Markus Frind only works one hour a day, but earns $ 10 million a year. How? His motto: "The simpler the better"
At 10 am Markus Frind leaves the house and walks to work. Walking the streets of downtown Vancouver is not far away, but the path seems tiresome. Not because Frind is lazy. He's a little lazy indeed, but that's not the point. He is still getting used to the fact that the journey to work can be longer than the distance between the living room and the bathroom.
Frind's internet dating agency Plenty of Fish has just pulled into the 26th floor of one of the revolving rooftop skyscrapers. The gleaming new office could easily accommodate 30 employees, but when Frind walks inside, it's unnaturally quiet - just a room with carpeted floors, freshly painted walls, and eight flat-panel monitors. Marcus drops his bag and flops into a chair across from one of them.
Frind notices a piece of paper on the table - a $ 180,000 payment. It comes from VideoEgg, a San Francisco company that pays Marcus to play videos of Budweiser beer. This deal found Frind herself, as did most other advertising contracts. A week ago, he didn't even know VideoEgg existed. But if your site has 1.6 billion page views per month, the attention of advertisers cannot be avoided.
And all thanks to private ads. “One and six tenths of a billion,” says Frind. "There are no more than ten sites in the US with better statistics than ours." Five years ago, Marcus started creating Plenty of Fish - no money, no plan. He barely knew how to build a business on the World Wide Web. Today, Hitwise estimates that Friend has the largest dating site in the United States and possibly the world, with four times more traffic than Match, the industry pioneer. Match has annual revenue of $ 350 million and has a headcount in the hundreds. Until 2007, Frind had a headcount of … zero. Then he hired three support operators to block spam and remove nudity from the site while Frind does the rest.
Surprisingly, Marcus was able to start a company in which "doing everything else" means doing almost nothing at all. “I usually finish everything within an hour of starting work,” says Frind. Thinks for a second and adds: - Actually, in the first 10-15 minutes. To illustrate his words, Frind turns to the monitor and opens the program that is responsible for displaying ads on the site. At the same time, he grumbles about the high taxes on profits in Canada: they have become a serious problem for Marcus, because in 2008 Frind has to declare $ 10 million in revenue from his website - with a margin of more than 50%. 6 minutes 38 seconds after the start of the working day, Frind closes the browser and announces: "Done."
And it's all? Are you kidding me? “Basically, the site works on its own,” explains Markus. "Most of the time I just sit and watch him." Last fall, Frind and his girlfriend Annie Kansier basked in the sun on the Cote d'Azur. Frind went to the site at night, checked for serious mistakes for one and a half or two minutes, and then sipped expensive wine again. A year earlier, she and Cansier and four of her girlfriends were vacationing in the Gulf of Mexico on a yacht. “Me and five other girls,” says Markus. - A hard life.
When Frind is about to leave, I ask him what he has planned for the rest of the day. “I don’t know,” Marcus shrugs. "Maybe I'll take a nap."
A tale of the XXI century: a young man created a website in his spare time. This young man did not study at Stanford or MIT, but he excelled. He changed one job after another, but he had hidden ambitions. He created his company alone, in his own apartment. The reader accustomed to success stories like this expects problems to begin now, real hard work: sleepless nights, dangerous twists and turns in business …
But Frind didn't make life difficult for himself. He worked 20 hours a week during the busiest times, and when everything was going according to plan - no more than 10 hours. Five years later, his dating site was one of the most visited on the planet, and Frind paid himself a salary of $ 5 million a year.
Markus Frind is 31 years old. He does not look like a business shark, one of the "market leaders". A quiet guy with a mediocre appearance, he gets lost in a room with a lot of people, and takes up less space than his loud title suggests. Those who know Frind describe him as intelligent, withdrawn, and a little awkward. “Markus is one of those engineers who find it easier to sit at a computer than to talk
with someone,”says Noel Biederman, co-founder of Avid Life Media, a Toronto-based company that owns several dating sites.
When Frind does get involved in a conversation, he can be disarmingly outspoken, giving off caustic jokes with a self-confident openness that seems almost wicked. Yahoo is, in his opinion, "just a joke", Google is a "cult", and competitor Match is "almost dead." Mark Brooks, a marketing consultant who has worked with Frind since 2006, states, "Marcus always says what he thinks."
In the circle of loved ones, Frind likes to joke. For example, he can hide for hours in a huge three-bedroom apartment, which he shares with Kansier, turning on and off the lights, knocking on doors and crawling on all fours from one room to another to tickle the nerves of his girlfriend, who is afraid of ghosts.
