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Issue Date: May 2009, Posted On: 5/7/2009


The Business of Love

Calif. attorney leaves law to play cupid with company for South Asian professionals


By Jen Richman

 
 

After 10 years as a lawyer Jasbina Ahluwalia left her career to found Intersections Matchmaking in Palo Alto, Calif. Intersections Matchmaking is a dating servic that focuses on South Asian professionals. The company combines online services with face-to-face consultation to help its clients connect with others looking for love. Photo courtesy of clipart.com

PALO ALTO, Calif. – For Jasbina Ahluwalia, founder of Intersections Matchmaking, affirming her long-held belief in love and sating a longstanding entrepreneurial hunger all comes in a day’s work – a day she used to fill with practicing law.

After 10 years as a lawyer, Ahluwalia, who was transfixed about the idea of entering the matchmaking business for several years, decided to take the plunge in 2007 by starting the Palo Alto-based Intersections Matchmaking.

“In the back of my mind I wanted to have an entrepreneurial experience,” Ahluwalia said. The company, which targets South Asians, typically has fewer than a hundred clients at a given time, making it manageable for her to become personally involved with each client’s matchmaking process.

Intersections operates in a two-step process.

First, Ahulwalia meets face-to-face for a private consultation with clients within proximity to Palo Alto, and alternatively, over the phone with those who are not – the aim of which is to help set clients’ priorities in line with respect to desirable companionship traits in others.

“It can be very different when you’re parsing through [the traits with another person],” Ahulwalia said.

Clients are able to use Ahulwalia as a sounding board during this phase since she believes it is easier for someone else to define and pinpoint what is most important to an individual client, than for an individual to sort through the process alone. It is a means of allowing clients an active participation in their own dating process, said Ahulwalia.

Ahulwalia also attempts to ensure that everyone who seeks her services is able to articulate the kind of person they would like to meet, as opposed to having friends’ or familial expectations muddy the process, which she admits can happen more frequently within the South Asian culture than American culture. Dating can at times become depersonalized when friends and family start weighing in with their own criteria for their loved ones’ potential mates, Ahulwalia added.

Clients are encouraged to open up about previous dating experiences, allowing Ahulwalia to provide them with an outsider’s perspective. People are often amazed by how much insight can come about through sharing their experiences, Ahulwalia said. Roadblocks and negative patterns from past relationships are discussed during the private consultation with Ahulwalia to avoid having the client repeat dating follies.

The first phase of action has the accumulative effect of “opening up the universe for our clients,” said Ahulwalia.

Oftentimes, clients are so immersed in their careers that they do not have the time or inclination to meet people, said Ahulwalia. She believes the consultation is a way for clients to distill important character traits into a workable goal toward which they can then set about finding the right person.

The second prong involves a built-in criminal background check to ensure customer safety. Misrepresentation is the biggest hazard of online dating, says Ahulwalia.

Ahulwalia dispatches a group of eight, called scouts, who move about the United States, individually, in search of potential additions to Intersections’ dating pool. When such an appropriate match is found, he or she is then directed for a pre-screening with Ahulwalia, similar to the consultation meted out with other clients.

Many Intersections clients are entrepreneurially-minded and well-educated, and work in a spectrum of fields. Ahulwalia defines suitable matches as similarly educated and career-driven.

Ahulwalia, who was born in Chicago, met her husband, Rajnish, through a dating site and recalled her days as an attorney when her own career momentum made it difficult for her to meet folks and found it hard to balance career and love life.

Ahulwalia, who has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in philosophy from Vanderbilt University, emphasizes the weight of a client’s decision about whom to date and, in some cases, spend their life.

“We’re going about our lives … we forget we didn’t just fall into our profession,” said Ahulwalia, stressing the importance the dating process, which she believes should be treated with the same preparation and care as choosing a profession.

 
 

Ahluwalia

Prior to her career switch into matchmaking, Ahluwalia worked for three law firms over 10 years: Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold; Wilson Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker; and Hanson Peters Nye. Ahulwalia earned a law degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1995.

Ahulwalia is reserving a possible future return to law, aspects of which she says she misses. The intellectual stimulation she once got from practicing law has since been replaced with a mixture of psychology and philosophy Ahulwalia uses to make effective matches for her clients. As much as she loved being a lawyer, Ahulwalia said she toyed with the idea of jumping into the somewhat unpredictable waters of helping people find relationships.

After finding her husband in 2006, Ahulwalia wanted more influence over her time than being a lawyer had allowed. Her own experience at finding her husband further motivated Ahulwalia to realize her desire to run a business, she added.

“When I was trying to find a life-partner, I realized that it would have been nice to have a service, which might have been able to help me with my search as I managed the multiple demands on my time. I looked around and noticed that there was a great demand among South Asian professionals for an elite personalized matchmaking service and there was nobody meeting the need,” Ahulwalia said.

While she declined to disclose Intersections’ revenue, Ahulwalia did say there seems to be an inverse relationship between the state of the economy and the health of her company. Ahulwalia hypothesizes that as people lose control of their finances, they look inward to regain control of other areas of their life, which includes romantic considerations.

“It’s more comfortable to have a partner you can weather the economic storm with,” she said.

Online competitors such as match.com and perfectmatch.com both report a higher number of paid subscriptions to their Web sites this year compared to last, according to onlinedatingmagazine.com.

In fact, 22 percent of online dating services do not believe economic conditions have hurt business, according to the Matchmaking Institute, a New York-based organization that offers professional matchmaking certification. More than half – 52 percent – say the economic nosedive has affected business only slightly.

The dating service sector raked in more than $250 million in 2008, according to the Institute, with profits poised to increase for 2009. Online matchmaking may be a more feasible approach to dating in a less-than-rosy economic climate.

Some online daters said they would rather spend money on accessing a dating site than on wining and dining a date in a more traditional fashion, according to cbs11tv.com, a news Web site.

Intersections is geared exclusively to South Asians, but Ahulwalia said the acceptance of interracial relationships appears to be gaining speed, as evidenced by her some of her client requests.

“While there’s a large percentage [of clients] looking for South Asians, there’s a lot of South Asians looking to meet other ethnicities,” said Ahulwalia. However, she has no plans to transition into serving other ethnicities.

Inquiries from India and Canada have spurred possible expansion plans – something Ahulwalia is seriously considering. “We’d have to grow [the business] considerably to meet the demand,” she said.

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