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Plenty of Fish and Dating Site Disruption

If you haven't heard about Markus Frind and his dating site at plentyoffish.com, you will.

Markus is singlehandedly disrupting the dating site industry by offering a free alternative to pay-to-play sites like match.com. What makes his story so interesting is that he is the site's only employee - he runs the whole site from his Vancouver, Canada apartment and makes millions of dollars from Google ad revenue.

Here are some of the basic facts from a recent Wall Street Journal story (via: online personal watch):

  • For the week ended April 28, PlentyOfFish.com was the 96th-busiest Web site in the U.S. (HitWise)
  • Busy Web sites like these usually require scores of people. Mr. Frind says people often don't believe him when he says PlentyOfFish is all his.
  • Nielsen/NetRatings says that by some measures, such as the time its members spend on the site, it ranks second after eHarmony.
  • A few months back, he posted on his blog a picture of a check from Google for nearly $1 million for a two-month period. Google confirmed the check was for real.
  • Mr. Frind says the site brings in between $5 million and $10 million a year.
  • Many companies would respond to competitive pressure by hiring someone. Mr. Frind says he has no plans to do so.

There are two things that I love about this story:

1. Disruption: Markus is constantly talking about the demise of the paid sites and has the model to prove that he's a real threat to the top players. I have nothing against the paid sites, or their model, but it's great to see one guy be able to create something so threatening to an established industry. His blog is here.

2. Small is beautiful. Consider this: In 2005, Match.com had 275 employees and Alexa (whose permalinking and graph sharing tool is very broken - booo!) says Plenty of Fish is gaining on them in a big way - with only one employee and no venture funding.

This idea of being small, lightweight and happy really appeals to me in a fundamental way. It reminds me of the Robot Co-op who run very large sites (like 43 Things) with a small team of 6. The same is true with 37 Signals who have chosen to stay small despite the to opportunity to grow in #s of employees and of course, Craigslist.

These days, 20+ employees and millions of capital can be more of an impediment than an advantage - especially if you count the happiness factor. I count Markus as one the few who are showing us the business models of the future.