One of the memorable Valentine's Day gifts was secretly eating hot peppers. Although his mouth was on fire, Marcus calmly captured a devilish kiss on his girlfriend's lips and feigned ignorance as she ran to fetch water.
Kansier is a tall blonde with a casual smile and ringing laughter. She works as a freelance web designer and helps Markus with Plenty of Fish. When I ask Markus what he does 23 hours a day when he is not working, Frind ends up looking helplessly at her friend. She has several answers: video games, skiing - but in the end she asks Frind to focus and give the answer himself. "We are trying to convince the journalist that we are interesting guys!" - insists Kansier.
“He never raises his voice,” Kansier says later. "And he doesn't like conflicts." Frind prefers to watch others quietly. It seems that he is constantly hovering somewhere, studying the world, pondering something. "What Marcus sees around him, he later applies on the site," notes Kansier. - Sometimes he suddenly asks: why is this girl behaving like this? Why did that guy take this pose? " He always observes people in restaurants and cafes, watches how they communicate. In a sense, he constantly thinks about the affairs of the company.
Frind grew up on a farm in northern British Columbia - in the "bush," as the locals say. His hometown, Hudson Hope, is a cold and isolated place, not far from which the famous Alaska Highway begins. Markus's parents, German farmers, immigrated to Canada shortly before his fourth birthday. They bought 480 hectares of land 10 km from the city. In the beginning, the family had to live in a campervan without electricity, telephone or running water. The Frind's closest neighbors lived 3 km from them, and besides the younger brother, Frind had few friends. “The main problem for him was English,” says Markus's father Eduard Frind. "You can't get anywhere without English." In the end, Frind adapted, but he grew up as a single child. And today he rarely visits Hudson Hope. When parents want to visit him, they have to drive south for 14 hours.
After graduating from a two-year technical school in 1999 and earning his degree in software engineering, Frind found a job at an online supermarket. Then the dot-com bubble burst, and Markus spent the next two years, jumping from one dying startup to another. For most of 2002, Frind was unemployed.
“I had to change jobs every six months,” he says. - I came to a team of 30 people, and after five months only five remained in the company. It was cruel. " When Frind had a job, it was like torture. It seemed like his fellow programmers were deliberately writing obscure code to save space. “I spent four to five hours trying to figure out what they wrote there,” says Markus. By his standards, this is an eternity. "It should take a couple of minutes, though."
By cleaning up other people's records, Frind learned to optimize complex code. In his spare time, he wrote a program that would find sequences of primes that form an arithmetic
progression. This problem, one of the stumbling blocks in mathematics, required significant computing power, was discussed in a lecture at Freind's school, and he thought that the solution would be a good way to hone his skills.
Marcus wrote the program in 2002, and two years later she found a series of 23 numbers - the longest known in mathematics. The record was later broken, but Fields laureate Terence Tao from the University of California referred to Marcus's achievement, proving the possibility of the existence of arbitrarily long series of primes. “It was just a way to learn something,” recalls Frind. "I learned to make the computer think as quickly as possible."
In early 2003, Frind's sixth employer laid off half of its employees. Marcus was afraid that he would be laid off again, and decided that it was time to improve his skills - to devote a couple of weeks to the new website development language from Microsoft - ASP.net. To master it, Frind decided to create the most complex site he could think of. The idea for a dating site came to mind right away. First, building a network for virtual flirting requires a lot of programming skills. Secondly, this area of online business has been a traditional haven for eccentrics and adventurers.
Gary Kremen, founder of Match, who once registered the Sex.com domain, claims his business philosophy was influenced by rapper Ice Cube and legendary bank robber Willie Sutton. No connection with virtual romance, is there?
Hot or Not - the site of another pioneer in the field of virtual love affairs, James Hong, stands out for a single, primitive function: users rate each other's photos on a scale from 1 to
10. The chip turned out to be so popular that last year Avid Life bought the site for $ 20 million. At the same time, Avid Life owner Noel Biederman, who once had a lawsuit with Plenty of Fish, receives the main income from another site - Ashley Madison. The idea of this portal for those who are already married is expressed by the slogan: “Life is short. Allow yourself an affair. " The site has 2, 8 million registered users, and its income is measured in tens of millions of dollars a year.
Unlike many other online entrepreneurs, Frind didn't start his site because he wanted to meet girls. And not because he anticipated success and fame in business. “I had a burning desire to have a stable income. But at the same time, I didn't really want to work. " In addition, Marcus had eye problems: because of his increased sensitivity to light, it was difficult for him to sit in front of the monitor for a long time. Working in the evenings, for several hours, Frind made the Plenty of Fish website in two weeks. The site was desperately simple, even primitive - an unkempt list of private classifieds. But it gave users something that beautiful agency sites didn't: it was free.
