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Friends Reunited attracts takeover attention

Friends Reunited, one of the successes of the dotcom era, said it had been approached yesterday by more than five companies regarding a possible takeover bid.

Steve and Julie Pankhurst, the husband and wife team who set up the Website with business partner Jason Porter, will be among the main beneficiaries of any sale as they still own 30% of the business.

But Friends Reunited said the takeover interest was in its very early stages and no actual talks had yet taken place.

"We will look at all the options and it will depend on what's on offer," said spokeswoman Carolynne Bull-Edwards. "It's not just about the money, but about synergies and how Friends Reunited will grow."

The Friends management team has hired corporate finance company LongAcre to explore the proposals in more detail.

The company has received takeover approaches in the past but in March 2003 opted to remain independent and fund expansion through a management buy-in that led to the appointment of Michael Murphy, a former Financial Times executive.

The company expects to make profits of £6.5m this year and more than £8m in 2006, compared with £4.6m in 2004.

The company has expanded rapidly since it was started five years ago in Mrs Pankhurst's back bedroom in Barnet, north London. Set up to help Mrs Pankhurst brush up her IT skills before returning to work from maternity leave, Friends Reunited has since expanded rapidly.

It is now one of Britain's most successful new media companies with more than 12 million registered members, equating to about half of UK households with internet access.

Friends Reunited has become much more than a way of contacting old school friends. Police forces across the UK routinely use it to trace criminals, particularly in difficult investigations such as those involving child abuse.

Journalists also use the site to get information about people in the news. When Abigail Witchalls was stabbed in Little Bookham, Surrey, details of her Friends Reunited entry were published in some newspapers. At the height of the London terrorist attacks, journalists used the site to try to find out about the victims and the bombers.

Friends Reunited now offers a jobs service, a dating service and Genes Reunited, the UK's largest family tree and ancestry Website, with over 40 million people listed.

The business approaches to Friends Reunited come at a time when traditional media companies have become increasingly interested in websites as advertising moves online. In July, for example, News Corporation bought Intermix Media, the owner of, the US chat and networking portal for $580m (£315m).

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