Frind made just $5 in his first month, but by the end of the year, he was making more than $3,300 a month, largely by selling ads to paid dating sites that were interested in getting his unpaid members to trade up
From , his site expanded from 40 members to 10,000. Frind used his home computer as a Web server — an unusual but cost-effective choice — and spent his time trying to game Google with the tricks he picked up on the forums. In July, Google introduced a free tool called AdSense, which allowed small companies to automatically sell advertisements and display them on their websites. He quit his job.
Websites that venture capitalists would have spent tens of millions of dollars building in 1998 can now be started with tens of dollars
“H ave you ever met anyone like me?” This is both a boast and a genuine question: Frind has few friends in business, no mentors, and no investors. Moreover, he has taken a path that seems at odds with the conventional wisdom about internet companies. Most websites with as much traffic as Plenty of Fish would have by this point raised millions of dollars from venture capitalists, hired dozens of engineers and business-development types, and figured out a way to keep someone as unconventional as Markus Frind from making any major decisions.
But if Frind’s methods make him unusual, he is also a man of his times. In the past few years, a new technological ecosystem built around Google’s dominance in Web search and its decision to offer powerful software tools at no charge, has changed the economics of doing business on the internet. Web analytic services that used to cost thousands of dollars a year are now freepetitive data, once available to only the largest companies, can be had with only a few clicks on Compete and Quantcast. And advertising networks, especially AdSense, have made it possible, even preferable, for internet entrepreneurs to bootstrap their businesses without hiring a sales force and raising lots of money.
No one has used this ecosystem as effectively as Markus Frind, who has stayed simple, cheap, and lean even as his revenue and profits have grown well beyond those of a typical one-person company. Plenty of Fish is a designer’s nightmare; at once minimalist and inelegant, it looks like something your nephew could have made in an afternoon. There’s the color scheme that seems cribbed from a high school yearbook and the curious fondness for bold text and CAPITAL LETTERS. When searching for a prospective mate, one is inundated with pictures that are not cropped or properly resized. Instead, headshots are either comically squished or creepily elongated, a carnivalesque effect that makes it difficult to quickly size up potential mates.
Frind is aware of his site’s flaws but isn’t eager to fix them. “There’s no point in making trivial adjustments,” he says. Frind’s approach — and the reason he spends so little time actually working — is to do no harm. This has two virtues: First, you can’t waste money if you are not doing anything. And second, on a site this big and this complex, it is impossible to predict how even the smallest changes might affect the bottom line. Fixing the wonky images, for instance, might actually hurt Plenty of Fish. Right now, users are compelled to click on people’s profiles in order to get to the next screen and view proper headshots. That causes people to view more profiles and allows Frind, who gets paid by the page view, to serve more ads. “The site works,” he says. “Why should I change what works?”