Tie The Thali recently chatted with the founders of myTamilDate.com – an online dating community for single Tamils with a global reach.
The founders, Shivanu Thiyagarajah, 37 and Aravinthan Ehamparam, 36, are both based in Toronto where myTamilDate (MTD) also manages its operations.
Tell us a bit about yourselves. Who are Ara and Shiv?
Shivanu (Shiv): I love creating products centred around community building. Taking an idea, something that just exists in your head, and turning it into a tangible product or service that enhances people’s lives is so interesting to me. I’ve worked in quite a few corporate roles in finance and consumer goods, before taking the leap into the startup world. As a founder or an employee I’ve gained a lot of experience with fintech, travel, quantum computing and of course, media. In my personal life, I love spending time with my family and friends. And I enjoy traveling, anything outdoors (hiking, camping etc), 80s and 90s Tamil music and movies, yoga, reading and beating Ara in Scrabble!
Aravinthan (Ara): I’d say I’m a lover of solving problems and working on businesses that have a social component to them. A business needs to make money, but it should also leave a lasting, positive legacy from a social standpoint. I’ve founded or worked on startups in various areas including healthcare, logistics, POS technology and media. As for my personal life, I’m passionate about the Raptors, my wife, and my kids, in that order…just kidding, of course. I also love travelling, food, reading, the FIRE movement, Toronto (the best city in the world to call home) and beating Shiv at pretty much every board game.
Tell us about myTamilDate.com – when did you start? How did you come up with the idea?
Both: myTamilDate has been around since mid 2014, which was a few years after we launched TamilCulture.com (TC). TC was started and fuelled by the desire to see Tamil stories told and celebrated broadly. The catalyst for myTamilDate, meanwhile, was strong feedback from the community.
At first we were surprised to receive regular requests from TC readers to offer a solution that would help them meet like-minded singles from the community. In seeking to create a platform to make space for, and celebrate, Tamil stories through TC, we had done something we hadn’t expected to. We’d created a sense of community for a lot of people who hadn’t felt seen or able to connect with others like themselves. And since we were already discussing topics around love and dating, and reaching the younger generation of Tamils around the world, they felt comfortable reaching out to us.
We even had parents asking us for suggestions for their kids! So we decided to build myTamilDate to address the needs in the community with an emphasis on empowering individuals to find love on their own terms, and timelines.
There are tons of dating apps out there, why did you want to create one for the Tamil community?
Ara: There are many options for online dating nowadays, which is great. Finding a life partner can be an extremely challenging process otherwise. And deciding on the right life partner is one of the most important decisions a person makes in their lifetime. The more platforms there are to choose from, to help you along, the better! Especially when they are increasingly being tailored to specific communities’ needs. A mainstream approach just doesn’t work for everyone.
Shiv: Even if you know that you want to find someone who shares similar cultural values and beliefs, it’s very difficult to filter for ‘Tamil’ on mainstream dating apps and even South Asian ones. And then there’s the fact that there are other sites which may be culturally specific but are specifically geared towards meeting a partner to marry.
This leaves a lot of people out of luck if that’s not what they’re looking for. What makes us unique is we focus specifically on the Tamil community in a progressive and inclusive way. So we fill a much needed gap in the dating scene for Tamils looking to meet other Tamils, whether it be for something short-term or lifelong.
So, we’re curious to know, have you used your own product?
Ara: I was already in a serious relationship (engaged) when we started MTD, so I have not. I met my wife at an in-person event targeted towards Tamil singles in Toronto. At that time, it felt like the only real option that existed to meet a Tamil partner on your own terms. And by that I mean in a more organic way than setups by family and friends.
Now if I wasn’t a happily married man, I would definitely be using our product. Especially given how well it has worked for so many others.
Shiv: I’m a happy customer of MTD! And I was in a 4 year relationship with someone I met through our dating community. I was in my early 30s and it was the first time I had ever used an online dating site. If I’m being honest, before launching MTD I was very skeptical about online dating. Yes, I was one of those people haha.
Initially I had a myTamilDate profile just for work, but I ended up going on a few dates with some really amazing guys, which eventually led to the serious relationship. While it didn’t last romantically, we’re still really good friends. That personal experience of meeting someone online, and having such a meaningful partnership come out of it, that lasted for years, really helped me see the value and importance of building an online dating community. I was able to meet someone that I would otherwise have never crossed paths with. That made me become more motivated and committed to what we were building.
And funny enough, my initial skepticism helped a lot too. It drove me to build out our product and marketing in a way that helped address the doubts and concerns of others as well. Dating requires you to put yourself out there and be vulnerable. And I really wanted our users to feel that they were in good hands while doing that.
Online dating is increasingly the most popular way for people to find love. Do you think the Tamil community’s attitude towards online dating reflects this trend?
