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Opinion | Floh, and the end of love

Popular singles platform, the Bengaluru-based startup Floh has always been ahead of the curve in the business of love. What does it mean if their next venture teaches people how to be happily single?

Lounge love issue covers from February 2012 and 2018, both featuring Floh.
Lounge love issue covers from February 2012 and 2018, both featuring Floh.

I first met Siddharth Mangharam, co-founder of Floh, a startup that helped educated, urban singles connect with each other, in 2012, at our offices in Delhi. Floh was then less than a year old and the business strategy for the singles network came from his own real-life meet-cute: He had met Simran (wife and co-founder) at a party in Bengaluru over a platter of stinking Roquefort. Chance meetings and real-life interactions were sorely missing in the glut of matrimonial services at the time, so Floh set off spectacularly with its “business of catalysing serendipity". It organized curated events around activities such as vintage car rallies and sushi rolling where singles could mingle without the pressures of an awkward coffee date.

It was a compelling premise for a startup in the business of love. My colleague, Shrabonti Bagchi, had done one of the first pieces on Floh for The Times Of India’s Bengaluru edition. Lounge was one of the first national publications to report on Floh. In my cover story for our 2012 Valentine’s Day issue, Siddharth shared that their model was “pegged to the idea of simulating a real date scenario".

Members at a sundowner at the beach at Floh‘s Singles Festival in Goa in February.
Members at a sundowner at the beach at Floh‘s Singles Festival in Goa in February. (Photo courtesy: Ryan Chadha)

Over the years, and especially for our Valentine’s Day specials—a time when magazines are led to revisit the idea of love—we have covered their new launches, which are always backed by surveys and findings on what India is looking for in love. Their line of growth has always followed the zeitgeist: New India wants to feel the love, New India needs more than love, New India needs the business of finding love to feel like a party, not a chore.

But last week, after hosting over 1,500 events across Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi, Goa and New York City, the Floh founders hosted a farewell Zoom call. There were members (many were coupled, some had children in the frame), employees, friends and a few journalists who had followed Floh’s journey. It was because covid-19 had put a spanner in the whole model of meeting in real life. Their latest launch, this February, was a Singles Festival that Simran and Siddharth call a “Burning Man for Singles" or a “JLF for Singles". “We were planning to do one a month, eventually scaling up to 800-1,000 attendees in each, like a convention…with workshops and parties," says Siddharth. Evidently, not the best model in a world emerging tentatively from lockdown.

How are singles meant to navigate love and relationships in a post-covid world? “You can’t leave us", “Please don’t go", “Please continue in some form or the other" was the general refrain in the chat window on Zoom. If anyone knows what to do next, with their mix of psychological insight and deep data approach, it would be Floh, a home-grown startup that really shook up the scene, always ahead of the curve.

In 2018, for instance, Floh made the Valentine’s Day cover of Lounge once again, when they published a survey that proclaimed the end of love as we knew it. The singles network had evolved into a community network, putting self-expression over romance. The development was based on the 2018 Floh Single In The City survey which corroborated that people prized everyday companionship more than romance.

“It’s about putting yourself first," Siddharth had told me then. It was a sentiment that resonated deeply with Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel’s widely shared TED talk—almost 11.5 million views on “Earlier, we divorced to be happy. Today we divorce because we could be happier. Choosing to stay when you can leave is the new shame," says Perel.

While covid-19 has led to a rethink, the ideas of love, dating and marriage have been changing fast nevertheless. On 1 June, Mint published the results of the YouGov-Mint-CPR Millennial Survey that said one in four young adults in India do not want to marry. A pandemic might have taken over the world at the moment but Siddharth has, for a while, been fearing that we are heading “towards a loneliness epidemic".

Even as we bid farewell to Floh on Zoom, they aren’t divorcing their members just yet. “We have 20,000 hours of experience between us," says Simran, explaining the rationale behind their soon-to-launch Dating Coach, a mobile and web platform that will publish relationship content behind a paywall. “We realized we were a trusted brand in trust-deficit India," says Siddharth.

What is Dating Coach trying to solve, what’s the biggest need of the moment? I ask Simran. “We are teaching people to be relationship-ready," she says. “We are also training them on how to be happily single."

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