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Sequoia courts online dating agency successONE of the venture capital firms that cleaned up with an early punt on Google is making another offbeat investment, in online matchmaker eHarmony, writes John Sterlicchi.

Sequoia Capital, a backer of Google since 1998, has together with other investors placed a $110 million (Pounds 57 million) bet that eHarmony is to singles what Google is to online search engines.

It is the fourth largest stake buy of the year and industry watchers say the venture capitalists must reckon a float of the business is no more than a couple of years off.

And everyone is impressed by Sequoia's consistently deft touch. It refused to sell about two million shares in Google at its $85 float price.

The price has now doubled.

To join eHarmony, members must fill in a 436-item relationship questionnaire to identify key characteristics, beliefs, values, emotional health and skills.

The company claims six million members and is signing up to 15,000 more each day. It is converting members to subscribers at up to 10 times the industry average. Its goal for 2005 is to have played a part in 100,000 marriages.

Online dating is turning into one of the most lucrative segments on the internet.