Wolf Means Business Christine Otte Interview – Q&A With Jasbina Ahluwalia

IntMatch-jasbinaJasbina Ahluwalia is an is an Indian American Attorney-turned-Entrepreneur, Relationship Expert, Radio Show Host and Matchmaker/Dating Coach.

She is the Founder & President of Intersections Match by Jasbina, the only Premier Full-Service Personalized Matchmaking, Dating / Relationship Coaching & Online Dating Support Firm – For Indian Singles.

Jasbina is also the host of Intersections Match Talk Radio – Jasbina Lifestyle Show, a monthly holistic lifestyle show – conversations with published authors/experts on relationships and health and wellness.

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Christine Otte

(00:04):  Okay, hello everyone. This is Christine Otte. I am the Executive Team Manager for Wolf Means Business, and I will be filling in today for Julie Gilbert. Julie had her baby last week, so she is out on maternity leave for a little while. She’s enjoying some good cuddling time with her little one.

As we go through our interview on Wolf Chat today, there will be time for questions and answers at the end of the call. If you have a specific question that you would like me to ask, go ahead and email me at Christine@wolfmeansbusiness.com. With that, we are going to move forward into a different format today.

Today’s guest is Jasbina Ahluwalia. Jasbina is a former attorney and happily married second generation Indian-American entrepreneur, relationship expert, matchmaker and radio show host. Jasbina is pursuing her entrepreneurial passions as the Founder and President of Intersections Match, the only elite personalized matchmaking firm in the country serving selective singles of South Asian descent nationwide in the U.S.

Jasbina is also the host of Intersections Match Talk Radio, a monthly holistic lifestyle show focused on our continual evolution into the best versions of our authentic selves. The mission of Intersections Match is broader than elite matchmaking and includes thought leadership and spearheading the dialogue on relationships. It includes social dynamics and health and wellness, each of which contributes to meaningful and fulfilling lives.

Jasbina has received nationwide press, including Businessweek, Chicago Tribune, San Jose Mercury News, live TV and radio, and serves as a relationship expert in the upscale Washington Masala, Indian Currents, and ABCDLady.com. She has also moderated and participated on panels at Harvard Business School, Wharton and Columbia.

Previously, Jasbina practiced law in San Francisco and Chicago. She earned her BA, MA in Philosophy from Vanderbilt University and JV from University of Michigan Law School. Welcome Jasbina, we’re happy to have you here with us today.

 

Jasbina Ahluwalia

(3:06):  Hi, Christine. It’s a pleasure to be here.

 

Christine Otte

(3:08):  I’m going to start off with some background questions for you. Can you give us a brief history of Intersections Match?

 

Jasbina Ahluwalia

(3:20):  I’ve always wanted to pursue an entrepreneurial venture aligned with my values and my principles to really focus on helping people in a high-impact way. I founded Intersections Match in 2007. The service focuses on selective South Asian singles across the country looking to find significant others.

This is a high-tech service that is not online. We do a comprehensive personal consultation with each client to fully understand their needs, their paradigms regarding relationships and their blind spots. We then provide value-added feedback after every introduction. That’s basically how we go about things.

 

Christine Otte

(4:10):  Interesting. What was your main inspiration for the company?

 

Jasbina Ahluwalia

(4:15):  As you had mentioned, I am a second generation professional Indian-American woman. I was raised in the U.S. by parents who immigrated from abroad. I was raised with an understanding of the successful blending of Indian and American cultures. I knew there was a need for someone in the South Asian community who could relate first-hand to the challenges of juggling professional, social, and personal demands with that cultural perspective as well.

My first-hand experience in the dating world itself motivated me to create a premium service which could be actively leveraged by selective professionals who want to focus on finding their special someone, but at the same time have demanding schedules. As I mentioned, as a result of my personal experiences searching for my special someone while I was practicing law, I believed there was a demand for a premium service to assist selective young professionals to navigate.

I think it is one of the most important life decisions. I noticed a lot of other young professionals had challenges balancing their professional lives with their personal lives. I believed that this could be a really common issue for young professionals with South Asian backgrounds. These are people whose cultures discourage dating and teach young people to focus on their education and self-development.

Knowing there was a great demand for South Asian professionals, I also noticed there was no one meeting this need. Given my own background experiences, I really felt that I was in a unique position to provide that value to clients.

 

Christine Otte

(6:11):  You do this nationwide, correct? You have nationwide resources?

 

Jasbina Ahluwalia

(6:17):  Correct. The way we work is really interesting. We are a personalized service, yet we work nationwide. A lot of people ask how that works. One of the ways that we make it work really well is that we have “scouts” who mirror our clients to a certain degree. They are largely, but not exclusively of South Asian background, and they work in various industries and fields during the day.