Both: For sure this is something that we’re seeing the Tamil community increasingly adopt. There’s already been a major shift since we started all those years ago. Back then, even though online dating was somewhat common in the general population, people from our community were very hesitant to sign up because it was considered taboo.
They were often concerned about what others would think of their motives (even though you’d also have to be on the site as a member to see another person’s profile). And the preference was often to meet a significant other through friends/family or old school matchmakers.
However, in the past few years, we’ve definitely seen a dramatic uptake in Tamil singles signing up as online dating has been normalized. Whether we’re talking about people around our age and younger using the site, or our parents’ and their peers’ perception of it, it’s no longer seen as a strange way to meet someone.
Over the years, we’ve had a number of success stories and only a small fraction of those involved have felt comfortable to share them publicly. But that’s also starting to change, which is great to see.
Increasingly, Tamil singles are embracing online dating as an acceptable, effective and convenient way to meet someone to date or even their life partner. Considering how much of a time-crunch the average person deals with, and now the challenges of the pandemic, we’re happy to see this shift. Everyone deserves the opportunity to create meaningful relationships and connections, and we love helping make that happen.
What was your dating history like? Do you think Tamil households still have a stigma when it comes to dating before getting married?
Ara: I’m a serial monogamist in almost everything I do, including relationships and business. Once I choose someone as a friend (or lover), or even a business I’m passionate about, I’m ready to invest a long period of time (5-10 years) to really flesh out that relationship.
In terms of my experience dating, I’ve been in what I would consider a few serious long-term relationships. I think this has been my approach because I realized early on that I was far from perfect. And the person I would end up being in a relationship with would also be the same way. My thinking was, if our core values aligned but there were enough differences to make it interesting, I would explore the relationship further. If you look at my wife and me, we have the same core values but she’s more extroverted and I’m more introverted. She’s the life of the party, while I’m the guy you’ll sit down with in a quiet place to contemplate life haha.
Growing up, my parents were a lot more laid back than other Tamil parents I’ve encountered, in that they didn’t really interfere in my life or my siblings’. They didn’t put pressure on us to meet milestones like finding a life partner. However, it was implied (never said) that unless the person you were dating was going to be “the one”, they didn’t really have an interest in hearing about them or meeting them.
Do I agree with this? No, but I do see value in the older generation’s commitment…to commitment (good or bad). Like not just leaving to try to find somebody “better” at the first sign of trouble.
With our generation, our viewpoints on dating before marriage have and will continue to change. When I think about my kids, and whenever they’ll start dating, I definitely want to encourage them not to settle. I want them to know that relationships involve two different, imperfect people coming together and working hard to make it work. And that it’s okay to date to meet as many people as you need to to find the ideal partner. I think dating is essentially a “trial-and-error” process, and you have to do it to really figure out what someone’s like. They could be great on paper, but be terrible for you as a match.
Shiv: I had the stereotypical Tamil experience everyone jokes about when it comes to dating. And by that I mean no dating, no boyfriends until you finish your education and get a job. I didn’t actually date anyone until I was nearing graduation in university, and I naively thought that it would work out with that one person and we’d live happily ever after. That of course is not the reality of how life works out for most people.
Then, as soon as I started working, came the endless questions of “when are you getting married?” And I was kind of scratching my head going – um, but how and to whom? He wasn’t going to just show up randomly, unless I was open to an arranged marriage, which wasn’t my cup of tea. I was learning about relationships and what to look for in a life partner in my mid to late 20s. And that doesn’t fit into society’s expectations of women getting married and starting a family before 30.
With my younger cousins, I am seeing a healthier approach. Their parents are more open about the topic of dating, learning about themselves as individuals, and others, before making a serious lifelong commitment such as marriage.
Given my personal experience, and that of so many of our Tamil friends, myTamilDate has really become a product of passion to offer a service that allows people to date on their own terms, at their own pace. To be able to do that, and in the process find the kind of relationship or marriage you’re looking for, is a really a fulfilling thing. And getting that kind of feedback from our users keeps driving our mission forward.
How do you guys find a balance between being friends and co-workers? How do you manage conflict?
Ara: Co-founders like Shiv and I have strong personalities. Most days it’s this stubbornness that helps us push through and tackle difficult things to keep growing, but there are also setbacks. Unproductive disagreements for example, because we both feel strongly about our individual approaches. In the beginning, it became very difficult to separate business disagreements from our personal friendship.
However, just like any healthy relationship, we got better at respectfully disagreeing with one another and managed to continue our friendship. Reflecting back, I can say that I’m proud of the way our relationship has evolved. I’ve learned a lot about myself and a lot about business through our business partnership. You can read more in a piece I wrote called “The Tricky Business of Friendship & Entrepreneurship”.
