OPW INTERVIEW -- June 30, 2006 -- I met Markus at iDate2005 and barely gave him the time of day; a hokey little site called Plentyoffish. I have a lot more respect for him these days. Plentyoffish is free and has snuck up on the Canadian market and has now established itself in the American market. It's #5 on the Hitwise USA rankings for May 2006, no less. (See OnlinePersonalsRankings.com for official international online personals site rankings courtesy of Hitwise, Comscore and Nielsen). Time for another chat with Markus… - Mark Brooks
Why is Plentyoffish a Web 2.0 site?
Because, like other Web 2.0 sites, Plentyoffish is driven by the community. There are one million people who have moderating powers in the Plentyoffish forum and there's several thousand people attending parties all over the country every week. And it's all organized and done by users. So unlike the paid sites, Plentyoffish is run by the users.
I read that you had a check for $900K from Google for two months Ad Sense sales. What sort of pay-per-click (PPC) spend does it take to generate this?
I don't spend more then 10% of my monthly income on advertising. Pretty much the entire thing is viral. I never did any pay-per-click at the start, not in the first two years and then after that it was just a growing. The community was really built by word of mouth. There was a need for a free site and because no one else was providing it, it just grew like a weed. A lot of people just don't want to pay for dating sites. I'm providing a service for millions of people and it's costing me barely anything. These other sites, they're all just out for people's money.
Does Plentyoffish.com really represent a threat to the dating industry? Are many of your members also members of paid dating sites?
Well I think it really depends on the market. On cities where there's a lot of wealth and a lot of money, I don't think Plentyoffish will have that deep of a market penetration but in other areas, for instance in Canada, Plentyoffish is by far the largest dating site. And Lava Life if you look at all the rankings, it's lost about 50% of its traffic in the last year.
People are using three dating sites on average. So right now they're probably using Plentyoffish and two paid dating sites. We won't know until there are two or three other huge free dating sites if the paid dating industry is in trouble.
How many employees do you have? How many uniques a month do you get and how many servers does Plentyoffish.com run on?
Just me, myself and I. Google says it's over 3.4 or 3.5 million uniques a month. I run Google analytics which records all my traffic.
I have five or six servers; one database server, one web server, an image server, a mail server…it's a dating site; it's not rocket science. You don't need thousands of servers.
I have highly optimized the database and the site, so I guess normally everyone else is using two to three hundred servers and I'm doing what they are doing with more complexity on top of it. I've invented stuff like multi-dimensional wheel sieve. I create very advanced algorithms. The more you search and the more you use the site, the more it limits your view of the people you see. So if you only message smokers, then it doesn't matter what pages you're on, you're only going to see smokers. It generates a database on the site that's built around your preferences, which is something that no other dating site is capable of doing yet. It's technically not feasible for them at least using known algorithms. I invented algorithms that no one else thought were feasible.
What you say you want and what you actually want are two different things. It hardly ever corresponds on a dating site. So I just track a user and see what they're actually doing on the site and then show them matches based on their actual surfing preferences. My site is deceptively simple but no one knows just how complex it is under the surface.
Let's go on to the final question. What's your advice for other Web 2.0 start up web entrepreneur's about making money?
Build something useful, simple in ways that people will use. Explore things like Ad Sense, affiliate programs, and just explore ways of making money. Most 2.0 companies will never make a dime and they're not built to make a dime. So I would start looking at how to make money before you even design or think about starting a business.
So what are your goals for 2006 through 2007?
I really don't plan more then three months ahead. Everything always changes constantly but I suppose it would be to incorporate social networking features and to stop Myspace and Facebook from taking over the dating industry. Myspace has 15 million unique log in's a day. The entire dating industry in this space has maybe a million to a million and a half. And from the polls I've taken on my site, something like 30% of the people use Myspace…the same people who are using the paid dating sites. User psychology is very weird. People on Myspace say they're not just there to date but actually that's what most of them are there looking for.