Get to know a Toronto startup: TwoMangoes
TwoMangoes is a startup with one sweet vision: to help mangoes everywhere find love. The Toronto-based company runs TwoMangoes.com, an online dating site exclusively for Indian singles. The idea behind the site was simple: while there are a lot of websites to help Indian parents connect their children with "marriage material," there was no online space for modern Indian singles to simply connect, network and find someone to date.
The result is an online dating site with a distinctly South Asian flavour, a healthy dose of humour and a lighthearted approach to flirting. If you spot a single guy or gal that interests you, for example, you can send them a laddoo (fried sweet) or a mango frooti. The site is also a hub of entertaining content for the modern Indian-Canadian through its Mango Mag blog. The blog dishes out dating advice in its Ask Shilpa column, which covers everything from BBM etiquette to how to secure a second date, as well as the hottest Bollywood reviews and trailers.
TwoMangoes has about 10,000 users in the GTA and monthly page views come in around half a million. I recently spoke with Jas Banwait, resident Social Mango and cofounder, about TwoMangoes' experience as a Toronto startup.
What inspired the creation of TwoMangoes.com?
Having hit the ripe old "marrying" age of 26, our co-Founder, Rahul Bhardwaj was told by his father that he was going to put his profile up on a matrimonial site. He jokingly agreed, until he actually looked at the sites his father had in mind. He was floored that customers were paying for sub-par experiences and the site was actually getting away with it! Having been a serial entrepreneur with a background in computer engineering (being a nerd helped as well), Rahul set out to build his own site and develop a model around customer experience with a focus on dating and meeting people. And knowing it takes an experienced team to build a successful company, he was joined by our three other founders, Paras Dharamshi, Anita Dharamshi and I, who all have strong business and marketing backgrounds in the Indian space.
Why did your team think Indian communities needed their own online dating site?
At the time , the Indian online dating market was more or less non-existent. The market was mostly focused around matrimonial sites that catered towards connecting "brides" and "grooms" from India and North America. For those of us that were second generation (or higher), these types of sites did not fit with our Western values. There was no professional and user-friendly site that catered to Indians who wanted to date and meet other Indians in a casual online setting.
What was the idea behind your playful approach to marketing the site?
It all started with the name TwoMangoes (because two mangoes are better than one!). Okay, but seriously, the concept of dating, love and having a boyfriend/girlfriend is taboo in Indian culture. It is mostly forbidden or not talked about. Parents expect their children to stay away from the opposite sex until their mid-twenties at which point they are surprised when said child does not have a ring on his/her finger. Marriage can be a very touchy topic amongst Indian singles and their parents. There is a lot of pressure involved due to conflicting viewpoints. Because of all this negativity and seriousness, we wanted to poke fun at all of the cultural ploys in order to breakdown some of tension that dating and marriage can cause.
What have been the biggest challenges in getting TwoMangoes off the ground?
The greatest challenge was finding young, single Indian professionals. Unlike other mainstream sites, it didn't make sense for us to advertise in the mass market as they do (i.e. TV, Radio, Newspapers, etc.). It also didn't make sense to market ourselves in many of the mediums that specifically target the Indian demographic, since these tend to cater to an older clientele. For example, young Indians don't actively watch Indian soap operas on the ATN [Asian Television Network]. Combine this with a limited marketing budget, and it was a challenge to find "places" to market ourselves where we could target these individuals in large enough numbers, in a cost-effective way. Fortunately, our conversion rates are extremely high, so once people do find out about TwoMangoes, there's a high chance they'll become a member of the site.
What have been the biggest challenges in finding investors?
At this point we're not actively looking for funding. Our focus so far has been to build the most amazing product that meets the needs of our target market and build our user base. We have received interest from investors in the VC community already, which we feel is a very good sign for when we decide to go out and actively raise funding.
How important do you think it is for a startup to have a board of advisors?
Being able to talk to individuals who have already "been there, done that" can help you quite a bit. It will guide your strategy and advise you in decision-making. You can meet key contacts in the industry and it also provides some legitimacy to your startup.
However, it is important to be picky about who you take advice from. The individual(s) should have worked in your industry, understand the market and be knowledgeable about your company. Ultimately, advisors will give opinions based on experience, but you should always trust your gut feeling and do what is best for your company.
Where do you see the business one year from now?
Since we began the site, "world domination" has been our goal. We see ourselves as being the leader in the online dating space for Indians. In the short time we've been around, we've already established ourselves as one of the top names in online dating for Indians (if you do a Google search for 'South Asian dating', our name appears at the top of the list!). We have and are actively looking at other markets and regions where we can launch the site, as single Indians are everywhere!
Why did TwoMangoes set up shop in Toronto?
Toronto is a great place to start a business because of its supportive and welcoming startup community. Also, we found that, compared to other cities, the people of Toronto are very open-minded, willing to try new things and even encouraging. Furthermore, the Indian population is one of the largest in North America, and quickly becoming the single largest ethnic community in Toronto (only second to Chinese). We had immediate access to an enthusiastic target market! Additionally, it helped that some of us are from Toronto so we understand the community a lot more.
Why do you think Toronto is growing as a hot spot for tech, digital and mobile startups?
As we mentioned, the support network is second to none. The vibrant Twitter community along with the multitude of Tweetups, dev/demo camps, and conferences, make it easy to meet like-minded people and get inspired to start something. Toronto is the best place to beta test ideas because of the nurturing environment. Everyone here is rooting for you to succeed.
What's one key piece of advice the TwoMangoes team can give aspiring startup owners?
Do what you're passionate about and what makes you happy. Don't do it for the money or listen to the opinions of others. If you truly believe in your startup idea then just do it without hesitation.