This person is unknown and undistinguished. He hasn’t gone to MIT, Stanford, or any other four-year college for that matter, yet he is deceptively brilliant. He has been bouncing aimlessly from job to job, but he is secretly ambitious. He builds his company by himself and from his apartment. In most stories, this is where the hard work begins — the long hours, sleepless nights, and near-death business experiences. But this one is way more mellow. Frind takes it easy, working no more than 20 hours a week during the busiest times and usually no more than 10. Five years later, he is running one of the largest websites on the planet and paying himself more than $5 million a year.
Frind, 30, doesn’t seem like the sort of fellow who would run a market-leading anything. Quiet, soft-featured, and ordinary looking, he is the kind of person who can get lost in a roomful of people and who seems to take up less space than his large frame would suggest. Those who know Frind describe him as introverted, smart, and a little awkward. “Markus is one of those engineers who is just more comfortable sitting in front of a computer than he is talking to someone face to face,” says Noel Biderman, the co-founder of Avid Life Media, a Toronto-based company that owns several dating sites.
His hometown, Hudson’s Hope, is a cold, isolated place not far from the starting point of the Alaska Highway
Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO), he says, is “a complete joke,” Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is “a cult,” and Match is “dying.” Says Mark Brooks, a , “I’ve never known anybody so competitive. He always says exactly what he thinks.”
With friends and family, Frind expresses affection through playful pranks. Frind will spend hours hiding in the three-bedroom apartment he and Kanciar share, furtively flipping light switches, tapping on doors, and ducking into rooms to play on his girlfriend’s fear of ghosts. Another memorable valentine involved the secret consumption of a massive quantity of hot peppers. Though his mouth was on fire, Frind calmly planted a kiss on Kanciar’s lips and feigned ignorance as she went scrambling for water.
When he does engage in conversation, Frind can be disarmingly frank, delivering vitriolic quips with a self-assured cheerfulness that feels almost mean
Kanciar, a freelance Web designer who also helps out around Plenty of Fish, is a lanky blonde with an easy smile and a hearty laugh, which she often uses to try to get Frind to open up. When I ask him to talk about what he does with the 23 hours a day in which he doesn’t work, Frind struggles to answer and then looks helplessly at Kanciar. She offers a few suggestions — video games, ski trips, walks — then tries to focus his energies. “We’re trying to convince Max that we’re interesting,” she says sweetly.
That’s not easy for Frind, who seems most comfortable with the world at arm’s length. “He never raises his voice,” Kanciar says later. “And he doesn’t like conflict.” Frind prefers to remain a silent observer of others, who then constructs arguments and counterarguments about their motivations. He seems perpetually lost in thought, constantly thinking about and studying the world around him. “He’s always watching his environment to apply it to the site,” says Kanciar. “Once in a while, from the middle of nowhere, he’ll say, ‘Why is that girl doing that?’ or ‘Why is that guy posing like that?’ He’ll check people out in restaurants and watch how they interact. In a way, he’s thinking about the company all the time.”
F rind spent his formative years on a grain farm in the northern hinterlands of British Columbia — “the bush,” in local parlance. Frind’s parents, German farmers who emigrated just before his fourth birthday, bought a 1,200-acre plot 10 miles from town and initially lived in a trailer without electricity, phones, or running water. The family’s closest neighbors were a mile and a half away, and, apart from a younger brother, Frind had few friends. “His problem was English,” says his father, Eduard Frind. “If you don’t have English, you can’t do anything.” Frind eventually adjusted, but his was a lonely childhood. He rarely visits Hudson’s Hope these days. When his parents want to see him, they make the 14-hour drive southward.