Around two years ago, when Rahul Kumar (name changed) decided to quit his job at a multinational company to set up a venture of his own, his fiancé called off their engagement. “She said she did not see any sense in my decision to quit a safe career for something so risky,” said Kumar, who now runs a Bengaluru-based startup backed by a US-based VC fund.
Last year, Kumar began dating someone supportive of his entrepreneurial dream. But, getting married was not easy even then. “My wife spent many months convincing her parents before they reluctantly agreed,” the 31-year-old said.
The trouble isn’t only with prospective in-laws.
Bengaluru-based serial entrepreneur Niti Shree’s mother does not even mention her daughter’s profession during match-making conversations. “She keeps telling people that I work for Amazon or Cognizant, companies that I worked for some five-six years ago. I think it’s hard for her to even explain what I do,” said 27-year-old Shree.
Indian startups may have made it to front-page headlines, but not much has changed for entrepreneurs in the country’s marriage market.
There is an unsaid hierarchy in the system because most Indian middle-class parents are paranoid about financial stability. The ranking is typically topped by officers of the Indian Administrative Service or Indian Police Service because of their reasonably good salaries, influence, and secure government jobs. Other professionals such as doctors, engineers, and corporate employees also figure high on the list.
With their unproven businesses, undefined working hours, and unstable income, entrepreneurs hardly make the cut.
A 2013 survey led by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Bowei Gan said that male Indian entrepreneurs have a hard time finding wives “because entrepreneurs are often likened to ‘a struggling artist’ (without the glamour).”
At least seven entrepreneurs aged between 25 and 35 years told Quartz that their chances of finding a partner are way lower than an employee at IT majors Infosys or Tata Consultancy Services.
“I don’t think I am desirable for marriage or even dating because most boys would look for someone who is ‘stable’ and has all the time to meet him. I don’t have a 9-to-5 job and my lifestyle will probably never be like that,” said Shree, who became the first Indian woman to attend Silicon Valley investor Timothy Draper’s prestigious entrepreneur boot camp last year
Thirukumaran Nagarajan, 31, learnt first-hand how unworthy entrepreneurs or those working with startups are considered when it comes to arranged marriage. Even his MBA from a top-rung business school—usually a sought-after qualification for grooms—did not win him brownie points.
“My parents met families who would refuse them even after horoscopes matched and everything looked fine because I was working for a startup at the time and I had plans to start my own venture soon,” said the Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode, alumnus who is now co-founder and CEO of grocery delivery app Ninjacart.
At the time, Nagarajan’s annual income was Rs25 lakh ($37,000) per year—far more than what an average engineer his age at an established IT company would draw. He was the head of mobile products for Bengaluru-based ride-hailing startup TaxiForSure (later acquired by Ola). But Nagarajan’s parents would only be asked when their son planned to have a “stable career.”
“While meeting families for matrimonial alliances, I would constantly be asked, what is TaxiForSure?” Nagarajan recalled. “Why have we never heard the name of this company?”
For 31-year-old Avinash Saurabh, just the name of his Bengaluru-based healthcare startup was a hurdle. It’s called Zoojoo.
“As an entrepreneur, you want to have a spunky name for your startup,” said Saurabh. “My girlfriend’s parents asked me what kind of a company was this? Why did it have such a weird name?”
Besides, back then, he survived on Rs20,000 a month, half of which was an allowance from his father. ”My girlfriend’s parents must have felt I was going to live off their daughter’s money,” Saurabh said.
Many Indian parents of a slightly older generation, who spent their careers in the once-dominant public sector, and later in large private enterprises, can’t fathom some of the new areas of entrepreneurship. To be fair, some of the fields the new economy has thrown up were simply unthinkable till a few years ago.
There is a silver lining, though. Media publicity and significant fund-raising ease some of the fears prospective in-laws have.
At least three entrepreneurs said they are considered more attractive in the marriage market ever since their startups raised ”multi-million dollars” in funds.
“It’s not about the money,” said 27-year-old Prashant Sharma, founder of Bengaluru-based ShotPitch. “Raising funds shows that there is some value in your venture and it has some stability and future.”
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