10 Years ago this week I rewrote Plentyoffish to use asp.net and it exploded a in size a few weeks later and kept on going.
Back in 2003 I did many innovative things. Some of the things that I did back than totally changed the industry
1. Introducing the concept of a image strip of profiles.
2. Allowing you to restrict what kind of people could contact you.
3. First site to use behavioral matchmaking and actually trying to predict relationships.
4. User hosted singles events at a large scale.
Its hard to imagine these days a dating site and especially a free dating site that doesn’t do at least several things on that list, back than these were revolutionary concepts in a very young industry. There are also a lot of things I did that failed. One of the things I did in 2004 was add blogging to dating profiles, it sounded like a good idea at the time but the problem is most users just create profiles and than never want to edit them. Probably the biggest feature I never got right was date night, its the exact same concept as howaboutwe.com but they came along much later executed much better on it. On pof you could just post to everyone in your area for a date on friday night.
Now after about 2006 we stopped being innovative in terms of what a consumer saw, the problem was that every time we did something that made a difference it would be copied by competitors in a matter of weeks. This would have a major impact on our growth because their network effects would increase more than ours, ie we weren’t the biggest yet. Its at that point I started focusing on innovating in the backend and sticking to making huge improvements in retention and virality. The improvements on retention and virality also had a much bigger payoff.
For the next 10 years we are going to be a lot more innovative again and hopefully redefine the industry once again.
There are so little traffic stats out there for dating sites, so i’m going to put out a few.
The average age of a active daily user has fallen to 35 years for us, from 40 in 2009.
Here are what our stats currently look like in our 3 biggest markets,
2 Million active daily registered users in the US
550,000 active daily registered users in the UK
450,000 active daily registered users in Canada
There are a lot of very misleading stats about the dating industry out there. The Online Dating industry in the US is not a billion dollar industry. The combination of revenue from US users received by Match.com, Eharmony, Spark networks and other major dating sites does not add up to 1 Billion. To get to a billion plus Offline matchmaking and adult dating sites are tossed into the mix. Match has 1.1 Million subscribers in the US, Eharmony 500kish, spark networks at 200k maybe if you toss in the other 1400 dating sites in the US you come to 2.5 Million paying online daters out of a singles population of 100 Million in the US.
Comscore has a new report out that tracks companies mobile APPS. Evidently POF has 67.5% of time spent on all dating apps and 50% market share in terms of daily visitors for the month of November 2012 in the United States.
We’ve been keeping a pretty low profile the last year, most of the time and effort has gone into scaling the site. Our users are now exchanging up to 30 million messages a day on the site and that causes a lot of problems. In the past 12 months we’ve replaced every database server, every web server, every storage device, and every piece of networking equipment. This month we will be building out our CUDA cluster to have 147,000 GPU cores to allow us to better predict who you will date.
I’d say they are guaranteed to see a large number of lawsuits all around the world now including the US.
There are only a handful of dating sites in the english speaking world that have more than 30 employees. Global personals had 30 full time employees working on fake profiles according to channel 4. My experience in the industry leads me to believe this kind of behavior seems to be unique to a couple of bad apples based in the UK, the only real surprise is that it was covered up for so long.
Watch video here.
We made business insiders top 100 private tech companies again this year. Of that list Plentyoffish is the only boot strapped company. I also dont see any that had just a single founder. It amazes me after all this time I have still ran the company as the solo shareholder/solo employee for longer than i’ve run it with employees. I got to 10 million + users without hiring a single employee.
When i first started I didn’t know what vc’s where and by the time I did there was no need for them. I started out by just trying to make enough money so that everything paid for its self while doing my day job. When the site started getting bigger I taught myself Marketing, business development, product stuff and everything else under the sun you would normally hire people for. What i’d learned very early on was it didn’t matter how good you were in any one area what mattered is how good the entire system functioned. Lets say you are great at marketing but your landing pages suck, there is no way you are going to get anywhere unless you fix those landing pages.
