When Shilpa Gandhi was working as an optician in central London, you would be forgiven for thinking that her career path was clearly laid out before her. Shilpa’s clients included bankers, lawyers and other timestrapped professionals. But when it came to having a family of her own, the previously clear line to success became somewhat blurry.
And now, after discovering the benefits of freelancing, she divides her time between her young family and an entirely new profession: bringing love to the same busy professionals across London and beyond, as one of the leading lights of the UK matchmaking industry with her business Amare Exclusive.
Why did you choose to become a self-employed matchmaker?
The flexibility of time and location is the biggest thing. I have young children, and running my own business allows me to be there for them when they need me, which is so important. My days are mostly made up of intertwined mothering and work commitments. And the thing is, although it may look like I’m working all the time, having those two interwoven one after the other throughout the day actually gives me respite from both. They both re-energise me.
I love what I do – and of course I love my children – so for me, it’s brilliant. I can do everything I want to in a day. It’s not always easy, but I do my best to keep a good work-life balance.
So how do you maintain a good work-life balance?
Probably the most important thing is a regimented routine. Every day, I’m out of the house early – either doing the school run or at meetings in the City. And from then on, I make sure everything is timed right. When you know how much time you have, you know how quickly you need to get through things.
I suppose I’ve always been matchmaking – whether I got paid for it or not! I’m very sociable by nature, and I was always setting my friends up. I’m a great believer that it just takes one introduction to change someone’s life. So why wouldn’t I do it?
Then, after I got married, I started working in central London – in the City. I found that many of my clients were bankers, lawyers and other successful professionals. And what I heard from so many of them was that because they worked long hours they were finding it very hard to meet suitable partners. And time and again they’d say online dating was giving them quantity but not quality, so I saw a gap in the market for a more personal approach.
Although maybe my previous career may not seem like the most obvious path to becoming a matchmaker, being an optician actually helped me understand the importance of balancing a professional approach to everything with that all-important personal touch.
As an optician, one of the key things you have to do is quickly get to know and understand lots of different people, and that translates really well to matchmaking.
When I was an optician, I was bound by a code of ethics to do the best by my patients. When I was doing my research to change careers I came across an international institute of matchmaking and signed up to a course. The reason I signed up was because you could become a certified matchmaker and with that you’re bound by a code of ethics. And I wanted my clients to know that and know they will be protected by it.
What challenges did you face getting the business off the ground?
Time was probably the biggest challenge: I was trying to get Amare Exclusive ready to launch by the end of January 2017 – in time for Valentine’s Day. But unfortunately, I had to get new website designers at the last minute, and that was a major struggle.
In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t rushed to get it ready for a particular date, because those weeks in the run-up to Valentine’s day were absolute madness. And in the end, it really didn’t make that much difference.
Another major thing was generally just absorbing so much new information. I mean, I love business, but suddenly I was managing my own business and that was something else. I was aware of some aspects of it already, but there were so many new things I had to learn in a short amount of time. I think when you’re starting a business, you need to understand that it’s okay not to know everything: there are lots of resources to help you learn. What’s not okay is not learning!
Was it your experience of love that made you want to set up the agency?
Yeah, definitely. People undervalue love. And quite often nowadays, to achieve success in their careers, people let their personal lives go. So you have a great life, but no-one to share it with. And that’s so sad: I’ve met far too many people like that, and all they need is the right introduction.
Do you have any advice for people trying to set up a matchmaking agency like yours?
To start with, you definitely have to be a people person, because sometimes it can be really intense – you’re meeting client after client at networking events and you have to be on the go constantly. So you need to be bubbly, you need to be outgoing and you need to really love people. If you don’t, you’re really going to hate the job!
And the fact is, you have to believe in love. I know that may seem a bit of a strange thing to say, but a lot of people don’t believe in love.
Before I met my husband, I was very career focused. I was working hard and loved my life. But when he came along, he enhanced it. I started to think: I really love my life. And now I suppose I see the world through – and my friends laugh at me for this – rose-tinted glasses.
It’s true though: love makes such a difference. And I started this business because I saw so many brilliant people who were struggling to find the right partner. Well, I really wanted to make that difference for them – to be the person who gave them that one introduction that changed everything.
What are your plans for the future of Amare Exclusive?
Umm… worldwide love domination! [Laughs] I’d love it! Have you seen all the unhappy people on the London underground in the morning? All they need is a sprinkle of love in their hearts and they’d be fine. It’s truly medicinal – the one thing that can make anyone happy.
First of all we’re looking at branching out into some exclusive events – not speed dating, but curated events with a touch of luxury. And then of course, just expanding our client base.
Amare offers a uniquely personalised and personal service based on trust, privacy, safety and time saving, so the next step is to get that offering out to as many people as we can. We’re bringing love to London – then the world!