Sunil Hiranandani is the founder of 'Sirf Coffee', an exclusive, discreet and pressure-free dating service for Indians around the world. With a global footprint of 18 nations, the service eliminates the need for excessive WhatsApp messages, texts and "swipes", focusing instead on a seamless dating experience.
The dating scene is heavily distorted. Tinder-esque apps are at best a fool's lullaby.
While the dating landscape (globally) seems to be dominated at large by apps such as Tinder, Match, and OkCupid, there are obvious pitfalls to the DIY trial-and-error interfaces employed by such products. In contrast, 'Sirf Coffee' caters to a global niche (driven Indian professionals). Here, each applicant is assessed, their credentials are verified, post which their profiles become live on the platform.
The firm stresses that this is a no-frills, no-pressure service. Once participants are matched together, they may choose to date for years, get married the very next week, or just leave after one drink, and it wouldn't affect their ratings on the app.
This is an Exclusive Interview with Sunil Hiranandani (Founder, Sirf Coffee), as a part of the #TimesStories initiative by The Times Blog.
Sirf Coffee operates in a highly competitive sector - dating. What inspired you to launch a business in this domain?
'Sirf Coffee' is not just about dating. It straddles somewhere between the bespoke dating and matchmaking space for Indians all around the world.
I started this company in 2008, because there was no such offering in the market at the time and there was a genuine need.
What challenges did you face while going about your launch?
At the time (in 2008), getting the word out (about a whole new service category), with a bootstrapped budget was a bit of a challenge.
Secondly, convincing our users to pay upfront for a concept they weren’t familiar or completely comfortable with - offered by a company that they had never heard of, was also quite difficult.
How did your family react when you told them you wanted to run your own business?
I’m Sindhi (laughs). They were surprised it took this long!
How important was the acquisition & targeting of a niche audience for Sirf Coffee? How did you go about it?
Sirf Coffee is fundamentally a niche company. We target the progressive end of the Indian single spectrum - eligible, open-minded and looking for a light-hearted, yet focused approach to meet their soulmate.
This approach has made mass-marketing very difficult and counter-productive, as we have ended up declining many applications (for signups). Most of our clients are acquired via referrals, either through existing clients or their ancillary networks.
Was there ever a time when you felt overwhelmed and unable to continue? What made you continue? What kept you motivated at your worst moments?
I think the ‘what if’ feeling is prevalent in every start-up, but you have to believe in what you are pursuing.
Thankfully, we rode that wave and surprisingly made progress quite early on. We’re motivated by the fact that we were delivering on our customer promise and helping people find love.
The success stories, happy marriage tales, and our clients’ kind words of gratitude towards our service, are what inspire us today.
What are the Top 3 Business Takeaways that you did not know when you first started out?
1. Hire the right people, and learn to delegate.
2. Happy clients may share their love. Unhappy clients will shout their hate. It is critical to keep customers satisfied, and to not overpromise and underdeliver.
3. Scale is good, but cash is king. Not all startups were meant to scale up to 10 million eyeballs, with no monetization strategy in place. Another approach would be to achieve positive cashflow early, which is the approach that we took.
What advice would you give to your ten-year younger self, if given an opportunity?
If you believe in your product/service, go all in.
How much of a role does consumer marketing/publicity play for you? What challenges do you see here?
It would be great if Marketing/PR/Business-Strategy firms began charging SMEs based on performance outcomes, rather than arbitrary upfront fees. A revenue-sharing model based on upside, ensures that there's enough ‘skin in the game’ but also increases budgets for activities that wil actually generate good ROI.
The Times RapidFire
Name One book that you would recommend today, without blinking.
Answer: The Tipping Point - By Malcolm Gladwell
An original quote for your loyal customers?
Here's one from a loyal customer (This is new for The Times Blog team, so we decided to carry it anyway!)
“I found the love of my life, that too in another city, in another continent. Thank you for guiding my journey and (for) caring. Sirf Coffee will always have our support.”
Do you operate with goals, or systems? Pick one.
Cricket, or no Cricket?
Answer: No Cricket.
Print, or Digital?
And finally... what comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘The Times Blog’?
"Good coverage, it's about time!"