Raising a ton of money is often a very bad thing for companies, what people fail to realize is when you bring in a lot of people each one of them impacts the product because of things they do on a day to day basis. When you have only 1 or 2 people working on the product from start to finish its very easy to know where stuff is going right or wrong, its also very easy to identify what is driving growth and to what extent. Lets say you have 10 people, all it takes is a single person making a tiny change and not telling anyone else or making a completely unrelated change. The end result is you see virility dropping for what seems to be no reason or the site just isn’t performing the way it used to and no one knows why. I say if you need to raise money do it after the product is figured out, or have as few people as possible working on product up to that point. If you don’t have the product figured out and you just throw people at it to figure it out it will cause nothing but problems.. If something is built by a big team there won’t be anyone that has the deep domain knowledge of how and why things work. Bits and pieces of that knowledge are going to be spread across the team…
We have previously been sued in the US for using decimal numbers and another time for Matching people… It seems that we are now getting sued because someone somewhere on the internet ran an Advertisement for true.com using an image they did not have rights to. Our only involvement in this case happens to be that one of the places this marketer ran their ads was on POF.com.
I am pretty shocked this lawsuit was even filed -does this mean every Adsense publisher, newspaper or website can now get sued for the contents of the ads that appear on their websites?
After reading yet another story about how online dating can not predict who will have a romantic relationship I thought I’d say something. Its clear from reading the paper and these posts that Eli and his team do not know what POF is actually doing when it comes to matching. What we are doing is completely different than everyone else.
1. Similarity and other Psychological constructs are not used in our matching system. This is something a Psychologicist would do if they were responsible for making a matching system. In my opinion Psychological approaches to matchmaking are next to useless, they offer relatively small improvements over chance from all the testing we have done. We’ve hired the best Psychologicist’s to try and create a matching system and than validate it using our couples data. In the end Psychological evaluations and matching turned out to be completely useless. So we agree with Eli and team there.
Back in 2007 I went on the today show and revealed that I created a behavioral matchmaking system that helped match people up. Almost a year later Match.com hired a bunch of people to try and copy what i was doing and that seems to be their system today. This is a great system for getting people to send messages and in match’s case optimize revenues but it is a poor system for predicting relationships.
Given that behavioral matchmaking and recommendation systems were not powerful enough I started getting people who left the site to tell me who they entered into a relationship with. Using MILLIONS of people who left the site in a relationship we could very quickly determine what kinds of people got together in a relationship and with who. After about 6 months 45% of the relationships split up giving us a very clear picture of what kinds of traits work in relationships and which ones don’t. Keep in mind we make people answer hundreds of personality questions and we have all the data they entered on their profiles along with other stuff we collect. Using simple predictive models we are able to tell who you are most likely going to start dating with a very high degree of accuracy. If you do enter into a relationship with someone and it is a unstable relationship we could probably tell you the week in which your relationship will end.
Given what i’ve stated above there is no way that Eli and his team can argue that ”a mathematical formula can not identify pairs of singles who are especially likely to have a successful romantic relationship” Predictive modeling works in every other industry imaginable Online dating is no different. In short sites Like Eharmony, PerfectMatch and Chemistry are designed by Psychologists who think the world should work in a certain way and they build a matching system that enforces that worldview. At POF we just find successful couples and lets them be the basis for the matching system.
The following graphs the probability of a relationship breaking up. In order to be better than chance at predicting long term relationships all we have to is make sure we do not generate matches that lead break ups. Last year we could predict which relationships will fail with a greater than 80% accuracy. The relationships shown here are not the result of a matching system but relationships that randomly happened on POF. The sample size is around 21,000 and skewed to heavily to under 35. The way to read the graph is 42% of relationships formed on the week of 2/20/2011 are still in tact on Feb 13th 2012. That is to say neither the male or female came back to the site to signup for a new account.
In the last year POF has gone from having no mobile apps to 3 Billion pageviews a month on apps & 300 million visits and our mobile traffic continues to grow at 3% a week. In comparison the website has been around since 2003 and only has 160 Million visits a month and 4 billion pageviews. To give a sense of how quickly mobile is taking over online dating 40% of our signups are now via a mobile device in the US up from under 10% at the start of last year. Ipad usage grew 88% in one month from December 2011 to Jan 2012.
Now its great to have all this traffic, the only problem is now one has figured out how to make similar levels of money on mobile as the web, unless you do some real scammy stuff. So ya its great to have more traffic on mobile than every other dating app combined in english speaking countries but it doesn’t matter much if you can’t really monetize it at high levels and it starts to canabilize your web traffic. Given our current growth POF is probably going to be 60-70% mobile by the end of the year. Now most people think that mobile is just for young people, that is simply not true, we are already majority mobile for 30-40 year olds in the US and in a few months 40-50 is going to be majority mobile in the US.