But the brilliance of Plenty of Fish is not its strength as a matching engine; it is the site’s low overhead. Not only has Frind managed to run his company with almost no staff, but he has also been able to run a massive database with almost no computer hardware. To get a sense of how efficient the operation is, consider that the social news site Digg generates about 250 million page views each month, or roughly one-sixth of Plenty of Fish’s monthly traffic, and employs 80 people. Frind has just eight. He is not eager to explain how he manages this, but he says that it mostly comes from writing efficient code, a necessity when you are the only code writer and are extremely averse to spending money on additional hardware and features. “At other sites, when one thing goes slightly wrong, the reaction is to buy more servers or hire a PhD,” he says. “It’s almost unbelievable — it’s like people are trying to justify their jobs by spending money. This isn’t rocket science.”
O ften, at the end of a long workday, which is to say around noon, Frind plays war games. His apartment is outfitted with five computers for group play of Age of Empires and Command & Conquer — and he has a substantial collection of board games. He is good, too: When I joined him for a game of Risk in e before clearing the board in a single, virtuosic turn. He was still gloating the next morning. Frind approaches business in much the same way. “It’s a strategy game,” he says. “You’re trying to take over the world, one country at a time.”
Frind’s account of his own exploits, published on his blog in 2006 under the title “How I Started a Dating Empire,” says a lot about his worldview: “I spent every waking minute when I wasn’t at my day job reading, studying, and learning
I picked out ‘enemies’ and did everything I could to defeat them, which meant being bigger than them. I refused to accept defeat of any kind.” Around the same time, he returned to one of his old internet hangouts, a forum called WebmasterWorld, and posted a brief how-to guide entitled “How I Made a Million in Three Months.” It contained a blueprint for the success of Plenty of Fish: Pick a market in which the competition charges money for its service, build a lean operation with a “dead simple” free website, and pay for it using Google AdSense.
Frind was making amazingly good money, too: $10,000 a day through AdSense. In March of that year, Frind mentioned these facts to Robert Scoble, a popular tech blogger whom he met at a conference in Vancouver. When Scoble wrote about the solo entrepreneur with the ugly website making millions of dollars a year, his readers were in disbelief. At the time, AdSense was seen as a tool for amateurs. It might cover your blogging expenses, but it wouldn’t make you rich. Frind’s website was also downright ugly. A search-engine-optimization blogger, Jeremy Schoemaker, wrote that Frind was a liar. “Give me a break, dudes,” he wrote. “You look so stupid when you buy into his crap.”
By 2006, Plenty of Fish was serving 200 million pages each month, putting it in fifth place in the United States and first in Canada among dating sites
Frind embraced the controversy. He posted a picture of a check from Google for nearly a million Canadian dollars (or about $800,000) made out to Plenty of Fish. It represented two months’ worth of revenue and implied that his site was making $4.8 million a year. But some thought the check was a fake, while others felt that posting it was a crude promotional stunt. “He came out of nowhere, and he didn’t seem to give a shit,” says David Evans, who writes the blog Online Dating Insider. But the stunt worked. Frind’s site was the talk of the blogosphere, driving gobs of new users to the site. Plenty of Fish’s growth accelerated dramatically, hitting one billion page views a month by 2007.