Shiv: Ara answered that perfectly, so…what he said! I will add, having a common vision for why we do the work we do definitely helps us get through those tough moments. Both of us are passionate about connecting people and building community, and need autonomy in how we work. We try to remind each other of our shared goals whenever our personal differences get in the way of things. Also, we’ve learned the hard way to settle disagreements over a call or in person instead of email or text. It makes a huge difference!
How has Covid-19 impacted your business?
Both: While Covid-19 has sadly affected so many businesses negatively (something we try to assist with through our Support Small Tamil Shops campaigns on TC), it has increased demand for others. And that’s the case with myTamilDate. There’s been more of a need for online dating sites, leading to more people signing up. As physical events and connecting with people have gone virtual, the opportunities to meet someone in person are just not there.
Additionally, for folks that do live by themselves, who want to find love, Covid-19 has amplified their desire to meet that special someone and that has translated into higher usage on our platform. And this is in line with what other online dating services are also seeing. Dating communities have become a source of comfort and companionship for so many people during these extremely difficult times. It’s not something any of us could have foreseen, but we’re grateful to be able to offer a way for people to connect when isolation is taking such a toll.
What are some challenges you have faced while running myTamilDate?
Ara: We face the typical challenges that any entrepreneur faces. Things like maintaining motivation consistently, growing sales so we can continue to build on this amazing platform, keeping up with the ever changing customer acquisition methods etc.
Shiv: What’s unique to our type of business is that we’re offering a service that caters to people’s fundamental desire to find companionship or love. It is such an important need that requires extra attention with regards to building an authentic and trusted community. So, we do spend a lot of manual hours, reviewing and approving profiles, helping members come up with great profiles and ensuring that everyone’s experience on MTD is positive.
Of course even with all that effort there can be some bumps along the road. And we channel these learnings into new features to improve the experience. Things like blocking someone you may not want to interact with, and reporting fake or inappropriate profiles are all things we’ve incorporated to address some challenging situations we’ve encountered in the past.
Are there any exciting milestones or launches happening in the near future for myTamilDate?
We’ve been running MTD for about 7 years and over time, we’ve heard a lot of great feedback from our members in terms of optimizing the user experience. User feedback plays a large role in each of our updates. And our biggest updates were recently rolled out, which we’re really excited about! We’ve made a major overhaul and we’ve launched a PWA (app-like experience) which will be mobile-friendly (previously we only optimized for desktop).
Other improvements include:
- Improved member profiles that give you more information about prospective love interests
- A vastly improved messaging experience
- Better matching and filters
- More control over who sees you and interacts with you (blocking, unmatching, etc.)
What advice would you give to someone single who’s trying to find a significant other?
Ara: I think with online dating, it all starts with your mentality. Are you serious about finding love? If so, treat it like finding your dream job. Finding the right person to spend your life with is a big decision. And this could dramatically alter the trajectory of your life. It’s similar to a career, where any one job interview that goes well could change your life.
So approach online dating as intentionally and methodically as you would finding your dream job. I would also stress patience, as online dating requires time and energy. As with anything else worthwhile, rarely is there “instant gratification”. But if you keep putting in the effort, we can attest to the fact that there’s a significant number of couples who’ve met through myTamilDate. And a number of them have gotten engaged/married after meeting on the site.
Shiv: The common things we see among our success stories aren’t actually the expectations or mindset that people have when they initially sign up. In fact, while some people take a chance and create a profile for themselves for one reason or another, many others end up doing so because they were prompted to by a friend or sibling.
It’s what happens after a profile has been created that really makes the biggest difference. From how much effort someone puts into their profile, to expanding filters beyond a specific checklist they might have had in mind (like talking to someone from a different city or job category), and most importantly, remaining patient and positive throughout the process.
It might sound easier said than done, but patience and positivity play a big role! And they’re easier to come by when you approach dating with the mindset that you’re always learning more about what you want and need, and getting one step closer with each attempt. myTamilDate aims to help make more of those attempts possible, while putting our users in the driver’s seat when it comes to steering their love lives.
What is your favourite part about running a dating community?
Both: Without a doubt, it’s when we get messages from couples who have met on MTD telling us things like “I’m so happy you guys created this community because it helped me find my soulmate!” It definitely makes our day.
It feels surreal to think that something we created has allowed so many strangers to meet, sometimes from different parts of the world, who otherwise would have never crossed paths. And that this can lead to anything from a great date, to a fulfilling long-term relationship. We recently had one of our couples (a Toronto/New York love story) let us know that they were expecting their first child – that was so amazing to hear!
Choosing a life partner is one of the biggest decisions we make in our lives, and we’re happy to play a role in making that process easier.
myTamilDate.com has been the most trusted dating community for single Tamils around the world for close to a decade! It’s the premiere dating platform for diaspora Tamils and has the largest membership base in Canada, USA, UK & more. You can join the community for free at www.myTamilDate.com.