Kalyani Khona wanted to start something in the match-making space. But in an already flooded market where hundreds of matrimony websites along with new-age dating apps like Tinder, Truly Madly are doing thriving business, she had to look beyond the obvious.
With a problem solving approach, Kalyani and her partner Shankar Srinivasan began researching into what they could offer in an already saturated market of match making websites and apps.
A rather disheartening find through their research was that people with disabilities are often crowded out on the current match-making portals. While some have just a yes/no option to identify persons with disabilities, these portals are often inaccessible to most of them.
âSay someone is visually impaired, or paralysed, how do they access a match-making portal? Everyone should be able to find a match or a life partner,â Shankar says.
According to the World Health Organisation, about 15% of the world's population lives with some form of disability and of this, 2-4% experience significant difficulties in functioning.
And there was no match-making platform in the world that catered especially to this 15% of the worldâs population and help them find a partner.
In July 2014, Shankar and Kalyani started an offline matchmaking agency called Wanted Umbrella. There was a website that had a contact form but the entire matchmaking process was done offline.
âBut just six to seven months into starting this, it sort off blew up because we were getting 1800-2000 sign-ups from across the world and a lot more people writing to us saying they needed something like this. Thatâs when we realised that this is a global problem and there is a need for a service like this. And given that there are around 1.3 billion people with disabilities, there was no way to create an impact if we were to do it manually,â Shankar says.
Thatâs when Kalyani and Shankar decided to leverage technology and began working on building an inclusive app. They spent the whole of 2015 researching and working on it. They even raised Rs 6.15 lakh from crowdfunding platform WishBerry to build the basic prototype.
They were working on making the app fully addressable. And by that, Shankar means that they cater to all kinds of disabilities. All through 2015, they worked on improving and making changes to the app to ensure it catered to everyone.
With most features in, they finally launched the app âInclovâ in January 2016.
When one signs up on Inclov, the app asks for your basic details such as name, age, hobbies, education and more. It then asks for details on the personâs disabilityâits name, level of disability, assisted devices they use, is there a cure available, etc.
To keep the app inclusive, it is also open to those without a disability.
Once the profile is created, it works like Facebook or LinkedIn where a user can view a profile and send a request. If the other person accepts the request, they can then chat and eventually exchange details they are comfortable with and take it forward from there.
Inclov has a number of features that make it inclusive and accessible. For the visually impaired, the app has a feature that starts reading out everything on the screen with just a touch.
If someone has cerebral palsy, there are buttons integrated in case a swipe action is difficult to perform.
But Shankar says that fully accessibility is still a vision and is an on-going process. âThere is a lot that goes into it and over time we will make it more and more accessible. We are also looking to integrate text-to-speech for those with upper body immobility so that they can perform actions and communicate with just speech,â he adds.
The app currently has 10,000 users and has seen 5,000 matches. Within the first 10 days of launch, Inclov saw its first match, where a couple from different cities in Gujarat met and got married three months later in May 2016.
While there have been success stories such as this, Shankar and Kalyani realised that a lot those matching on the app did not translate into meeting in person, for different reasons like safety, social stigma and convenience.
To address this issue, Inclov also launched Social Spaces, where it invites its users to come meet each other. Even those who are not a part of Inclov can attend these meets.
âThe idea is to put them in a more natural environment so they and come out and meet people from similar backgrounds,â Shankar says.
Since launch, the app has been free to use. Revenue was only generated through the Social Spaces meets where people are charged to attend the event.
However, Inclov has now launched a premium service called Inclov Select. Those who sign up for this get an assisted matchmaking service with a dedicated match-maker.
Inclov Slect works on subscription-basis where a user is charged Rs 5,000 a month, Rs 12,000 for three months and Rs 18,000 for six months.
While this may raise concern about affordability, Shankar says that very often, people associate disability with being underprivileged or poor. âBut the fact is that most users on our app are doctors, PHD-holders, entrepreneurs and more. When we do our meet-ups, some of them are ready to even spend Rs 700 one way in an Uber. So it would be wrong to associate people with disabilities as being underprivileged,â he says, adding that, they are running a service and to make it sustainable in the long term, there has to be a charge.
Inclov is currently in the process of launching its iOS app and web portal.
Going forward, Kalyani and Shankar want to add more features to make it more addressable. They are looking to add more language options and more accessibility features like video calling, voice notes, speech-to-text and many more.
Social spaces too will be an area of focus. They aim on organising at least 25 more meet-ups in the next one year.
And given that there is no such other portal, Kalyani and Shankar want to take this app to international markets and give people with disabilities across the globe a chance at finding the one.