Markus Frind: The man 'behind a million babies'

Andrea and David Mazur Andrea and David Mazur met through POF and won a competition to have their dream wedding day

American writer and critic Susan Sontag once said: "Nothing is mysterious, no human relation. Except love."

Markus Frind, the founder and boss of Plenty of Fish (POF), the world's largest dating website and app, would beg to differ.

According to him: "Although people would like to think that everyone is unique and individual, when it comes to dating and relationships they follow a very common set of patterns.

"Nearly 70% of the time we're able to predict exactly who you're going to end up in a relationship with."

POF's ability to match up suitable partners has helped attract more than 70 million registered users around the world, led to millions of successful relationships, and - according to Mr Frind - played a part in the creation of at least a million babies.

Markus Frind Markus Frind tries to work for just five hours per day

So just how did Mr Frind, who still owns 100% of the Canadian company he founded in 2003, solve the riddle of the human heart? With data, of course.

Start Quote

I never wanted to create a business - what I was looking to do was improve my resume”

End Quote Markus Frind

At POF's sleek headquarters, atop a Vancouver skyscraper, dozens of TV screens display charts and graphs that monitor, in real-time, the millions of messages that users are sending each minute on the site.

Those messages form the backbone of POF's massive data enterprise, which tracks who users message, who they leave the site with - and of course, if and when they come back.

With all this data in hand, POF can quickly suggest like-minded people, or "matches", to new users who fill in detailed questionnaires about themselves upon joining.

Further data on users, and their compatibility with others, is gathered by encouraging them to take part in a free personality test.

Free to join

Although less well-known than competitors such as Match.com and eHarmony, POF gets more than two billion page views each month, putting it far above any other dating site in terms of traffic.

Mobile screenshot of plenty of fish Mr Frind says that in a period of two years the business model completely changed as users switched to mobile

In achieving its giant user numbers, POF has one significant advantage over its rivals - it is free to join, and its basic functions are free to use.

Instead of making most of its money from subscription fees, like its largest rivals, the company focuses on raising funds by carrying adverts on its site.

And while POF's financial details are not publicly available, Mr Frind's personal wealth is now estimated at about $200m (£120m).

It is not a bad state of affairs for a website which Mr Frind initially only built so he could learn a new computer programming language, ASP.net.

"I never wanted to create a business - what I was looking to do was improve my resume [CV]," he says.

He chose the name Plenty of Fish - a nod to the phrase "there's plenty of fish in the sea" - out of desperation: seemingly every other dating-related domain name had already been snapped up.

line break
Plenty of Fish says its data shows:
  • 29% of users find their partner in less than a month
  • Male users who own a cat are 32% more likely to end up as part of a couple than men who don't have the pet animal. This rises to 42% for women with cats
  • If both partners' parents are still married, this will increase a couple's likelihood of forming a successful relationship
  • Men who write more than 460 characters in their description, and women who write more than 650 characters, are more likely to leave the site as part of a couple
  • A woman is more compatible with a man who has the same, or higher, level of education as she does
line break

A graduate from British Columbia Institute of Technology with a diploma in computer systems, Mr Frind says he wrote the code for the website in less than two weeks in February 2003, and almost immediately saw users flock to the site.

By July of that year - after he placed Google's Ad Sense adverts on the page - he was making thousands of dollars a month.

That was enough to convince him he might no longer need to update his resume.

'Just a formula'

Mr Frind says he made the site free mostly because it was easier to operate, as a one-man business, if he did not have to worry about processing payments.

POF office elevator The elevators at Plenty of Fish's offices in Vancouver explain the firm's goal in a nutshell

That way he could focus on adding features like chat, better photo pages, and of course, making sure users met their matches. Ensuring users, especially women, had a positive experience was the only way to guarantee success and, in his words, "virality".

"It was just a formula - get as many users in as possible, and if they make enough connections then it automatically goes viral in different cities," he says.

But unlike other Silicon Valley types, just when the site took off - gaining millions of users in Canada, the US and Australia in just a few years - Mr Frind decided to work less, not more.

He didn't hire any employees for the first five years, and would often take off for weeks at a time to travel the globe.

In one year, just after the site was founded, he travelled to 28 countries.

"There's only so many hours in the day that you're actually productive," he says.

Even today he tries not to work for more than five hours a day.

Watching grass grow

Mr Frind grew the site to 15 million members and more than $10m (£6m) in revenue by 2008, before he finally decided he needed help.

Plenty of Fish screen shot POF gathers data on who leaves the site in relationships and who then returns following a break-up

"There were just so many different pressures and so many different things coming at me," he remembers.

"It was like - it's time to start a company."

Today, POF has more than 60 employees. And users can now pay to access premium content, such as being able to know whether someone has opened or deleted one of your messages.

And while the growth of the business appears to have been achieved very smoothly, Mr Frind says the transition of users to mobile phones over the past two years has been one of the biggest challenges the company has faced, requiring it to focus more on its phone app platform.

Although Mr Frind says he is currently spending slightly less time than usual in the office so he can spruce up a ranch he has bought with his wife (whom he met offline), he has no intention of selling up to any of the many investors who have expressed an interest.

"I have no other plans - doing anything else would just be like watching grass grow," he says.

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories

RSS

Business Live

  1.  
    08:17: RBS shares

    Just worth point out that RBS shares are trading at 376.9p and the government needs to sell its stake at an average of 455p per share just to break even on the money it pumped into the bank in 2008 and 2009. Also worth mentioning: Mr Osborne may not be Chancellor after May.

