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Markus Frind is far too lean and thoughtful to be mistaken for a mischievous cherub, but he knows more than Cupid ever will about love potions.
In his vast love machine in downtown Vancouver, the man who brings romance to millions around the world is braced for the most passionate time of the year.
As Valentineâs Day looms, ÂPlentyofFish founder and CEO Frind knows that the worldâs desire for love, or at least a reasonable facsimile of love, is about to peak.
And whatâs in this irresistible potion that typically fuels a 23-per-cent jump in sign-ups at PlentyofFish between Boxing Day and the Wednesday after Feb. 14?
Little guilt trips are one ingredient. PlentyofFish sees spikes in new memberships after most holidays during which families get together, Frind says.
âThereâs pressure from family. Grandparents asking, âWhy donât you have a boyfriend?ââ says Frind, 35.
âThen you go, âOK, Iâve got to find someone for Valentineâs Day.ââ
COURTING THE WORLD
PlentyofFish has a terrific track record when it comes to getting grandparents off oneâs back. More than 3.5 million people log into the site every day, many of them visiting several times.
Rivals such as Match.com may have more revenue, but POFâs more than 70 million registered users make it the worldâs largest online dating service.
The 11-year-old company estimates one million relationships a year begin on its website.
Its amorous constituency has grown well beyond ÂCanada. From its Vancouver headquarters, the company provides dating services in five Âlanguages.
Its biggest market is the United States, followed by the United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil and Australia.
Europe, with the exception of the U.K., is two to three years behind North America in accepting Internet dating services, says Frind, who was born in DonauwÃ¶rth, Germany.
As PlentyofFishâs reach grows, the company has discovered distinct cultural approaches to courtship.
âPeople in the United Kingdom will wear turtlenecks in the photos they send,â he says. âWomen are way more aggressive in Brazil. They initiate as much as men.â
VANCOUVERITES LOVE ONLINE
The company also sees Âdifferences in its own backyard. Vancouverites in their early to mid-30s gravitate more toward online dating than do counterparts in cities such as New York, Toronto or Los Angeles.
Frind says people in their 20s are a bigger presence in Vancouverâs nightclub scene than in other cities, prompting older singles to go online in their quest for company.
A HOBBY TURNED PASSION
PlentyofFish was born in 2003 when Frind, a graduate of B.C. Institute of Technologyâs computer systems technology program, wanted to learn a new programming language.
Frind, who was then working for a Vancouver-based dot-com, created PlentyofFish in his spare time.
âA dating site was the hardest way I could think of at the time to learn a new language,â he says. âIn the first month, I made a thousand dollars and from then on I was convinced I should make this thing work.â
He ran the company by himself from a spare bedroom of his apartment for five years until it reached $10 million in annual revenue.
âThere were 15 million users and no employees,â he says. âIt started to get a little crazy.â
Today, he employs about 75 people in a 10,000-square-foot office dominated by big-screen monitors flashing real-time data on user log-ins, profiles and emails per second.
He wonât disclose how much revenue his private company makes but answers âof courseâ when asked if it makes money.
âWeâve never had a loss of any kind,â he says. âNot even close to it.â
PlentyofFish built its reputation on an advanced matching system and personalized relationship tests for members. As a pioneering free dating service, it makes most of its money from advertising. But Frind ensures the company is constantly evolving.
As the dating industry consolidates, Frind has put aside $30 million for acquisitions. In September, PlentyofFish bought FastLife, a company that hosts speed dating and singles events in Canada, Australia and the U.S.
LOOKING FOR THE FAIRY-TALE ENDING
Those hoping for a fairy tale about how Frind met his own partner through PlentyofFish will be disappointed. In reality, they met at a dot-com where both were employed before he started his company.
âEveryone wants one of those (fairy tales). Maybe I should just make one up,â he says.
Katy Severs and Mark Gomes donât have to make one up. The Vancouver couple â sheâs a junior mining marketing manager, heâs a West Side realtor â met through PlentyofFish just over five years ago.
They spoke online for about a month before going on their first date in January 2009. By that time they already had a pretty good sense they had potential for a long-term bond.
Severs, 33, and Gomes, 38, married last July.
âOne of the things that really resonated with me was that he said in his profile that he was looking for his best friend,â Severs says.
âI thought that was wonderful.â