The first time the idea flashed through Frind's mind was when he visited Lavalife, the third most surveyed site in Canada. Marcus wanted to meet girls or just kill time. And I was surprised to see that they take a lot of money from clients. "Funny. Some kind of small clumsy site that anyone can create. I thought: I'll make these guys."
The thought was not new. There have been dozens of free dating sites since the mid-1990s, but they struggled to attract users because they had to compete with huge advertising budgets of paid competitors like Lavalife.
Paid sites could spend $ 30-40 to get one client, and free sites could spend 40 cents, 100 times less. It was getting more and more difficult to attract visitors and make any profit. Frind's solution was somewhat radical. He created a site that cost almost nothing to run and was addressed to people who wanted to flip through several online profiles, but were not ready to get their credit cards. Thus, Frind found his way into a large and still free market. What's more, he created the perfect platform for paid dating sites to advertise on - but for money, spending his huge ad budgets.
Plenty of Fish grew slowly at first, with Marcus learning to code and scouring internet forums for clues on how to increase his site's traffic. Since 2003, there have been a few simple questions from Frind on the Web ("I would like to know how much money the site gets from advertising"). Today these recordings leave an impression of naivety and tenacity. Markus knew nothing about search engine optimization and online advertising, but quickly caught on. From March to November 2003, the site's audience grew from 40 to 10,000 people. As a server, Frind used his home computer - as it turned out, an effective solution - and tried to get the most out of the promotion tools he had read about on the forums.
In July 2003, Google released Adsense, a free online contextual advertising display system. It allowed small companies to put on the pages of their sites blocks of someone else's advertising, approximately corresponding to the content of the page, and get paid for this. By installing AdSense on his website, Marcus earned only $ 5 in the first month. At the end of the year, he was getting $ 3,300 a month, mostly from paid dating sites that hoped that the free Plenty of Fish customers would eventually fork out and go to their portals. Frind quit his job.
"Have you ever met someone like me?" - From Frind's part, this is both a boast and a sincere question. He had few business friends, no mentors, no investors. Moreover, the path he has chosen runs counter to the traditional logic of the development of Internet companies. Most sites with such traffic as Plenty of Fish would have borrowed millions of dollars from venture capitalists long ago, hired dozens of engineers and development managers, and they would have tried to push obscure types like Markus Frind away from making important decisions.
Although Frind's working methods set him apart from the crowd, he is a typical child of his time. Google's hegemony of internet search and the company's decision to provide software tools for free have transformed the economics of internet businesses over the years. Traffic analysis tools that once sold for thousands of dollars are now worthless. For competing site statistics that were once only available to large companies, visit Compete.com or Quantcast.com. Ad exchange systems like AdSense have allowed entrepreneurs to grow their businesses without hiring employees or raising a lot of money. Sites that investors would have invested millions in 1998 to create can now be launched for tens of dollars.
No one took advantage of the new conditions as effectively as Marcus Frind. He continued to run his business simply, cheaply, and economically, even as his profits far outstripped the turnover of a typical one-man company. Plenty of Fish is a web designer's nightmare: minimalist but not elegant. Something similar to you could be on acquaintance with a neighbor-teenager. The author loves bold and capital letters. But he didn't care about the proportions, and flattened or ridiculously cropped pictures would make it difficult for you to find a partner.
Frind is aware of these shortcomings, but does not want to fix them: "There is no point in making small improvements." His credo - and at the same time the reason why he works so little time on the site - is: "Do no harm." This approach has two advantages. First, if you don’t do anything, you won’t waste your money. Secondly, it is not known how even the smallest changes will affect the operation of such a large complex site. An attempt to correct the crookedly displayed pictures in the questionnaires can only harm Plenty of Fish. Now users have to make a few clicks on other people's profiles to see them in their normal form. As a result, people view more profiles, which increases the number of ad impressions on Frind's site. “The site is working,” says Markus. - Why fix something that already works?
For the same reason, he did not add such popular options as chat or the ability to upload videos to the site. “All this is offered by a noisy group with stupid ideas that only work in their narrow circle,” Frind is convinced. Instead, he focused all his energies on finding the best possible search. As a registered user browses profiles, the site remembers their preferences and narrows the database of 10 million users to a more digestible group of possible partners. “Users never see the entire database,” says Frind. "She herself focuses on who you are really looking for." If you write that you want to date a non-smoking blonde, and you yourself stare at photos of brunettes with a cigarette, the program will adapt to your real preferences.