We have doctors, grad students, engineers and people in tech and finance. In their free time, they are helping us with our searches on behalf of our clients in different ways. Some of them are attending social events in their respective cities, since our scouts are located throughout the country. We have scouts in the San Francisco Bay area, the DC Metro area, Boston, Denver, New York City, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Chicago.

Some of them are less able to attend events regularly, so they’re canvassing their personal and professional circles for our clients. Some are hosting mixers in their respective cities. The scouts are a great way for us to leverage our search capabilities throughout the country. The fact that they have their own lives personally, socially and professionally helps us in terms of understanding our network.

 

Christine Otte

(8:09):  Wow. That’s a great model for that professional who doesn’t have the time to really do that, but knows what they’re looking for to have someone else in those circles. That’s great. Since you’ve been doing this for a while, what kind of growth have you seen in your business?

 

Jasbina Ahluwalia

(8:29):  What’s interesting is that we’re coming off of tremendous growth and also coming up, like everyone else, from an economic downturn. We were growing during the downturn, and we were one of the few industries that were able to face that downturn successfully. We have relationships with mainstream matchmakers throughout the country and it seems to be a common theme, as well as with online dating sites.

This was the first economic downturn that our company faced. We noticed that, when the economy took that nosedive, it caused people to really look inward and evaluate their personal lives and relationships. We found that during that time of economic uncertainty, while people had a lack of control over their financial situations, many people started looking internally and identifying areas of their lives so they can exert some kind of level of control by being proactive.

For those who felt the lack of a partner in their lives and felt that during the last several months, becoming proactive in this arena became especially important. It’s also comforting to have a partner to weather any storm, including economics. We received an overwhelming response to our services in general, and that continued during the economic downturn, I’m happy to say. That was a pretty interesting thing for us to see.

 

Christine Otte

(10:38):  That’s very interesting. You’re reaching a very specific clientele, and it’s not something that brings a lot of mass advertising on your part. Is your organization being recognized in other ways for the work you’re doing that is helping to get the word out there?

 

Jasbina Ahluwalia

(11:05):  We actually won an award recently. It is pretty interesting. I didn’t memorize exactly what the award is. There are a number of ways to get the word out there. We won Best Business Idea in the Women’s Business Journal on the East Coast and one of the 2009 Women in Business Awards.

We write for a lot of publications out there both online portals as well as print publication, anything from magazines to online portals, like ABCDLady.com and newspapers. We do this throughout the country and region. Some are city-specific. We field Q&A that are written in from audiences of those different publications and in other ways we do telecoms.

We establish partnerships with different communities and organizations. We’ll have Q&A telecoms where people can dial in from across the country. They are asking questions about relationships and dating, knowing that we deal with clients every day relating to both men and women.

We’ve done these things with a variety of organizations, such as Cornell University Indian Association to Indo-American Arts Council. There’s a nationwide network of Indian-American professionals called NetIP. Those are some ways that we not only spread awareness, but also become a part of a new state of thought leadership in terms of our mission being broader than making personalized introductions on behalf of our clients.

We also have a radio show. Our show guests are pretty much not of South Asian background. We started on radio in November of last year, and to date we really haven’t had any guests of South Asian decent because we have a lot of published authors and experts on our show. We have people who are writing national bestsellers, who are on CNN, etc. and we are interviewing them about relationships and research.

We have a significant portion of our clientele who are really interested in meeting people with a similar cultural background, but then we have a portion who are open to meeting people with all different ethnicities. They’re pretty active socially and professionally in the mainstream community. These are all the different avenues we’ve been able to use to really spread the word about our services.

It helps that we’re the only ones doing this in the country as well. People know that if they have a client who is open to meeting an Indian-American, or if they have an Indian-American client, they know who to come to. In that sense, it’s been a really exciting journey so far.

 

Christine Otte

(15:58):  Yes, it sounds like it. Your background is in law, but you mentioned that you’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. After your time as a lawyer, what led to decide that this was a good time to start to explore starting this type of business?

 

Jasbina Ahluwalia

(16:19):  This is something that will probably speak to many women. Before I even answer that, I’ve mentioned that I’ve spoken on a number of different panels. The Harvard Board and Columbia were all-women business school panels, and what was interesting is that the topics of the panels were different topics. None of them were formally a work or life panel.

Yet questions were raised from the audience having to do with work and life. It won’t surprise you to hear that my answer to your question is that one of the notions, apart from having an entrepreneurial spirit, I wanted to create my own thing and add value to people’s lives. I wanted to design a life where I could balance family with a career, while also impacting people’s lives.

After I found my life partner and started to have a family myself, I felt it was time for me to try and really identify opportunities where I could have more influence over my time. I didn’t have this as a practicing lawyer. I believe that being happily married and a mother brings a different perspective, which I really feel is valuable for clients, many of whom are seeking this type of life and partner. That is pretty much holistic in that sense and what led me to pursue this.

