Meet this Los Angeles singular success story, and find out how he came to run one of the most profitable dating websites on the Internet.
When the dot-com economy imploded in 2001, Josh Meyers, now the CEO of People Media, the largest network of niche-dating websites in the world, had the best seat in the house to watch the meltdown. He was an equity research analyst for investment bank Piper Jaffray. It was his first job out of college. Like a war correspondent on the front lines, he was responsible for churning out reports about who was going down next and why. It was a demanding 80- to 90-hour workweek with brain-crushing deadlines.
“We were publishing — research, earnings, company profiles — updating the models constantly,” says the 36-year-old, never-married Meyers. “You’d figure out what you’re going to say, then write all night long and be up when the financial market opened at 6:30 a.m. There was really almost no time to sleep, and when I did, I slept on the floor of my cube.”
He says it was like being in the eye of the storm. “Not only had the economy unraveled, but the epicenter of the economy was the Internet,” Meyers recalls. “We were at ground zero for what made the economy implode.”
One after another, the “dotbombs” piled into Meyers’ inbox — all those vaporous, venture capital–funded dotcoms that floated to the top of the NASDAQ and then sank like balloons with fatal leaks when it became apparent there was no real income to support them.
The investment bank–funded bloodbath provided Meyers with the invaluable experience of analyzing each failed venture in excruciating detail for his bosses. It was a grueling existence but gave him priceless, real-world knowledge about what works — and what doesn’t — in the Internet economy. It was on that first job that Meyers discovered his passion for how the web, as a business platform, was evolving. He took notice of the survivors. One that caught his eye in particular was Overture, a Pasadena-based company that Meyers says pioneered the paid search and search advertising business.
“When I was an equity research analyst, I got a perspective of what would make a company ultimately successful on the Internet,” Meyers says, “and I went to work for what I thought was the most promising — which was Overture.” He says it had real customers who paid actual dollars for its services. Most of the Internet companies that failed were trying to make money from advertising revenue. He joined Overture as a kind of corporate matchmaker to help them create strategic partnerships.
When Yahoo acquired Overture in 2003, Meyers found himself working for the I-giant for several years until American Capital, a private equity firm he knew from his investment banking days, contacted him. There was a company in Arizona they were thinking of buying. Would he take a look? “It was called Zencon Technologies,” Meyers says. “It was an odd name. I wondered if it had Star Trek origins. It sounded like a spaceship or something.”
On Meyers’ advice, American Capital purchased Zencon, a name that turned out to be a fusion of “zen” and “connections,” and hired Meyers to run it. He began by renaming it People Media and continued to develop its competitive edge: niche-dating websites. In a world dominated by broad-based websites like eHarmony and Match.com, People Media would deliver specialized, targeted websites to specialized communities.
Today, two of the most popular, which Meyers says are both No. 1 in their respective categories, are BlackPeopleMeet.com and SeniorPeopleMeet.com — along with 25 other niche sites that include one for “big, beautiful” people, one for people with pets, one for Mormons and even one for “little people.”
“An analogy would be like in the TV world,” Meyers says, “where you used to have three networks, then you had ESPN and now there are very, very specific channels that will draw a certain user who’s passionate about that particular thing.”
In the early days of People Media, Meyers realized that although he could run any type of Internet business, he knew nothing about the experience of dating someone you met online. “How can you be the president of Ford Motor Company if you’ve never driven a car?” he says. So he created profiles on several different matchmaking websites and started his research. In the process, he met his current girlfriend. “Prior to that, I met people through friends or through work,” he says. “The traditional route.”
And even though social networking websites like Facebook vie for people’s attention, he doesn’t consider them to be competition. “Facebook is for keeping in touch with people you know — it’s a closed network,” he says. “Dating websites are the opposite. At People Media, all we’re saying is here’s a place to come and meet people who are similar to you — to meet people you don’t know.”
When People Media doubled in size, it caught the eye of online dating giant Match.com. Last summer, during the height of the recession, Match acquired People Media for $80 million in cash. Meyers says the purchase was a good thing. “The goal was to grow the company and ultimately sell it,” he says. “Since then, things have only gotten better. We’ve been able to maintain our startup feel, but at the same time we have all the resources to leverage from Match, which is a significantly larger company.”
He says he doesn’t see Match as a competitor. “We just want to make sure when the consumer chooses a product, that we’re ultimately the company they are buying the product from — regardless of which brand they’re choosing.”
Meyers may seem like all work and no play, but he’s cut his workweek back to a manageable 50 to 60 hours and says things have calmed down to a saner pace. “After I worked in equity research, which has notoriously long hours — everything else feels like less hours.”
But certainly his present life as People Media’s CEO is a far cry from the kick-back rural life he enjoyed growing up on the banks of the St. Croix, a river that runs along the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Back then, he lived a Tom Sawyer–like existence. “I had total independence to go up and down the river in my fishing boat as long as I didn’t go past a certain bridge,” he says. Just like Tom Sawyer, Meyers had little interest in buckling down to study or do homework. He passed some time at the University of Colorado in Denver (mostly, he says, because it was close to great skiing), then went to the University of Minnesota for a year, and finally finished his degree in political science at Rollins College in Florida.
“I just transferred around,” Meyers says. “I had a season pass at Vail, and when I was at Rollins I had a ski boat and I wakeboarded every day. I was ready to be done with college before I even started. Everything in my career that has paid off has all been on-the-job learning.”
Before going into the office, he hikes in Runyon Canyon with his English Labrador retrievers. He does yoga, works out with a trainer, and enjoys going out on the weekends and traveling. Since he lives in the Hollywood Hills, he says some of his favorite restaurants are in Hollywood — Comme Ça and Providence, both on Melrose, are among them.
He’s also a big fan of the ArcLight and says he’s a huge ArcLight snob. “I think a lot of people come to the point where they can’t really go anywhere else,” Meyers says, adding that he found it interesting that Avatar lost out to The Hurt Locker for the Best Picture Oscar. Golf is also a big part of his life these days, and most of his ski trips are to Mammoth, although Vail is still an all-time favorite.
As far as the dating scene in L.A. goes, with its reputation for gold diggers that hunt for successful men, that issue has never been a problem for this sexy, savvy single guy. “I think I have radar for that,” he says. “I’m looking for substance — you’re going to steer clear of [gold diggers] without even trying — at least in my experience.”
For people who are dealing with layoffs, salary cuts and other recessionary woes, Meyers’ advice is to stay passionate, adaptable and hardworking. “You have to roll with the punches, especially in this environment,” he says. “If you get put into a different position, you have to figure out how to make the most out of that position, and if you’re laid off, you have to look to apply the skills you’ve learned and take it to the next level, even if that means working in a different industry.”
And although it may look like he’s sailed from one great job to the next, Meyers says there were many times, with each change and at each juncture of his career, where he felt like he was hitting a brick wall.
“I just hunker down,” Meyers says, “and I focus on what I can control. Eventually, you emerge. You emerge on the other side.”
Text copyright © 2010 Kim Calvert/Singular Communications, LLC