out on the campus as an undergraduate student in Jai Hind College, Churchgate. "I could easily keep up with the pace of the curriculum by going through the textbooks and didn't need to attend class for it," says the 40-year-old, who, till the age of 14, was a really shy kid. Once he turned 15, he became a sort of a serious troublemaker. Stealing cars for a funride and threatening his college watchman made it to his list of pranks. "On various occasions, my parents would be called to sort out issues. I am not very proud of that phase today," he grins.
In 1991, Mittal, who was still in college, decided to mend his vagabond ways and joined his father's textile manufacturing unit in Dombivli. "I didn't have to undergo any training as I was the boss's son. But I didn't quite take to it and gave up after two years. After loitering around for a while, I set up a business that exported jute bags," says Mittal, who even managed to bag an order for a million bags from a client in Germany. "I was pretty young and naïve then. Instead of opening my own production unit, I hired contractors for the job. I believed people would keep their word. Six weeks into the project, I went for an inspection only to find that nothing was on track. Overnight, I opened a factory production unit, and hired new contractors," he recalls.
Mittal managed to deliver before the deadline, but incurred huge losses in the bargain. "I concluded that India was not the place for me. I travelled around Europe and landed up in the US — where I decided to finish my education — after I ran out of money," he says. His experience at Boston University validated the ideologies he believed in. "I would raise my hand in class just for the pleasure of knowing I could disagree with the professor. I worked hard and partied harder," says the businessman, who rode the dotcom wave when he joined a company called Strategy.com with his friends in 1998. "Overnight, we had turned $100 million into $40 billion. At 20, we were multi-millionaires on paper," says Mittal, who says they "went crazy", once they were faced with this super-success. "We bought Ferraris and Porsches, but soon lost the shirt off our backs with the dotcom burst in 2000," says the risk-taker, who luckily, had another venture in India to fall back on.
'No one took me seriously'
There's an interesting story behind the inception of Shaadi.com. "While I was studying in Boston, I had taken a few months off for a break and was in India in the year 1997. I went to my dad's office and started a web development company with four team members," says the entrepreneur, who was contemplating on building a consumer portal, when a matchmaker came to his office. "He was carrying a few biodatas of eligible women in his bag, and had come to find a girl for me, on my father's behest. He told me he was my father's friend, but I caught on, thanks to his volley of questions about my personal life. However, I was really intrigued by his profession and told him to give me all the profiles he had, to put them up on the Internet. While the matchmaker got offended and left, I continued to ideate," says the unconventional thinker, who continued to brainstorm with his team, even after resuming his studies in the US.
Back in India
By the time he returned to India for good in 2003, the company had already set up
offices in New York, and London for Shaadi.com. "Nobody took me seriously. Some laughed, some wrote it off. Half the time I wouldn't tell people, except a chosen few, what I was up to," says Mittal, who had a tough time hiring people, as no one wanted to join a dotcom set up then.
Mittal turned a deaf ear to the negative feedback and by 2006, almost every eligible single man/woman had created a profile on his matrimony website, which has 40 million registrations today. Alongside that, his parent company, People Group, started businesses such as Makaan.com and Mauj Mobile. He also became an active angel investor with over 50 investments.
Mittal doesn't like the term 'switch off', nor the '9-6 lifestyle'. "I don't like to know that I am boxed," he says, adding that now he doesn't get involved in the daily operations, but attends every review meeting to brainstorm and plan the road ahead. Weekends, he adds, are dedicated to interactions with angel investors. "You can call me a workaholic, but it's such a creative space to be in!" he grins.
But his wife, model Aanchal Kumar, often complains that he doesn't spend enough time with her. "We work out and swim together, and spend quality time when we travel," says Mittal, who met his own match through a common friend in 2006, but lost touch later. "Our paths crossed again in 2011 and we knew we were made for each other," says Mittal, who had a destination wedding in Jaipur in 2013. The couple enjoys spending time with family over the weekends, too.
"Aanchal has three sisters and our weekends are often spent with them and their kids. In the past year-and-a-half, we have taken five holidays, including Turkey, New York and Bali, Thailand," says the travel enthusiast. "I get enough adventure in Mumbai. On vacations, I just want to relax. But not for more than eight to nine days — I crave to get back to routine then," says Mittal, who nurtures a passion for filmmaking in his free time. "I have made a few films too, including 99 and Flavours. My hands are full right now, but I will get behind the camera one day," says the film buff, who dedicates 20 minutes for yoga, 30 minutes for meditation and an hour of gym workout, swimming or walking every day.
But for now, he is content playing matchmaker. "Everywhere I go, I meet couples who have met through Shaadi.com. Last month, when I was returning from the US, I got talking to a couple on the flight. When they came to know I was the founder of the website, they thanked me for bringing them together," he says with pride.
"It's good to see people happy. It may sound like an arrogant statement to make but I often think, how things would have been without this website. There would have been so many people who didn't meet their right match, and nor would they bear offsprings. This means, in some way, we made an impact on the history of evolution of human beings," he signs off.
Book: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Films: Scent of a Woman, Life is Beautiful, Paradiso
Musicians: Bob Dylan, Prince
Born: December 23, 1974
Education: MBA in Operations and Strategic Management, Boston College
First job: As a founder of a web development company; my first client paid me R10,000
Mantra in life: Be bold, be good and healthy forces will come to your aid
Best advice i ever got: My father told me, 'Always keep your word'