 

Christine Otte

(18:18):  I know that work/life balance is a challenge for most of us working women. Your model is so unique and you provide such personalized service for your clients. Are there other services that you provide as well in addition to being out there and finding potential contacts for your clients?

 

Jasbina Ahluwalia

(18:43):  I mentioned personal consultations. We actually do stand-alone consultations as well for people who come to us and aren’t ready to invest in a search plan. They really do want to sit down with someone and get clarity on what they’re looking for, as kind of a gauge as to how realistic their expectations are, and have someone listen to their relationship history and be there to provide insight into the dating world.

We’ve gotten great feedback about that whole process based on an hour and a half to two hours. Even if one were not to move on to the search plan, their own self-healing mechanism can be heightened in terms of being out there, and it can help them make a decision if they want to pursue online dating or other methods further.

Our customized search plans are similar to a recruiter model. We’re not a closed system where we’re limited to our own clients, but we’re really opening all avenues up for our scout force for our search to find clients. We also do dating coaching, and it is offline as well as for online dating.

We’ll help people with their online search and profile to help them optimize their online presence and select the right site to use. Those are the different services that we provide, but everything really starts with that personal consultation.

 

Christine Otte

(20:59):  It sounds like you’ve had a great response to that. At any point in your journey, did you ever feel like giving up and going back to a regular job?

 

Jasbina Ahluwalia

(21:11):  I would actually say no, which is interesting. Does that mean that there are frustrations? Absolutely. I’ve never gotten to the point where I’ve seriously considered throwing in the towel and starting to look for a job. This is really a passion for me and it’s an exciting journey with hurdles like everyone else, but nonetheless, nothing that I’ve ever seriously considered giving up.

 

Christine Otte

(21:47):  Great. You just mentioned that of course there were some challenges. I think all entrepreneurs face certain challenges. What were some of your biggest challenges in your journey as an entrepreneur up until now?

 

Jasbina Ahluwalia

(22:00):  Probably on a very regular basis there are challenges. The easiest challenge we face today is a matter of education in terms of we are lucky to be in an industry where there’s no need to create a demand. The demand is already there. In that sense, that’s huge.

One of our challenges has been educating the South Asian community, getting them to realize that an investment of time, energy and money in the process of finding that right partner has a far greater long-term impact than spending on the engagements and wedding itself. It strikes me as so interesting when people choose to spend a significant amount of time, energy and money on the wedding to the exclusion of investing those resources on finding the right partner.

Anyone who has been through a wedding knows how expensive in both time and money it can be. Don’t get me wrong, all of that is worth it, but you need to look at it compared to sharing a lifetime with someone who is the right person. In my mind, it’s clear that the investment is really more valuable towards finding that right person rather than the couple of days of celebrating the fact that you found that person. That’s the biggest challenge.

 

Christine Otte

(24:02):  What would you want to say to new entrepreneurs or ones who are thinking about the possibility of starting their own business?

 

Jasbina Ahluwalia

(24:10):  Welcome, it’s an exciting place to be. Identify that something that you enjoy, that really feeds your soul because you’ll be doing a lot of it! Figure out how to provide value to others by doing it. You really have to identify that thing that feeds your soul and you have to be passionate and put your all into it, then figure out how to provide value. That would be my biggest piece of advice.

 

Christine Otte

(25:02):  How about branding? What does a personal brand mean to you and what is your personal brand?

 

Jasbina Ahluwalia

(25:10):  That’s an interesting question. That was actually the topic of one of the panels I did at Harvard and Columbia business school for the people looking to be in the corporate world, as well as entrepreneurs. To me, a personal brand is where one’s actions are aligned with one’s core values.

My personal brand, at the most fundamental level, is about authenticity and trustworthiness, which are pretty important in what I do from day to day. That’s how I explain my personal brand.

 

Christine Otte

(25:59):  Okay, that makes sense. As your career and your roles have progressed, how have you changed or redefined your personal brand along the way?

 

Jasbina Ahluwalia

(26:10):  That’s an interesting question. Given my role has shifted from the singular role of a lawyer to the multi-functional role of an entrepreneur, relationship expert, matchmaker and radio show host, it is interesting to reflect on whether these different roles have warranted changes in what my personal brand is.

My former role as a lawyer and my current role have both interestingly involved adding value to people through advising. Giving the advisory aspects with the same goals, my personal brand has remained consistent in these different roles. They all reflect trust in my sense of judgment.

My clients all have to be comfortable with my judgment in order to work with me. My ability to actively listen and spot potential issues is important. The consultations require actively listening and identifying what issues might come up for that person in the relationship aspect. Also, a commitment to stay updated on research findings, perspectives, novel ways of thinking and trends in the industry are also important.

