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  • Inspiring startups

Plenty of Fish - How a side project turned into a 575 $M startup sell out

"Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover." Mark Twain, author.

“I never wanted to create a business - what I was looking to do was improve my resume” Markus Frind

Markus Frind, Founder of POF

Photo by Mark Yuen//Vancouver Sun

In 2003, Markus Frind, who was in his early twenties at the time, started Plenty of Fish, a free dating website. It was initially just a way to improve his developer skills.

"At the time there was a new programming language called ASP.NET, and I don't like reading books, so I just went and created the site in two weeks, and then people started signing up, much to my surprise. And it blew up from there. It wasn't like I had a plan to create a dating site. It was just a side project I created that got really big."

As the site took off, Markus started placing Google Ad Sense adverts on his website to generate revenue since the membership of Plenty of Fish was free. Soon enough, he was making thousands of dollars every month.

What's even more interesting is that Markus Frind was able to operate Plenty of Fish as a solo entrepreneur for it's first 5 years. Surprisingly, he actually decided to work less and travel across the world during that time.

He grew the website to 15 million users and was generating $10M revenue in 2008 before hiring his first employees. And up till 2008, he was working only an average 10 hours a week.

The company has now grown to about 75 employees and was sold to Match group in 2015 for $575M

Before Match bought Plenty of Fish in 2015, Markus Frind had retained sole ownership of his company.

"By the time I found out what VCs were, I was already making millions in profit, and I didn't see the need to raise money because I wouldn't know what to do with it," he told Business Insider. "It was a profitable company, and there was no need to raise money."

Read further about Marcus Frind's story from this BBC article.

Two Lessons from Plenty of Fish story that can inspire us :

1) Try and experiment.

Of course the chances of replicating Markus Frind success are very slim. However, that should not prevent you from testing your ideas.

Learn by doing. It will accelerate your learning curve, you'll get a deeper understanding of the concepts and you'll be able to confront your theories, assumptions and dreams in real life.

Don't worry about the outcome. Whatever it is, you'll grow. If your experiment gets traction, you'll have a business going, if not you'll learn what does not work and use these lessons and skills acquired for your next venture.

For example, If you have an idea about a mobile app, it can be very easy today to build a simple app using different platforms that don't even require coding skills. So, if you just set yourself a little challenge or experiment to build and sell your app, then you'll learn a lot of things like :

- How do i validate my idea and see if there's a market and users that are really interested to pay for my product?

- How do i build the app and make it user friendly?

- What is the revenue model? What will be the pricing of my product?

- What are the marketing actions needed to promote my product?

- How to build a website for my product?

Of course, you'll not be able to learn it all in a go. Rather, you'll be building your knowledge and refining your skills incrementally by experimenting. And you don't need a lot of time to dedicate to the project to get going.

If you want to validate your idea, you can just start pitching your friends about it and get their feedback. Then as next step, if you see that your ideas spark interest, you may start to build a first mockup of your app and website and so on.

Also by getting into action, you'll be refining your ideas and generate new ones. And pretty soon you'll have a practical knowledge and a set of skills that will be truly valuable.

2) Leverage technology.

“Don’t worry about funding if you don’t need it. Today it’s cheaper to start a business than ever.” Noah Everett - Founder of TwitPic

Technology brings scalability, which means that small teams today can do big things using technology.

In the case of Plenty of Fish, the hard work was to get the website up and get it's first users. Then, as the site gained traction, Markus incrementally added new features like chat, better photos and making sure users met their matches.

Once you have your platform up and running, then you can focus on getting more users at a fraction of the costs of launching the initial product and increase your revenue.

Some examples of businesses that provide scalability are cloud apps, online market places and digital products like training courses.

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