Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Plenty of Fish - Lessons Learned Meetup

Today, I had the fantastic opportunity of going to a retrospective by Plenty of Fish. As you may know, Plenty of Fish is the largest online dating site and it was all started by a local BCIT graduate named Markus Frind.

Below are notes that were taken on my iPhone. I do apologize as I am continually editing this blogpost.

What is Plenty of Fish?

An online dating site.

Why enter the dating market?

Back in 2003, it was the only thing that was interesting to build. Markus already knew ASP but wanted to learn more about building web applications with ASP.NET and improve his skills on his resume. 

How do you deal with the network effects problem?

In the early days, Plenty of Fish gained traction through Vancouver and Toronto.  There wasn't any silver bullet or magic around it -- Plenty of Fish heavily relied on organic user growth and SEO. The focus was to retain users more than go out and acquire new ones.

What are some early challenges you faced?

Markus actually ended up doing everything for the first 5 years. Some problems in growth involve asking "how do I get bigger in UK? or the US?". Additionally, the site grew so fast that they hit scaling issues.

What is your revenue model?

Plenty of Fish had lots of visitors. Google AdSense helped with bringing in revenue. If you have tons of users on the site, making money off users is the creative part.

Your startup began in the basement -- what made you move into your new office at (25th floor) Harbour Centre with a beautiful view?

Customer service.  Had 15 million users and peaking at 2 billion page views.  Markus needed help with supporting a growing user base.

Has Plenty of Fish changed much?

A year ago, it was 5% mobile traffic.  Now, Plenty of Fish has significant mobile traffic (I heard 70% but this is unconfirmed as I was taking notes pretty fast). 

What are the biggest challenges you face today?

Predict how users will interact with the site. Growth hacking is the process of finding out what will be important in a month from now.  Additionally, scaling has been a huge problem because of the fast user growth. 

Did you ever want to move from Vancouver?

No. Vancouver is home.  

5 years from now.  What will online dating look like?

No idea. Mobile is where everything is going now.

Advice to startups?

Release all the time.  Fix things.  Just get it out the door. It's okay if you break things, just fix them and move on. Additionally, always have growth hacking in mind (what can you do now to increase growth?).

Don't care about the competition -- they have their own fish to fry -- focus on the problems you're trying to solve and do it well.

Do lots of predictability modelling to improve how users will interact with each other. The endgame is to try to make the platform more valuable to the users. 

Mobile is a massive land grab right now. There's no mobile revenue just yet but there will be.

SEO and word-of-mouth is a great way for user acquisition. Try to figure out your retention rate for your users.

Did you ever have funding problems?


Site is simple.  What stopped you from adding new features? 

The prettier we make the site the more men sign up.  POF tries to be very simple and neutral so that users from different countries won't react too differently. For example, one of the top dating sites in the United Kingdom has a guy wearing a turtleneck -- that won't fly too well with users in the United States.

What's the company culture like?

Culture is like Facebook. Get shit done.  Within a week, you can affect millions of people in a day. If you're an engineer, there are tons of scaling problems to look into.  In regards to the original technology stack, there is still a lot of it around. POF isn't a place where a person can sit in the back of the room and hope that nobody notices -- everyone hustles because it affects everyone's productivity and work ethic.

How do you fix male female ratio? 

If there is too many men on the platform, they just drop off. Whatever you do you won't lose too many people.  Know what will drive growth.  

How do you get people to come back to Plenty of Fish?

Email has become a place for spam, instead, send push notifications to really get the user back.

What information do you find interesting about your user base?

Money is made from the 40 plus year olds. There is significant growth (blowing up) in the younger segments (18-25) using mobile.  At the end of the day, Plenty of Fish is making online dating culturally accepted.


It was a great experience hearing lessons learned from Markus Frind -- it has been an amazing journey for him to grow a business from 0 to 50+ million users with a revenue of 10+ million a year.