BUSINESS

REELING IN A DATE

ALEXANDRA SHIMO July 28 2008
BUSINESS

REELING IN A DATE

ALEXANDRA SHIMO July 28 2008

REELING IN A DATE

BUSINESS

Plenty of Fish has become the dating site for the masses

ALEXANDRA SHIMO

If Markus Frind’s example is anything to go by, the best way to earn a few cool million is to do not much at all, and certainly, much less than your competitors. Frind, 30, runs one of the world’s busiest dating sites out of his home in Vancouver. Operating in New Zealand, Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, he has single-handedly managed to become a major player in the world of online matchmaking.

Frind started Plentyoffish.com in March 2003. At that time, the dot-com bust had sent many such start-ups into bankruptcy, and the computer programmer was bouncing between jobs. To improve his resumé, Frind decided to launch the site mainly as a way to teach himself Microsoft’s latest programming code. He wanted to create a free dating site in a market that usually charges members between $20 and $60 per month. While his girlfriend provided the customer service, he programmed and managed the site.

Dating sites are usually very niche. If you are a member of a particular group, have a weird sexual fetish, or an obscure hobby or interest, there is likely a dating site for you. There’s TrekPassions.com (for Trekkies), BikerKiss.com, LoveMeLoveMyPets.com, BlackPlanet.com, Prescripti0n4L0ve.c0m (for people with everything from Tourette’s syndrome to herpes), SeniorFinder.com, and AshleyMadison.com, which is strictly for adulterers. Mostly, the clients self-select, but some sites build in barriers to weed out those who don’t fit the target demographic. For example, Match.com requires a lengthy and involved 400-item questionnaire that can take several hours to complete, says Evan Marc Katz, a dating coach and author of I can’t Believe Fm Buying This Book: A Commonsense Guide to Successful Internet Dating. The quiz is designed to discourage those who aren’t serious about relationships. Then there’s ItsJustLunch.com—exclusively for busy professionals. The $1,600 cost of arranging 14 lunch dates, excluding the meal cost, is supposed to turn off anyone who can’t afford to pick up the tab.

Plenty of Fish has taken the opposite approach. The registration process is deliberately short, and open to everyone. It aims to attract large numbers of people from a

broad cross-section of society. The downside, critics say, is that the site inevitably draws the type of person who prefers not to spend any money in their search for companionship. In Canada, the average age is 38. In the U.S., it’s 39, but in both countries persons in their twenties as well as seniors are also well-represented. “It’s brilliant because it is really easy to use,” explains Bonny Albo, who writes

About.com’s “Guide to Dating.” “People really like it, especially because it’s free.”

While many other dating websites offer a range of video and messaging functions, Plenty of Fish offers the bare basics. Rather than requiring compatibility tests and offering referrals, visitors to Plenty of Fish search for their own dates. Instead of video clips,

PLENTY OF FISH IS FREE AND OPEN TO ANYONE, AND PULLS IN $10 MILLION IN YEARLY REVENUE

profiles are accompanied by simple head shots. If you run into problems, there’s no customer service number to call. You can send an email, although the site warns that there are only a couple of people reading what you write, so responses often take days. There is no banner advertising because Plenty of Fish relies on word of mouth for traffic and Google ads for revenue.

“They let people do their own thing,” Katz explains. “There is no real quality control or filter on who is joining the site. If you want to find what you are looking for, you probably have to sift through a lot of people. It’s a big, sloppy, under-managed site that’s very laissez-faire.”

It may be laissez-faire but it works, argues Frind. The site posts thousands of photos, testimonials and thank you letters from couples who have met their partner or spouse through the service. And in sheer volume and traffic, it remains No. 1. With 18 million hits per month in Canada, and 58 million worldwide, it is the nation’s most popular dating site. Roughly 1.2 million people visit the site every month in Canada. Lavalife is a distant second with 752,000 people for the same duration, according to Cornscore. Revenues total about $10 million per year, says Frind, compared to annual operating costs of about $1 million, covering advertising, site maintenance and the cost of employing two customer service staffers. The rest of the profits go to Frind, who works about 10 hours per week, and is planning to expand into Brazil and Germany next. In the dating site world, growth can feed off itself, explains Katz. “If you throw two billion people in a barrel, you don’t have to do much for some of them to meet and hit it off. Plentyoffish.com does well mainly because of the law of averages.” M