But it promised something that no big dating company offered: it was free

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But it promised something that no big dating company offered: it was free

Even better, he had created a perfect place for paid dating sites to spend their huge advertising budgets

But cleaning up other people’s messes taught Frind how to quickly simplify complex code. In his spare time, he started working on a piece of software that was designed to find prime numbers in arithmetic progression. The topic, a perennial challenge in mathematics because it requires lots of computing power, had been discussed in one of his classes, and Frind thought it would be a fun way to learn how to sharpen his skills. He finished the hobby project in 2002, and, two years later, his program discovered a string of 23 prime numbers, the longest ever. (Frind’s record has since been surpassed, but not before it was cited by UCLA mathematician and Fields Medal winner Terence Tao.) “It was just a way of teaching myself something,” Frind says. “I was learning how to make the computer as fast as possible.”

By early 2003, the technology economy in Vancouver had yet to bounce back, and Frind’s sixth employer in three years was laying off half its workforce. Worried that he would again find himself unemployed, Frind decided to bolster his qualifications. He would devote a couple of weeks to mastering Microsoft’s new tool for building websites, , and do it by building the hardest kind of website he could think of.

Online dating was an inspired choice. Not only does the act of building an intricate web of electronic winks, smiles, and nudges require significant programming skills, but the industry has always been a friendly place for oddballs and opportunists. Industry pioneer Gary Kremen, the founder of Match and the man who registered the Sex domain name, cites rapper Ice Cube and www.hookupdate.net/es/country-match-review the bank robber “Slick” Willie Sutton as important influences on his business philosophy. Another pioneer, James Hong, co-founded Hot or Not, a site with a single, crude feature. Hong allowed users to upload pictures of themselves and have other users rate their attractiveness on a scale of 1 to 10. Hot or Not was acquired for $20 million in cash last year by Noel Biderman’s company, Avid Life. Avid, which has also courted Plenty of Fish, derives most of its revenue from Ashley Madison, a dating website for married people (tag line: “Life is short. Have an affair”). The site has 2.8 million members and revenue in the tens of millions of dollars.

The idea came to Frind in 2001, when he started checking out Canada’s then-largest dating site, Lavalife, hoping to meet women or at least to kill some time

Unlike many online dating entrepreneurs, Frind didn’t start Plenty of Fish to meet women — or even because he had some vision of business glory. “It was a burning desire to have something stable,” he says. “And I didn’t really want to work.” Frind’s eyes were also a factor. He suffers from hypersensitivity to light, and his eyes were not taking well to long days in front of a screen. Working a few hours an evening for two weeks, Frind built a crude dating site, which he named Plenty of Fish. It was desperately simple — just an unadorned list of plain-text personals ads.

Online dating seemed like a good idea, but he was startled to discover that the site charged users hefty fees. “I thought it was ridiculous,” he says. “It was this rinky-dink little site charging money for something anyone could make. I was like, I can beat these guys.”

This thought was not exactly new. Since the mid-’90s, there had been dozens of free dating startups, but all had struggled to attract users because they were competing with the outsize marketing budgets of paid competitors like Lavalife. Paid sites could afford to spend $30 or $40 in advertising to acquire a user. A free site could afford to spend perhaps 40 cents, making it exceedingly hard to attract daters and still turn a profit. Frind’s answer to this problem was somewhat radical. Rather than try to compete directly with Match, the industry leader, he created a website that cost almost nothing to run and was aimed at the sort of people who wanted to browse a few profiles but weren’t ready to take out their credit cards. In doing so, he had found a way to reach a large, underserved market.

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