Digital 100, most valuable boot strapped company.

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…

26 Responses to “Digital 100, most valuable boot strapped company.”

  1. Mike Jarema Says:

    “I got to 10 million + users without hiring a single employee.”

    I don’t think many (any?) other companies, online or not, can make this claim. It’s a *huge* badge of honor and an inspiration to other budding bootstrappers out there.

    I’d love to hear about the combination of market conditions, technology, and your expertise that made such a milestone even *possible* to achieve. Luck may have played a role, but I shy away from attributing success solely to luck, there’s generally a very interesting combination of underlying conditions that create such opportunities.

  2. Simon Therrien Says:

    Hey Markus, just ended up on your blog post “How I started A Dating Empire” from Quora. I must admit, its quite refreshing to hear about your story; how you got to where you are as a solo-founder(not many of those). If you had to do it again, would you do it all by yourself once more or is there some things you would changes? Congratulation for Business Insiders.

  3. Markus Says:

    hindsight is always 20/20 and there are always a million and one things you could have changed or done differently.

  4. Brent Kozlowski Says:

    Hi Markus,

    I run my own website in the exact same way as you do (alone) and really admire how you have stuck it to the big dating sites🙂 I’m still trying to pay the bills myself, but have really come to love having my hands in everything. While running my site I have come up against some major hurdles dealing with IAC ( who also run and instead of playing by their very expensive rules I’ve decided to stick it to them and create my own advertising channel with a new site called and was wondering if you would be interested in being my mentor?

    Have a great day.

    P.S. Either way I would really appreciate it if you don’t post this comment🙂

  5. Keith Harding Says:


    This comment isn´t related to your post, but I have not gotten any response going through normal channels.

    My POF account name is ZenKoHand, my email address is ¨¨

    I have been an (unpaid) member of POF for a long time, with a long descriptive profile and 3 pics. I have sent out scores of messages and received replies from 4 girls, one of whom I spoke to today and may meet tomorrow. As a result I´m very happy with POF and was planning to upgrade my membership.

    However, a few hours ago tonight (Thu, Oct 11) as I was trying to log in, my password was unrecognized. In addition, when I entered my email address it said ¨not in the database¨. It´s obvious MY ACCOUNT WAS DELETED!!!

    The only explanation I can think of is that I sent an inquiry to you (twice) recently. You never replied, and apparently instead of answering my questions, YOU DECIDED TO DELETE ME!!!

    I have lost years of history, my Favorites, and my messages.

    Can you please explain why you deleted me?????????????????????????

    PS — I´ve copied the questions I sent you, below:


    I have been on POF for a while, have added pics, written a profile, etc.

    In that time I have sent out hundreds of messages, but with only five exceptions have never received any messages. I assumed that the girls just chose not to reply (although in some cases I was exactly what their profiles said they were looking for).

    However, recently I clicked on the “SENT MSG” button and was shocked to learn that of all the hundreds of messages that I had sent out, only 5 were displayed. And those 5 were from the girls who had messaged me FIRST!

    What’s happening here?

    — Does POF only allow me to send msgs to girls who have messaged me first?
    — Does that mean that none of the scores of msgs I have sent out were ever delivered?
    — If so, is that because I’m an unpaid member? If I subscribed, will my sent msgs THEN get delivered?

    I have another, related question.

    Your FAQ says that:
    If your messages are not being sent ” it could be because … If you copy and paste the same message repeatedly to numerous users … our spam filter may restrict your messages.”

    – How does this work? Does the spam filter allow the first message to go through, but block all duplicates that follow?
    – Also, what does “the same” mean? How different must 2 messages be to avoid being considered the same?
    – If there’s a one word difference between 2 messages, are they considered the same?
    – Do messages have to be 10% different from each other? 30%? 50%?
    – If I send out message 1, 2, and 3, does the spam filter compare 1 to 2, and 2 to 3? Or, does it compare all 3 to each other?
    — How will I know if a message I sent out never reached my target because it was blocked by your spam filter?


  6. Keith Harding Says:


    I apologize once again for using this means of trying to ask a technical POF question, and for misspelling your name. I want to rejoin POF — as a paid member. However, I was hoping to first get my questions answered, and messages to your staff have not been answered.

    Also, I hurriedly cut and paste the messages I sent to your staff into this blog entry. So, when I said “I sent an inquiry to you … You never replied … YOU … DELETE[D} ME!!!”, the “you” refers to your staff, not to you, personally!

    Thanks for your help.

    — Keith

  7. Jim Tubb Says:

    I have a charge on my debit card from POF for $35.40. I do not nor never have used this service and there is no phone number listed for POF. How do I get this reversed?

  8. himagain Says:

    Of course, I don’t expect Markus to ever read these comments but….
    I often tell people about POF as real success story. BUT, I always excused myself with two things:
    1. He was “lucky” and there wasn’t much going on in that field in them old days.
    2. He was a maths/stats genius anyway (shmart).
    Only today I saw his comment about the competition that WAS around then!
    THEN realised he was zero biz-trained as well.