     
  2.  
    08:03: RBS shares
    RBS

    George Osborne has told the Financial Times he made a mistake in not radically restructuring taxpayer-owned Royal Bank of Scotland soon after he came to office in 2010. But the chancellor says he would like to proceed "as quickly as we can to get rid of it" after the general election.

     
  3.  
    07:50: AGA profits

    AGA says operating profit stood at £9.6m, but it booked £4.1m in pensions charges, £3.3m in fair value costs relating to its stake in Fired Earth - its tiles business - leaving it with £2.2m. But that's before £1.5m in net interest charges on its pensions deficit, which doubled in the year from £35m to £72m. That brought pre-tax profits down to just £700,000, and left AGA in no position to pay a dividend. But the company does expect market conditions to improve this year.

     
  4.  
    07:39: Vodafone
    The Hoff

    Vodafone has announced a plan to introduce a mandatory minimum maternity policy in all 30 countries in which it operates. By the end of 2015, all female employees will be offered at least 16 weeks fully paid maternity leave, as well as full pay for a 30-hour week for the first six months after they return to work. David Hasselhoff, however, will not be eligible.

     
  5.  
    07:27: AGA profits
    AGA Rangemaster

    AGA Rangemaster has reported a slight fall in an annual pre-tax profit to £700,000, compared with £1.1m a year earlier. It has also announced it will not be paying a dividend to shareholders.

     
  6.  
    DFS shares Via Twitter

    Retail analyst Nick Bubb tweets: The Chairman of DFS trumpets that it stands for "Dedication, Family and Success". Or Dull Furniture Sale? ;-) @NickBubb1

     
  7.  
    07:15: DFS shares
    DFS

    Buy one, get one half price! Furniture retailer DFS has priced shares at 255p - at the lower end of expectations. The stock starts trading at 0800 today and means the company will be valued at close to £550m.

     
  8.  
    07:02: Eurozone outlook BBC Radio 4

    One thing that may help the eurozone economy is a small but significant accomplishment by the ECB that appears to have gone largely unnoticed. That was last Autumn's asset quality review of the banks, by the ECB which "gave pretty much everybody a clean bill of help", says Mr Cameron Watt. "And that's allowing banks to sell assets off their balance sheets."

     
  9.  
    Greek economy Via Twitter Adam Parsons Business Correspondent

    Former Greek shipping minister @MVarvitsiotis tells #WUTM "we'll do whatever it takes...to stay in Eurozone...leaving would be a disaster" @AdamParsons1

     
  10.  
    06:47: Eurozone outlook BBC Radio 4
    Draghi

    Mr Cameron Watt tells Today: "There is a following wind which is the lower oil price and the material decline in the currency [euro] against the dollar". He says those factors should help boost the eurozone economy, although he he sceptical that it will do as well as ECB president Mario Draghi (pictured) suggested at his press conference on Thursday.

     
  11.  
    06:35: ECB bond buying BBC Radio 4
    The EURO logo is pictured in front of the former headquarter of the European Central Bank

    We're talking quantitative easing (QE) on the Today programme and why it pushes up stock markets. And Ewan Cameron Watt, global chief investment strategist at BlackRock, explains in the most clear terms. It is all about portfolio substitution, of course. "If I buy a whole lot of bonds and give you cash, you have now have to invest that cash," he says. "You don't want to buy bonds because of [current] negative yields, so it forces you to buy riskier assets, which inflates the prices of things like equities." Simples.

     
  12.  
    06:25: Alpacas! Radio 5 live
    Alpacas

    Let's face it - alpacas are a bit weird. But farming the cuddly critters appears to appeal to some who want to escape the rat race, alpaca farmer Mary-Jo Smith tells Wake Up to Money. She says alpaca wool is strong, luxurious and "just amazing to wear". The British Alpaca Society holds its annual show in Telford this weekend.

     
  13.  
    06:15: Insurers v banks Radio 5 live

    Aviva shares ended 7% higher yesterday and Ewen Cameron Watt, chief investment strategist at BlackRock, tells Wake Up to Money it is no surprise that insurers are doing better than banks. He says operating conditions for banks are getting tougher, but some insurers are opting to join forces.

     
  14.  
    06:05: Rangers FC
    A general view of the Ibrox Stadium, in Glasgow,

    It's a big day for Rangers FC as the club holds an emergency meeting where Dave King hopes to oust the board. However, there are question marks over King - who wants to become chairman - because of his convictions in South Africa for tax offences.

     
  15.  
    06:03: Matthew West Business Reporter

    Happy Friday everyone. Don't forget you can get in touch by email at bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk or via twitter @bbcbusiness.

     
  16.  
    06:00: It's Friday Chris Johnston Business Reporter

    Good morning and welcome to the last day of the working week. US unemployment figures are set to dominate the day and are out at 13:30. We'll bring you the reaction to those numbers and all the day's other business news as well.

     

Features

  • Replica of a cargo boxSpecial delivery

    The man who posted himself to the other side of the world


  • Cartoon of women chatting on the metroChat wagon

    The interesting things you hear in a women-only carriage


  • Target practice for Lithuanian troopsBaltic shiver

    Europe editor Katya Adler on the alarm at Russian muscle-flexing


  • Ruben ReuterRuben returns Watch

    Child TV star with Down's syndrome on life away from home


Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.