“People think they know exactly who they want, but that's not always the case,” says Frind. Plenty of Fish statistics suggest that 800,000 people find each other every year thanks to the site. But the beauty of Plenty of Fish is not in the mechanism for finding partners, but in the low cost of maintaining the site. Frend managed to practically do without personnel and to organize the work of a huge database with a minimum of computer hardware. By comparison, social news aggregator Digg generates 250,000 pages per month per user request - one-sixth of Plenty of Fish traffic, and Digg is supported by 80 people. Popular sites like Plenty of Fish use hundreds of servers. Marcus has only eight of them.
He is not eager to explain how he succeeds, he insists that the main thing is to write good and economical code. Especially if you are the only programmer and are not going to spend money on equipment and assistants. “If things don't work well on other sites, their first reaction is to buy more servers or hire a specialist,” says Frind. - Just unbelieveble. But there is nothing complicated here, not the binomial of Newton."
After a long day at work (about noon for Frind), Marcus plays strategy. At home, he has five computers on which you can cut in Age of Empires or Command & Conquer. Plus a solid set of board games. Marcus plays well. When I played Risk with him, he sat in silence for almost the entire game, and then brushed my chips off the table in one victorious movement. The next day, he was still gloating. And Frind approaches business in the same way: “Business is like a military strategy. You are trying to conquer the world - gradually, country by country."
Frind's blog post, How I Created an Online Dating Empire, says a lot about Marcus's worldview. Quote: “Every minute, when I was not busy at work, I read, studied, understood the topic. I identified my “enemies” and did my best to defeat them. To do this, it was necessary to bypass them in terms of the amount of traffic. Whatever happened, I refused in advance to admit defeat."
It was around this time that Frind returned to one of his old internet hangouts - a forum called Webmaster World - and posted a quick guide called How I Made a Million in Three Months. It laid out the algorithm for the success of Plenty of Fish: Find a market where competitors take money for their work; Provide this service for free using a "killer simple" site; run a website with money from Google Adsense.
In 2006, Plenty of Fish generated 200 million pages per month, ranking # 5 in the US and # 1 in Canada for dating sites. Frind made $ 10,000 a day through AdSense. At a conference in Vancouver, Markus talked about this to Robert Skoble, the author of a popular blog on Internet technology. When Scoble wrote about a lone entrepreneur whose website was generating millions in profits, readers didn't believe it. Adsense was considered a tool for hobbyists: PPC advertising could recoup the cost of a blog, but not enrich it. Plus, Frind's site was ugly.
Blogger Jeremy Shoemaker wrote: “Take it easy, guys. You are just idiots if you buy into this rubbish. " Frind accepted the challenge. He posted a scan of a check from Google for a million Canadian dollars ($ 800
million). This was Frind's earnings in two months, from which it followed that the site brings in $ 4.8 million a year. Some decided that the check was fake, others called it a primitive advertising gimmick. “Frind came out of nowhere and acted like he was giving a shit,” recalls David Evans (Online Dating Insider Blog). But the trick worked. The portal of Markus Frind became the talk of the town, the virtual audience poured into it in droves. The Plenty of Fish statistic curve went up rapidly, and in 2007 reached one billion views a month.
In the summer of 2008, Frind began to think about development. He rented a 350 sq. m in the Vancouver Harbor Center office complex, announced the recruitment of 30 employees and acquired a solid BlackBerry smartphone. But several months passed, and the office was still empty: only bare walls … Marcus did not figure out how to receive e-mail on his new mobile phone, and instead of 30 people hired three. Frind does not touch all these inconsistencies. He himself says that he rented an office because he was tired of working from home.
He admits that one day he will need a lot of employees, but has not yet decided what to do with them. Marcus is in no hurry. He didn't even translate the site into French for the 6 million French-speaking Canadians in Quebec. I'll get to that someday, Frind plans. If he has so much free time, why not open a second company? Markus admits that he was thinking about a free job site, but … "Doing it after Plenty of Fish is like watching the grass grow." And Frind shows on the graph of the growth of the audience of his site. “I could make a job site, but what next? - Marcus imitates the sound of fanfare and exclaims: - Tram-tararam-taram! We have one hundred new visitors today! And at Plenty of Fish every day there are a thousand, or even ten thousand new visitors!"
Frind's passivity has its own wisdom. Always be careful - this requires self-discipline, and the desire not to harm can give more than the desire for self-improvement. Marcus's success is undeniable. He came up with a game and plays it according to his own rules. And while millions of people around the world are looking for their soul mate, and advertisers send him checks, Frind leans back in his chair and smiles. Money is dripping.