    NOW I need a real good excuse for why I’m in my shape today…….

  9. Beverly Heckford Says:

    I met the man I married on Plenty of Fish; thank you Markus, you have an excellent dating site ! However, I obviously no longer want to receive the dating info but cannot get rid of it! Please, Markus, take me off your list!

  10. Gary Jones Says:

    Without a doubt the hardest thing to do these days is to get in touch with people like you. I have a concept that would revolutionize the way we all use the internet, but attempts to contact anyone at companies like Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Yahoo and others have all failed. They all hide behind intellectual property concerns and won’t take the time to look at a proposal that would make them millions. Very frustrating!

  11. Flynn Says:

    Huge effort! I love seeing people smash their way into the market,

  12. ezykiul Says:

    Well Markus, another year gone. I keep doing three things these days:
    1. Re-reading your story.
    2. Re-reading similar stories.
    3. Passing your story on to people, especially the wannabees with their “obstacles”.
    Just realised on Xmas Eve, while making a looong road trip home (1000k) after burying my younger brother, who died suddenly but not unexpectedly, that since 1999, I have been playing the lottery of the Internet very “professionally” – and not even a consolation prize.
    The ONLY thing in my favour so far is:
    I’m obviously no quitter!🙂
    The one thing I have learned is that the great mass is not only unpredictable, but any startup has its best chance from complete lack of “professionalism/formal education” and vitally, the chutzpah of its founder, who didn’t know that it couldn’t be done…….

    Happy New Solstice to all,

  13. ezykiul Says:

    For any reader here interested in Markus’ impossible rise, I just found this old interview – including a tacky pillow-fight that he was talked into by……..
    Max Chafkin | Inc. magazineJan 1, 2009
    To me, the story just keeps getting me more confused the more I delve into it.
    As an ancient Corporate fixit man, I thought I had seen it all, by working with some of the giant corporations of their day and marvelling at the corporate-man-dummies that ran them.
    Mostly, the hustlers that started them were long dead and gone and it was only mass x velocity that kept them going.
    But, most importantly, was the lack of opportunity beyond “finding gold” in them days. Everything required vast sums of capital to even test.
    I found a thirty year old bill of mine recently for a tiny test market run of one of my own ideas. It cost in today’s dollars a little over $93,000. (It failed to go.)
    Routinely, my small biz clients would spend 100 -150,000 on a test marketing tiny magazine/newspaper ad concept.
    We all accepted that it took 5 shots to make anything go. 2 would bomb entirely, 1 would break even, 1 would pay the bills, hopefully, 1 would make a nett profit.
    Then you had to run with it like crazy for the maybe 12 month window of opportunity you had before the big sharks moved in and capitalised on your work.
    Then came the Net!
    It took me years to realise that the Net was worse than the Wild West, it was the Thieve’s Market. No rules at all. None.
    A cross between a bar-room poker game and a lottery.

    Until Markus came along with his incredibly open mind and previous life(?) talent AND astoundingly fearless and willingness to pass on his knowledge, I had nowhere to go with my own plans.
    (I only found him fairly recently)
    “THEY” had convinced me that I needed gigantic computer power and it was enormously difficult to do ANYTHING to make use of the Net and it was a place where you needed untold capital access to get off the ground.

    Now, I’m nearly ready……… again.

  14. make money online Says:

    I like the part you said ” if you need to raise money do it after the product is figured out” I must confess your post are inspiring

    • himagain Says:

      I just had two more collapses of rentaservers after miniscule traffic hits.
      PLEASE PLEASE – Just tell me HOW you can have a little home-alone box handle any reasonable traffic and what rentaserver mob did you go to from home, after what number of hits per day forced you to do so?

  15. Pezhman Says:

    If Marcus wanted to spend his time asking other successful people for help, I am sure he wouldn’t have got far. Do the time and stick to what you believe in an you’ll make it. Don’t give up.

  16. get fb photo likes Says:

    It’s remarkable in favor of me to have a website, which is beneficial for my knowledge. thanks admin

  17. Greg albers Says:

    hey I am not able to sign on to pof for some reason it says invalid user name or password but I put them in right and now it says my email is not in the database please help me. My screen name is awesomeguylooking4msright

  18. Robin Says:

    that is to bad you made the top 100

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  20. milf Says:


    Digital 100, most valuable boot strapped company. | Plenty of fish blog

  21. k7x games Says:

    Markus, I must admit quite refreshing to hear about your story; how you got to where you are as a founder. If you had to do it again, would you do it all by yourself once more or is there some things you would changes?

  22. Startupxplore Blog – El blog para startups e inversores - El éxito de Plenty of Fish: 10 millones de usuarios sin inversión Says:

    […] 2012, mientras Tinder daba sus primeros pasos, Plenty of Fish llegó a ser la única empresa que había seguido la filosofía del bootstraping incluida entre las […]

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