You need to be up to speed on new developments and what’s going on in the industry. Similarly, with the dating and relationship world in reference to our radio show, we are top of what are the thoughts and perspectives out there, what kind of studies and research is being done. We’re interviewing these people directly, so it’s important to know these things.

All of these things were important in my former role as a lawyer and they remain very important in my current role as an entrepreneur, which also ties back to my personal brand of authenticity and trustworthiness.

 

Christine Otte

(29:05):  Okay. Social media is certainly a hot topic. What do you think are the effects of social media on developing a personal brand and how does it make one change her efforts at personal branding?

 

Jasbina Ahluwalia

(29:20):  In terms of our social media efforts, we have a Facebook community[AJ1] . Interestingly, it’s been growing within just a few weeks of launching our Facebook group. I remember specifically seeing over a thousand people. Given the size and the demographics of our Facebook community, we found that a lot of people are knocking at our door to bring their events to the notice of our community.

One thing is that we’ve been very vigilant about protecting our brand from dilution. For example, we always share with our Facebook community events that we believe are consistent with our premium plans and are of value to our community. An example would be when we received a request to share with our community an upscale Silicon Valley discussion and networking event, which featured award-winning journalists, scholars, politicians and venture capitalists.

We happily did so because we felt that it was consistent with our brand and added value to our community who wanted to participate. On the other hand, we did decline to promote an online dating site’s mass-mixer event. There was nothing wrong, it just wasn’t very consistent with our branding and we didn’t feel that our community could benefit from it. They were just looking for access to knowledge of our community.

Another example of leveraging technology and social media was that I had mentioned the telecom. Given that folks are busy, we’ve anchored those valued teleconferences on relationships for various communities, and we’ve used Facebook for that as well. A lot of those communities use their Facebook as well as the invites that are sent to our Facebook community to promote the events to people and let them know that they can participate from anywhere as long as they can dial in.

Those are some ways that we’ve used Facebook. In our experience, social media can be a great tool for prospectively growing and developing a personal brand. Just like all tools, you do have to be vigilant, but it’s a great tool nonetheless.

 

Christine Otte

(31:58):  Great. We’re getting near our end here, but I want to ask you what your future plans are?

 

Jasbina Ahluwalia

(32:06):  We’re always thinking of different things. It’s basically continuing our current relationships and growing them further, along with creating new relationships. At this time, we’re operating nationwide. We have received inquiries from around the world, including Europe and Asia.

Given the global world we all now live in, as well as the demands of our clients who are located in the U.S. and want to meet people abroad, we do plan on exploring the process of expanding overseas in the future. We also want to continue to increase the number of avenues to further the mixing of Intersections Match, with personalized introductions, thought leadership and spearheading dialogue. Those are our plans for the relatively near future.

 

Christine Otte

(33:16):  Terrific. Why are your clients reaching out to you? What are you finding are their biggest challenges out there and looking for ways that you can help them?

 

Jasbina Ahluwalia

(34:11):  That’s a great question. I would say that the challenges are different for different people. For some people, it’s a matter of not having any time. Anyone can conduct a search on their own behalf, but they just don’t have the time to do social events or online dating, setups from friends, etc. The people come to us who go through the consultation and often they are willing to invest in a relationship, but they really want us to do the legwork.

They want us to find potential people to put across from them so they can get to know them, as opposed to meeting tons of people and having to narrow it down to a few that they can see themselves having a relationship with. It’s mostly a time issue for some people.

Some of my clients are high-profile. While they may have resources to use online dating, that’s something that they’re not in a position to be able to do for privacy reasons. Those are two of the top reasons that we come across.

We have people who have had some setups from friends or family and have been introduced to everyone that they know, so they’re looking to explore additional avenues. Some people just have a mindset that they want to hire a professional to help them, just like they would in hiring a personal trainer. They have a limited amount of resources, time and energy in the day.

They like to leverage their resources by hiring someone to take it on. Those are the most common things that we’ve come across in terms of reasons why people are approaching us.

 

Christine Otte

(36:28):  Yes, that’s totally understandable. I certainly understand the time issue. It seems like everyone today is so busy and there seems to be so much less time to be able to spend face-to-face with other people. So much happens on your computer screen, I can see why people would have that need to leverage their time and connections through a service like yours. Thank you, Jasbina. This was so interesting and helpful. We really appreciate you being on today.

 

Jasbina Ahluwalia

(37:01):  It’s been a pleasure, Christine. Please give my best to Julie and her new son.

 

Christine Otte

(37:04):  I will. For those of you on the call, or if you have friends who you think might be interested, I will be posting the recording of this call onto the site over the next couple of days. I will also post on there a link to Jasbina’s website so you can find more information there as well.

I really appreciate everyone for being on the call today. Thank you again so much, Jasbina, for your time. We appreciate it. I will say goodbye and wish you all a wonderful afternoon.

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